The world of mobile tech is fascinating, especially for someone who is more on the consumer end of things rather than development. If you are in development, you already have a good idea of what is coming down the pipeline and which new inventions or businesses are going to be taking us by storm. On the consumer end of the deal, there are always surprises and, as a result, we consumers have developed a strange relationship with our technology.
We’re all familiar with the anticipation that surrounds new gadgets and services; buzz begins to circulate about some new device, you catch wind of it, a friend or two begins to use it or you see it in a Times or Chronicle piece. If you are in the Bay Area, you probably hear about the latest tech much quicker than other markets. Before you know it, the device or service becomes nearly ubiquitous; it can happen very quickly. Clearly, the life cycle of a mobile tech business is one that impacts people both within and without the company. On the consumer end, a great example of this effect is the new ridesharing program for families: San Francisco’s Shuddle.
Shuddle: Raising Money and Raising Hopes
Shuddle has had a very good March, announcing last week that it just raised $9.6 million in Series A funding. This San Francisco-based company is positioning itself as a kind of “Uber for families.” The basic idea is that you can use Shuddle to arrange rides for your children; to soccer practice, to school, or to a friend’s house. The benefits of this are easy to imagine. Busy families can make sure that everyone gets where they need to go while still allotting time to chores, errands, and work.
Shuddle is conscious of the kind of objections frequently lodged against ridesharing programs and is working to make sure all of its drivers are vetted childcare pros. Currently, a rider is required to book 24 hours in advance, which allows parents time to review their driver’s bio and their references (they need at least two). Mobile tech comes into play by allowing parents to track the ride and a record of who is being picked up, when, and where they need to go. There will be hesitance, I think, but then there always is when family is concerned. As this service and programs like it improve, it will be seen as a more convenient system that also creates jobs for drivers and childcare experts.
Here’s how Shuddle fits into the timeline of mobile technology; it’s essentially at Stage 5.
Stage 1: Tech is introduced to the first-comers
This is the mysterious stage that most of us are unfamiliar with. We hear about the big things- the new iPhone, the new Galaxy, etc., but at Stage 1, a lot of these services are just a couple of people in a loft. Their friends start to use the service, but most people aren’t even aware that it exists. The proportion of early-adopters is higher here in the Bay Area, but it is still a minority.
Stage 2: Tech starts to become popular
I think of this stage as a growing dawn, the kind where you see dim streaks of light over the horizon even though it is still dark. At this stage, you might see the name of the service here and there, and thinkpieces about it start to pop up. Take Uber, for example. I remember reading about it years ago in a magazine (and thinking it had no chance of taking off). The idea of a ridecalling service with private drivers just seemed weird. All of a sudden, more and more of your friends are using it, and you suddenly realize: it’s daytime.
Stage 3: Tech enters the mainstream
At this stage, the device or service in question is ubiquitous. This is what can be called “The New Yorker Cartoon Stage.” You know that something has made it as a cultural reference point when it is the subject of a dry and awkwardly drawn cartoon where one character at a cocktail party says to another “I was going to be a Ubermensch, but my driver cancelled on me.” It assumes a cultural touchpoint- your Uber driver canceling- inferring that everyone knows what it is. This kind of exposure shows that the service is here to stay.
Stage 4: X is the Y for Z
This is the lazy headline formula. X= new product/service and Y= our touchpoint (in this case, Uber). A quick Google search of “is the Uber for” (with quotations) turns up tens of thousands of hits. The front page alone gives us a service that “is the Uber for” healthcare, housepainters, moving your stuff, dogs, dog walking, hair stylists, tailors, restaurant reservations, and of course the “Uber for helicopters,” which strikes me as idiosyncratic. I’ll gladly poke fun at this tendency now, but if you think there isn’t an “Uber for healthcare” article coming from me at some point, then you’re crazy.
That’s sort of the point, though. Any successful technology spawns imitators and admirers, each trying to fill a niche. Eventually, the idea of the service becomes part of our lives; this leads to Stage 5.
Stage 5: What we can’t live without
It’s remarkably easy to be resentful of technology, particularly if you have a family and other expenses. If you have major demands on your time, then you aren’t able to always keep up with the cool new thing and can become irritated at those who do. This is totally understandable. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A good service will create imitators. There will be competition. People will have ideas, and eventually, there will be something that will cater to you. Before Uber- regardless of how you feel about their business model and practices- no one would have thought of Shuddle, or at least considered it viable. Now it is. That’s how tech works. It filters down and then filters back up, filling every hole, even ones we didn’t know existed. If something isn’t right for, just wait. Before you are even done reading that New Yorker someone will have adapted the latest mobile tech service to fit your needs.