I couldn't help but get that mini fist pump feeling when I saw the headline "Uber loses right to classify UK drivers as self-employed" yesterday.  Whatever your views on the state of the economy, close to home or or globally, I'm sure that we can all broadly agree that these are troubling economic times.  

Our hopes of economic recovery are increasingly pinned on our abilities as individuals to be entrepreneurs in our own right and use all of our ingenuity, ably aided and abetted by the wonders of technology and the digital wonderverse, to become our own happy little profit centres.   This growing perception is beginning to feel absolutely necessary as we face the uncertainties of the jobs market and the impending doom of job automation and the assumed ubiquity of IoT, machine learning and the robot race.  

A side effect of this uncertainty is the celebration of the great entrepreneurs & disruptors of our times as we hail anyone smart enough to create a business that scales rapidly and assumes a market value that makes their founders rich beyond our wildest imaginations as absolute geniuses.

This is where I beg to differ.  I can absolutely get excited about a true visionary like Elon Musk but I cannot get excited about Uber, Deliveroo, et al.  Why not?  Because anyone can build a business that utilises technology to automate and enhance service delivery whilst taking advantage of human resource, offering pennies for task completion but taking no responsibility for their welfare or prospects as employees.  

In my opinion those businesses are exploiting uncertainty in the jobs market and inventing a narrative and vocabulary that justifies their business model.

Anyone that has ever attempted to establish a business which relies upon real people to service the customer and deliver value knows that its very hard to balance the books, yet alone achieve a consistent profitable business whilst offering job stability, a fair living wage and benefits designed to make the person you need to do a great job feel happy, secure and motivated.

Try it for yourself, put a P&L together and you'll see that the only sure fire way to reduce costs and make profit more likely is by reducing the salaries & benefits line.

The brand implications for Uber strike me as three fold:

  1. You cannot build a well loved service brand without truly valuing those that deliver the service as your most important resource
  2. Their exploitative behaviour will eventually impact on their ability to sustain & grow the business as consumers become primed for an equally effective yet more ethical provider
  3. The outcome of 1+2 is that the Uber brand doesn't grow in strength and their business becomes only as good as the efficiency of its platform and price of its service.  What does that equal?  Commodity.  Therefore as soon as Hailo can offer me a reduced fare I can easily switch.

I don't believe that I am alone in having far more respect for businesses who recognise the inherent value in their workers and can see the long term value in treating them fairly, irrespective of the juicier margins on offer.  Brands are formed equally from what they DO and what they DON'T DO.  Knowing where to draw the line is critical.