Supporting workers in the gig economy

If there's one thing I've learned throughout my years as a human, it's that life is hard and people need help in order to make things work. That help can come in many forms: family, friends, co-workers, teachers, unions, healthcare providers, agents, assistants, coaches, therapists, strangers on the internet, you name it.  Point is, we all need it, and good help can be hard to find (assuming we get over the first hump and even start to look). I've been spending a lot of time recently looking at this problem in a particular use case: the rise of the independent worker. As I mentioned in a post last year, I’ve been interviewed a lot about the emergence of the “sharing” or “on-demand” economy (Fastco, Wired, NY Times, PBS Newshour) and the question always comes up is: “aren’t all of these new independent workers missing out on the stability provided by full-time employment?”  Albert describes this as the unbundling of the job -- splitting apart the support systems that had traditionally been associated with full-time work (salary, benefits, community, training, etc) and leaving workers to fend for themselves. In the past few months, this issue has come to even more of a head, with the Lyft/Uber class action suits seeking W2 status for on-demand drivers, the California Labor Commission decision that (in a single case) an Uber driver could be considered a W2 employee and not an independent contractor, and moves by other on-demand platforms move some or all workers from a 1099 model to a W2 model, as Shyp and Instacart recently did. A year ago, when I started speaking to reporters about this, my consistent answer was that we hope to see a new layer of networked services emerge that will fill the gaps left by the unbundling of the job, that start to solve workers’ issues in creative new ways. And conversely, what I hope we don’t see is a knee-jerk attempt to shoehorn today’s independent, networked workers into the old paradigm of full-time single employer work, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sherpashare recently did a study of on-demand drivers, asking them what they like and don’t like about this new model of work.  Not surprisingly, they love the flexibility and freedom that comes with (semi) independent, networked working lifestyle.  But they also want more control over their work, chafing at the level of control that many of the services-oriented (vs. marketplace-oriented) platforms exert.  That makes sense to me.   There’s also an obvious need to basic support tools and services (for example around finance and insurance/benefits). Now, a year later, many these kinds of services have indeed begun to emerge.  Over the past several months, I’ve spoken to many entrepreneurs approaching this problem, from a bunch of different directions.  Here is my latest snapshot of how that market looks today:

Nearly all of these are brand new. Many of them are pre launch, and many of those are just at the idea phase.  And, as you’d expect, they are all tackling different facets of the problem. Here’s a quick review of the categories I’ve been tracking: Job Discovery: gotta find work, and there are an increasing number of competing options out there. Matching those opportunities to workers will be important.  (see: Dispatcher, Opus for Work, BlueCrew) Education & Training: along with the unbundling of the job comes, to some extent, the unbundling of education & job training.  The need here spans both sector-specific training and more general education like financial management. (see: Peers, KungFu) Community: as workers become more independent, we will need new ways to form various forms of community support, from commiserating, to peer-learning, to organizing. (see: Coworker, Domino, Sherpashare) Equipment: gotta have the tools and the space to do the job. (see: CoPass, Breather, ReCharge, IdleCars, Breeze) Admin: keeping track of your finances, expenses and taxes as an independent worker totally sucks.  April 15th is doomsday.  There are a bunch of tools providing helpful services here.  (see Zen99, Benny, Hurdlr, And Co) Banking: money is at the center of everything, and independent workers have unique financial needs, in particular related to lumpy cash flow, saving for taxes, and overdraft & lending.  (see: Even) Benefits & Insurance: clearly a huge issue, relating to everything from healthcare, to disability, to liability, to operating insurance. Traditional insurance plans aren’t built for this economy, and insurance will be a huge part of continuing to build trust, safety and security in this sector.  (see: Stride Health, Freelancers Union) Identity & Reputation: perhaps the biggest opportunity, in my view. As independent workers work across platforms and services, reputation is their currency.  Platforms are built on trust, and workers need to be able to port that trust from one context to another.  Unclear how we will get to a world where workers control their identity and reputation data -- could be indirectly, through banking, insurance, or job discovery.  (see:, Karma, Traity, Checkr) This is surely incomplete, and many of the examples span categories, but it’s a start. The happy confluence There will undoubtedly be many tensions as this market develops, particular around the sharing and control of data (for example, worker-facing APIs and the right to be represented by a bot).  There is, however, a nice potential synergy between the needs of work platforms and worker support platforms.  In order for work platforms to maintain the arms-length relationship with worker/partner/contractors required for proper 1099 status, they will necessarily need to relinquish some amount of control, which could really open up the market here.  We will see. Finally: if you are working on this, I want to know you!

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