On Demand Must Eventually Result in Profit
Countless Americans seem to have an insatiable desire for immediate gratification. This drive for gratification has led to an increase in “on-demand” start-ups, such as Uber, one that is frequently in the news these days. These start-ups address needs such as transportation, food, entertainment and beauty treatments. The short-term euphoria derived from the instant gratification meets a perceived (or even real) need, resulting in billions of dollars being available to fund these companies. Investors have bet the companies will build enough revenue and momentum to go public. With an opportunity to exit through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), they can get a great return on the investment. The IPO market has allowed some unprofitable, high-growth companies to pass through the gates and create hope for others – including Amazon and FitBit.
History often repeats itself – there were many “on-demand” start-ups during the dot.com boom in the 1990s that were unsuccessful, including Webvan, known as poster child of the dot-com “excess” bubble, according to techcrunch.com. My belief is that the initial euphoria of immediate gratification is then seized by the control freak in us who wants to choose our product. For example, when the apple from the grocery delivery shows up with a bruise or we cannot communicate with the office manicurist, the urgency for immediate gratification dies and we drive to the grocery store to pick our own perfect apple or to the spa to get the manicurist of our choosing.
The success of Uber has given the on-demand space an extra surge of enthusiasm and creativity. Many riders frequently use Uber because they appreciate the experience and the price. On the one hand, this is a great business outcome; the fact remains, the company eventually has to make money. Uber continues to struggle with growing regulatory issues that will eat into revenue, create higher operating costs and, ultimately result in higher rates. I recently landed in the New Orleans airport and requested an Uber car at the airport. An immediate and distinctive pop up on my phone alerted me that all Uber rides were $75 from the New Orleans airport due to city ordinances. This is compared to a $15 cab ride to my client’s office. I cancelled my Uber request and went to the cabstand.
The message to entrepreneurs and business owners is that we can learn from history, and basic business fundamentals are clear – you have to make money selling the product. Investors expect a return on investment, and at some point will be unwilling to continue to fund a losing proposition. Keep your books and records current to ensure all your products are making money or, by default, you could be making the decision to fund a loss leader.