This court case could close the power gap between online mediators and users

Uber drivers demand more insight in their own data, for knowledge is power. Let me elaborate on the importance of this court case and what the possibilities are in terms of restoration in the balance of power within the platform economy.

Online platforms like Uber, AirBnb and Thuisbezorgd dictate the rules of the ‘game’ as market authority. In the case of platforms for taxis and food delivery, the platform determines who receives which gig, against what rate, they have a full say in who is allowed to play and who isn’t, etc. etc.

The problem is rooted in the fact that the platform sits on all the information. A company like Uber knows exactly how much supply and demand is available, and has insight on rates and competition. Knowledge is power, and in this case the power is in the hands of the platform. The information asymmetry is maintained for the individual user, more than for anyone else. Moreover, the difference in power is even greater with platforms assigning short lasting gigs automatically, compared to traditional mediators. 

A group Uber driver is standing up against this situation, writes The Guardian. They sued the platform, as they are of the opinion that they are shown too little data to make the right choices and do not have sufficient insight in the way the company is making decisions about the suppliers.

Balanced power

Drivers have gathered under the umbrella of Worker Info Exchange (WIE). In the petition (interesting reading material!), WIE defines itself as a non-profit organization aiming, among other things, to give employees and self employed persons in the information economy access to their (personal) data which is collected during work. An important goal is to structure the balance of power between large digital platforms, such as Uber, and the people who make these platforms successful – the employees.

There are several ways to enforce an honest balance of power. For example, by making decision making processes and algorithms transparent to a trusted third party, a so-called algorithm accountant. This auditor may check the algorithm on certain variables. During a workshop last summer, I explored this possibility with a multi-faceted group of stakeholders.

Access and pooling

Another solution is found in giving users access to the data which influences their individual transactions. Particularly, this is the goal of the WIE. Especially among platforms qualifying suppliers as entrepreneurs, this should be a no-brainer, as doing business is only really business when you have access to data influencing your sales and transaction. A skilled entrepreneur bases his strategy on information.

Subsequently, this data can be bundled or pooled. This offers the opportunity to analyse data based on several suppliers and narrow the gap in power between suppliers and the platform.

Worker cooperatives

Ideas to unite suppliers of platforms have been around for some time. Well over a year ago, I wrote a (Dutch) blog post on “the cooperative as labor union 2.0‘ why labor rights attorneys Jaap van Slooten and Jorinde Holscher made a plea for the introduction of the worker cooperative. In their paper (again in Dutch), they elaborate that this kind of cooperative could help freelance platform workers in making collective (rate) agreements with the platforms they work for. Hence, the workers cooperative could substantially help stabilize the power balance of suppliers and platforms.

This is another goal of the WIE. This non-profit is being supported by a sort of cooperative: the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), a labor union fighting for the rights of all private hire drivers & couriers in the United Kingdom. The union desires more transparency in data processing by parties like Uber.

Bargaining collectively

The ADCU, in turn, is linked with the International Alliance of App Transport Workers (IAATW), a global organization committed to the digital rights of platform workers. They launched a joint ‘data trust’ gathering personal data of drivers, in order to use the insights gained from this pool for collective bargaining.

This court case of WIE against Uber contains an important contribution to the exploration of how to level the playing field between platforms and users. Anton Ekker, the Dutch attorney on the case, sums it up in this article in The Guardian: “The app decides millions of times a day who is going to get what ride: who gets the nice rides; who gets the short rides. But this is not just about Uber. The problem is everywhere. Algorithms and data give a lot of control but the people who are subject to it are often no longer aware of it.” 

He justifiably places this case in the broader perspective of growing automated decision making and algorithmic management of workers in the broadest sense. There surely are many unanswered questions, and even more will arise, but the only way to explore the possibilities of how to attain a power balance, is by starting to do something about the imbalance. This court case might just as well be the right vehicle to set things in motion.

Will Corona be the tipping point of a new unfolding social system?

These are unreal times. While working from home with three young kids around me, I become aware that I won’t be able to see my parents for at least a month, probably longer. Twenty percent of my annual turnover for 2020 went up into thin air within a week. The coronavirus has gotten a firm hold on me and my entire surroundings in several ways. I’m one of those who is worried about our future. But besides the sorrow, I’m also aware of beautiful and interesting developments. This could be the tipping point of a new social system, in which those that add real value to the society will be credited for it, in which the government will regain a leading role and social securities will be organized collectively again, independent of the form of contract one has. Although written in a Dutch context, I believe these insights will be applicable to most countries facing similar corona preventing measures.

Labor unions, resilience and adaptability

We’re experiencing great solidarity. Initiatives to help one another, where people have each other’s backs, are mushrooming everywhere. I enjoy seeing the resilience surfacing within so many organizations. Everyone shows their ‘we’ll handle this’-mentality and takes their responsibility. In no-time entire organizations start working from home and teams are autonomously providing solutions. This crisis teaches us that managers have underestimated and suppressed the worker’s autonomy over the past years. I assume that organizations could become smaller and more agile, when taking the autonomy of the individual for granted, believing that the majority will use it with best intentions.

Even our own Dutch cabinet and social partners, usually avoiding everything that even closely relates to consensus, have drawn up an impressive package of emergency measures within a few short days. Together. One thing is clear: everything becomes fluid under pressure.

Professional groups that are of real importance

Simultaneously, this crisis also uncovers several anomalies in our society. Structural flaws we had surely been aware of, but we chose to ignore them out of convenience. Until now.

This crisis makes very clear which professions are of main importance to ensure the continuity of our society. Which jobs are essential to the functioning of our countries. It is painful to see that these aren’t the jobs we were crediting with the highest incomes. Now we in need of the underpaid health care professional, teacher, and journalist. In need of aid workers, municipal officials, supermarket personnel and logistic center staff. Exactly those professional groups that have been facing financial cuts over the past years are still ensuring −with an unbelievable dedication− that our country remains up and running. Without asking questions. And in many cases: without the luxury of being able asking questions. Or as Vili Lehdonvirta Tweeted: “The two-class system of the pandemic society: the home-bound zoomers and the street-running gigsters who serve them. Other positions are unstable—anyone holding them soon collapses into one of the two.”

Governmental decisiveness

Furthermore, there is the role of the government. From my point of view, we’ve been facing a libertarian vacuum for quite a number of years. We’ve started to see governmental meddling as obstruction of innovation and growth. The government had to facilitate; we pleaded for the leadership to be in the hands of the market, or even our polder. 

Things changed at the outbreak of the corona crisis; where people began longing for a decisive governmental involvement. Real leadership. This desire remained initially unanswered and businesses took the lead, but last week a long awaited tipping point happened. The Dutch government finally showed its leadership and provided the clarity our nation wished for.

Support for everyone

The emergency package mentioned earlier is a historical step. We now have to keep going strong. These times are uncertain for everyone, but it is undeniably clear that your certainty and resiliency is closely dependent on your form of contract. Employed persons are usually better off than flex workers and freelancers. 

Government and social partners had been discussing minimal security for all workers and had suggested a redesign of our social security system in the recent months. This crisis seems to be the moment to put personal short term interests aside and to start working on this solution to make it applicable to everyone.

New income distribution

Besides all misery and uncertainty, I see chances to finally resolve the problems that have been put off for years. Let’s use this time to rethink our (national) income distribution. Let’s consider which basic social securities should be in place for all working people in our economy. I would like to see a mandatory universal collective and social safety net for all workers offering them access to insurances and pension.

Why not grant the government another chance after times with lack of leadership and vision. Never waste a good crisis, I’d say. That way we’ll be able to watch back in a few years and not only see a crisis bringing our country to a collapse, but also a crisis from which we arose as a stronger, more social society.

One collective agreement after the other, Swedish Unionen is leading the way in how to approach platforms.

Platforms and labor unions don’t usually form a great marriage, but the tides are turning slowly. The first labor unions have formed collective agreements with platforms. Parties from both sides are starting to cooperatively experiment how to improve the wellbeing of workers, for example, in how platform specific technologies can be used. A labor union that leads the way is the Swedish Unionen, Sweden’s largest labor union. Unionen has already reached some collective agreements with platforms and has ongoing research in eventually hardcoding collective agreements in platform algorithms. I met Victor Bernhardtz, Ombudsman for Digital Labour Markets at Unionen, in Stockholm to talk about the Swedish context of labor unions and their platform strategy. This article contains the most interesting highlights, whereas the full interview has been made available as a podcast.

Platform work: a new phenomenon?

A common conception in discussions about platforms is that we’re talking about a new phenomenon. Although platforms do add new and unique elements to the matchmaking process, they are essentially no more than just a digital layer on top of existing processes, including their pros and cons. Victor can’t be fooled too easily, “No one in Sweden is crying out like, ‘oh, look at this new phenomena, we probably need new legislation.’ Our main question was: how does this fit into our general Swedish model of organizing the labor market and unions? We quite quickly came to the realization that we should probably sign collective bargaining agreements with these platform firms. These firms could bring productivity gains through their business models. And we as representatives of the white-collar private sector, we should engage with those actors. We don’t need new legislation. We don’t need new definitions of work. We don’t need to create new collective bargaining agreements, because this isn’t a new sector. This is just a new business model within existing sectors. 

The Swedish context

Within the context of Unionen it is important to realize that 67% of the Swedish workers is a member of a labor union and 90% of all the work is covered under some collective agreement. These high figures can be explained by the fact that welfare benefits are paid by labor unions according to the ‘Ghent System’ which is in power in Sweden. Wikipedia states the following regarding this model:  

“The Ghent system is the name given to an arrangement in some countries whereby the main responsibility for welfare payments, especially unemployment benefits, is held by trade/labor unions, rather than a government agency.

The system is named after the city of Ghent, Belgium, where it was first implemented. It is the predominant form of unemployment benefit in Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. Belgium has a hybrid or “quasi-Ghent” system, in which the government also plays a significant role in distributing benefits. In all of the above countries, unemployment funds held by unions or labour federations are regulated and/or partly subsidised by the national government concerned.

Because workers in many cases need to belong to a union to receive benefits, union membership is higher in countries with the Ghent system. Furthermore, the state benefit is a fixed sum, but the benefits from unemployment funds depend on previous earnings.”

Moreover, the relative soft regulations on labor give labor unions great freedom to make quick and versatile agreements. Victor, “there are very few legislations that restrict the organized labor market. The labor market is regulated by employers organizations and the unions. The legislation that exists, is also dispositive in some sense. As actors on the labor market, we can choose to negotiate and circumvent the legislation. This the purpose of the legislation: if we find a better deal between ourselves, it will be better than a Parliament restricting or stipulating how we should function. And this of course creates a basis on which we approach the platform economy, which is unlike the situation in many other countries.” An interesting approach explaining a different attitude towards the government. As Victor profoundly sums up, “Legislation takes away bargaining power from unions”.

Timing of regulation is key, but a union isn’t obligated to wait for regulation

Much is being said about specific platform regulation. I am, for several reasons, on the conservative side:

  1. Many issues at hand could perfectly be solved under existing regulations. This requires unclear regulations to be clarified and to be maintained;
  2. Platform specific regulation could set digital mediators back against traditional ones. Digital mediators could become susceptible to higher regulatory pressure, worsening their competitive position;
  3. Platform specific regulations could as well disturb innovation and competition within the world of digital mediators. The threshold to enter could become higher, and would reinforce the ‘power’ of current players on the market;
  4. The knowledge level among almost all stakeholders still falls short to reach the core of what is new and what are platform specific challenges and opportunities to form sound regulations. Here is a lot of work to do. Moreover, there is still relatively little research done on the impact of digital mediators, and I consider it wise to first direct our focus towards this issue.

Hence, I would rather experiment more to discover how the positive elements of platforms can be enhanced and undesired side-effects can be minimized.

Based on the Swedish context, it is no wonder that Sweden has a different stance on regulation than countries not working with the Ghent system. Victor states, “If you regulate too early, you might create a regulation that doesn’t really solve any problems, but creates loopholes instead. If you regulate too late, you risk ending up in a bad situation. We would basically have to legislate a de facto situation. Collective bargaining on the other side is completely flexible. You could just say, okay, let’s sign a new deal and if nessesairy you can negotiate again. Let’s go over this component, that didn’t really work. Let’s hit the negotiating table again and see how we can do better solving this. We’ve always advocated for that towards our friends, because we see it as legislation. Also, legislation takes the bargaining power away from unions. I mean, it lessens our importance. And I think, when dealing with the platform economy strategically, we should really consider what might be the wisest way.”

Ways labor unions and platforms could strengthen each other

A growing number of labor unions close deals on collective agreements with platforms. The Danish labor union 3G has a (somewhat dubious, but more on that in another blog post) collective agreement with Hilffr, a platform for domestic services. And the Austrian labor union Vida recently came to a collective agreement specially targeted on bicycle deliverers.

Meanwhile Unionen has sealed 3 collective agreements with different platforms. Victor elaborates, “None of the 3 collective agreements with platform companies in the private sector came together via conflict or strikes. All via dialogue, none via court. Wage costs for example, which is a hot topic in gig economy, is not on the table as something that’s a problem. The problems are mainly technical. How do we make sure that we comply with the collective bargaining agreement through our automated process of intermediating work.

This is also where I see us and platforms operating together futurewise: in automating more parts of collective bargaining agreements when you look at work safety. What if you could implement in the app that whenever you end up somewhere as a platform worker, that you will get a notification saying, ‘This workplace has been properly safety checked, with a date sign by this and this person, who is a union representative.’ I mean, there are many of these things related to compliance, making it easier to do the right things.

By digitalization, we can make this process probably more efficient. And since we have such a long-standing tradition in Sweden, employers and unions are readily collaborating on solving issues on the labor market. I think that we will probably reach the point where we will see ourselves developing compliance with collective agreements, through business models that are semi- or fully automated on how to go about. We also need to get the technical knowledge within our organization, to have a level playing field in the discussion with the platforms. 

One way of thinking could be in us setting up some kind of joint venture with employer organizations on how to solve this. That will then become a company or an NGO, an entity which task it is to solve this, funded by employers and employees unions collectively. This would be one way of doing that. And again, since we have such a long-standing cooperation, dialogue through these things is made easy. Of course, it is to the benefit of the platform firms. They don’t have to worry about strikes and conflict, and we see that our members work in productive companies, which means that they can keep their job, with an increasing expansion in the availability of jobs. It’s really a win-win situation.”

Not the consumer, but business as client. That makes the difference.

Much of the turmoil around platforms is about the transaction platforms facilitate between the individual supplier and a consumer as client, where the consumer constitutes one of the worst possible employers. The working conditions in this kind of service sectors (i.e. domestic services, food delivery, taxi, etc.) were already poor before the platforms became intermediary actors. Which surely isn’t an excuse to continue in the same manner with platforms.

What makes the case of Unionen interesting as well, but different from most regular cases, is that white collar platforms usually have businesses as client. They have very different conditions than when the consumer is client. Victor, “If you want to be a serious actor in the Swedish labor market, you have to be on the inside of the partner model. You have to have a collective bargaining agreement and you have to have a collaboration with the union. This is the standard in Sweden. Many medium-sized to large companies require you to be part of a collective agreement. If not, they won’t do business with you.”

Trade Unions: wake up!

If I had to select one message that stood out in the chat with Victor, and earlier conversations with his colleagues, it is that trade unions have to move along with the times. Victor puts it like this, “We can’t just pretend that what was working 10 years ago, is going to be efficient in 10 years from now. That can’t be our mission. I think we must make sure that our members can find secure well-paid work, also in the coming 10 years. That might mean that it needs a shift in jobs because of the industry.” This approaches the fundamental value of labor unions. A very different sound than the traditional defensive message where people try to push a square peg in a round hole.


It is wonderful to see how open Unionen approaches the debate. Although it is of value to emphasize the context in which Unionen operates from a relative fortunate position. The labor union represents the ‘white collar’ workers. Workers with a free choice for whom they would or would not like to work, especially during an economic upturn. It is still questionable if relations will remain as relaxed during a depression.

The real friction between labor unions and platforms usually takes place in the blue-collar sector; a target group outside the scope of Unionen. Moreover, the collective agreements made so far are only with national platforms, but there still is no grip on non-Swedish platforms. There also isn’t yet any urgency to do so for this white-collar trade union, but I’m curious to see in which measure those actors will conform themselves with a national standard. A standard that is under high pressure with companies by the likes of Spotify, making their own internal agreements with their employees irrespective of labor unions. And although the Ghent system sounds as an ideal scenario for labor unions, real life shows that the system offers no reason to lean back. For a more in-depth read on this, I suggest the paper: “The end of the Ghent system as trade union recruitment machinery?”

All of this doesn’t diminish the fact that the approach of Unionen has something unique. Even in an exceptional context, Unionen’s approach is a unique example of how one could do well with a dialogue and social pressure. Hence, a great example for other trade unions considering the development of a realistic and constructive strategy towards platforms and work.

How portability of reputation data could lead to a more inclusive labor market

An ever growing number of parties pleads for more control over personal data within the platform economy. Is this a viable idea? And if so, what would be needed in order to make it possible? Platform expert Martijn Arets of Utrecht University organized a workshop to host 25 stakeholders for a conversation about this theme.

Platforms gather data about the reputation and experiences of platform workers. Actually, they build an online reputation, validated with up to hundreds of clients. ‘Workers should be able to easily carry this reputation data over to another platform’, is the core statement of the last workshop on the platform economy by the Utrecht University.

Representatives of governmental bodies, trade unions, academics and businesses took part in the workshop, together with platform entrepreneurs in particular. Even most of the latter group pleaded for the individual to be able to carry their data along. That is, what could be thought of as stars given to Uber drivers, profiles on cleaning platform Helpling or hospitality reviews from Airbnb.

Less dependence on only one platform

“Parties actually agree on the fact the we should have more control over our reputation data”, says Arets. This would fit a broader development. He refers to the new European privacy legislation which puts consumers in control over their own data. “In healthcare, parties are developing so-called personal ‘data safes’ with private access for patients.”

Similarly, one should be able to download their work-related reviews from platforms (your reputation data) and carry it along, is a sound that is heard more and more frequently in politics and from trade unions. If a platform worker is able to transfer his reviews, he or she is less dependent on one platform only.

Degrees or reputation data?

Petra Zaal, representing Deloitte, researched whether there is any use in it or not. During her studies at the Utrecht University she examined how important degrees still are on the online marketplace. The conclusion: your reputation on work and gig platforms is more important than your education, she argued in her presentation. Especially in regard of unprotected professions like design, copy writing or translation.

Overview and control

Sara Green Brodersen from Danmark presented a possible solution. With Deemly, the organization she founded, it is possible to create a single online profile with all your reviews from different platforms combined. This creates an overview over all your reputation data. Your profile is then shareable by digital links (i.e. widgets and APIs) and hence available for third parties.

“This is the first solution that is useful for everyone”, according to Arets. “First and foremost for users, as they get a better overview and more control over their data. Moreover, it is easier for them to set out on new platform, as they are able to show forth their trustworthiness and competence.”

Rather a bad review, than no review

“Platforms may also profit from solutions like the one Deemly is offering”, elaborates Arets. “They struggle with the ‘newbie dilemma’. New users don’t have any reviews to show and clients are hence reluctant to select these ‘newbies’, which may slow the growth of platforms. We humans just don’t like to take risks.”

A complete reputation profile solves that problem. After uploading this to a new platform, you can immediately show that you are a trustworthy person. “Of course, the reputation of a taxi driver differs from a handyman”, says Arets. “Exchanging scores within the same professional groeps works best, but non sector specific scores contribute to increased trust as well. The key point is to show your existence. In that respect a bad score is even better than no score at all.”

From reviews to an offline CV

The same principle applies to completely new platforms, where none of the users have any reputation data. They will be able to launch even quicker.

The Swedish Public Employment Service, Arbetsförmedlingen, takes it one step further. Lisa Hemph and Nils Ahlsten are developing ‘My Digital Backpack’ in name of the government; a digital backpack containing all your reputation data. All these data will be translated into a CV. It is a way of supporting applicants to show their work experience on platforms to potential employers with a kind of overview made up from digital references.


“Regarding platform economy related queries opinions of employers, trade unions and politicians aren’t as far apart as it seems”, tells Arets. “Though, the practical implementation remains a hot topic. During the workshop we covered questions that need to be answered by any means in order to find a common solution.”

  1. How useful is it to carry reputation data along? One study doesn’t suffice, more research is needed.
  2. How to compare the quality of reviews? Is there a need to establish a standard for online reputations? On one platform, stars are given for the entire experience, although another platform might have separated scores for communication and competence.
  3. How to protect users from a review fatigue? You may be willing to write a review for a hotel visit a few times a year. Yet, when hiring 20 workers a month for your organisation, you aren’t likely to review all of them separately.
  4. Who is in charge of data? Is it a task that should be given to the government? To the market? Or should there be an independent entity (a “reputation data cooperative”)? Ultimately, you wouldn’t like your reputation to disappear when a platform terminates its activities.
  5. How to create room for mistakes in order to learn from them? Even one negative review may haunt you forever.

Next year, Arets will be starting a new research based on these questions.

This article was originally published in Dutch on ZiPconomy.

Transparency within the platform economy: do we need an “algorithm accountant”?

Utrecht University organizes three private workshops about the platform economy. Platforms, trade unions, academics, governments and businesses are looking for solutions to dilemmas they have never really addressed together. The first session deals with ‘the algorithm as mysterious blackbox’.

Government, businesses and trade unions, the platform economy impacts all of them and they all hold their own opinions. A few dilemmas are recurring, especially because these parties rather avoid these common topics. Platform expert Martijn Arets of the Utrecht University is willing to bring about change.

He invites up to 40 stakeholders for three workshops about dilemmas regarding the platform economy. Arets: “They have their backgrounds in all kinds of trades. During the first session, trade unions like FNV, platforms as Roamler and Deliveroo and huge organizations like TNO  and KPMG were present. Representatives of KPMG, the Dutch Ministry of Economics and Climate and the UvA shared their insights.”

Constructive debate

During the workshops stakeholders get to know one another and start the dialogue. “The discussions are meant to be constructive”, emphasizes Arets. “Each and every one has an opinion, but stakeholders hardly ever talk with one another. Still they have to find a solution together in the end. It is my goal to convince them so.”

During the first discussion day, we dealt with the transparency of algorithms, or rather the lack thereof. Arets: “It is unclear how exactly platforms make the match between supply and demand. An algorithm is a mysterious blackbox for most of us and instills distrust.”

The urgency of transparency

Openness about algorithms is tricky for two reasons. First, the algorithm is an essential part of a platform; the app with the best matchmaking system for supply and demand wins. So, it is highly competition sensitive.

Secondly users often times do not want to know how algorithms work. An in-depth explanation is way to complicated and doesn’t contribute to trust in the system. Representatives of platforms also uttered that most them and their competitors are perfectly able to explain how their algorithms work in the case it would be asked. But practically users hardly ever call in to ask for such an explanation.

“Only when encountering trouble, things become urgent for platforms”, says Arets. He tells about Taxi app Uber, as an example, which is making prices soar as soon as it understands that you really can’t go without. Later on he mentions the Dutch trade union FNV, which in a court case against Deliveroo stated that deliverers are being disadvantaged when they often turn down gigs. “Deliveroo denied this. And that was how their discussion ended. It simply wasn’t possible to check and resulted in mistrust of the platform.”

KPMG and the algorithm accountant

It is smart to anticipate these kind of discussions, according to Arets. “Set out proactively with your explanations, because consumers are getting more and more aware of their responsibility and privacy.”

The best way of getting about was discussed in a presentation by, among others, Frank van Praat of KPMG. He explains that it all stands or falls with explainability.

This is to say that not all of your system has to be unveiled. Definitely not. It is about you telling which choices are made and the impact they have on the individual. On a babysitting platform it is a logical consequence that your rating drops when you showed up late for three times. But you have to be clear about that to the users.


Van Praat pleas for a kind of platform ‘insert’: a general explanation of the risks with a simple description of the choices an algorithm makes and their reasoning. This should be as understandable as possible; users should really read such an explanation.

Furthermore, he fancies the idea of an ‘algorithm accountant’, as long as the responsibility for trustworthy algorithms remains in the hands of the user. Van Praat: “The task of the accountant is mainly to check whether the user of the algorithm is working in trustworthy ways (i.e. conform the statements made in the insert).”

Regulatory pressure and innovation

Not everybody agrees with him on these statements. Controls cost both time and money. Platform entrepreneurs ask themselves if this regulatory pressure is proportional. Especially in cases it concerns app that work with less sensitive data. Parties are also afraid that too much control hinders innovation.

“There isn’t much experience yet in the field of algorithms and accountancy”, summarizes Arets. “It is of importance to think about the impact of algorithms and the risks of things going wrong. Based on these considerations it will be possible to decide which algorithms should subject to audits.”

“A second consideration is whether regulatory pressure should make a difference between digital and non-digital intermediaries”, he says. “Nothing should be done, just because it is possible to do so.”

This article was originally published in Dutch on ZiPconomy.

Trade Unions, don’t get steamed up by the platform economy.

FNV, the largest trade union of the Netherlands, published the Dutch report titled ‘Riders deserve more – The food delivery sector in the Netherlands’. This report purposes to estimate, based on their own research, the amount delivery platforms extract from society and couriers by choosing a freelance model and avoiding compliance to Collective Labor Agreements (CLA).

Reading the report carefully, and seeing through the creative juggling with CLA standards, the FNV is inadvertently advertising these platforms. The results show that differences aren’t too big and that, especially youngsters, now have ways of earning substantially more than used to be possible in the traditional market.

 The essence of the juggling is in the choice of CLAs used in their calculations. Calculations by the FNV based on what riders do earn or should earn are centered around TLN-COA, a CLA for Transport and Logistics. This claim is based on the fact that couriers are delivering goods of third parties. An interesting exemption are the UberEats couriers who are legally exempted from this, though I won’t elaborate on this here. According to the mentioned TLN-CLA, the gross minimum wage of a 22 year old, the age used by the FNV in their calculations, is €14.99. None of the platforms concerned meets this standard.

Although most of the work executed through platforms isn’t new, the way in which the transactions are handled is different from before. Hence, I was interested in reviewing the way non-platform deliverers are being paid. If UberEats and Deliveroo would pay their deliverers less than international pizza chain Domino’s (the company listing a turnover of 2.59 billion and a profit of 136,2 million last year), this would indeed mean a deterioration of the market. I discovered that Domino’s’ deliverers in the Netherlands aren’t paid according the TLN-CLA, but rather according to the so-called ‘Horeca CAO’ (CLA Hotel & Catering Industry). They don’t transport third party merchandise, but the products of restaurants. And the respective CLA is much less interesting, especially for younger couriers. Up until 1,976 hours of experience with the same employer within the food service industry, a deliverer is entitled for the Legal Minimum Wage, with a gross hourly renumeration from €2.99 (!!) (for a 15 y/o) up to a maximum of €9.94 (for someone at least 21 years of age).

You may conclude that riders working through a platform earn more on average than the average rider in the industry. This regardless of the surely extremely important discussion about insurances. Both Uber as well as Deliveroo offer an insurance, although I have no proper insight in these matters to draw up a comparison here, neither the time to gain such insight. Reading through some messages about Domino’s on online forums regarding the level of satisfaction with their insurances and the way they deal with illness shows that a comparison of platforms with an ideal honest world isn’t fair either.

The accumulation of pension funds starts at the age of 21 only within the food service industry. Besides that, taking into account that most riders are young, have a low average amount of working hours and are entitled to tax credit, they will usually hardly pay any taxes.

Don’t get all steamed up

The calculations above show that a critical take on the message and discernment of the sender is needed at all times, as well as the purpose of the sender in the particular message. In this piece the FNV is clearly taking a stand, but by pushing it exaggeratingly (including other assumptions being presented as facts in this report), they are totally missing the mark in my opinion. Which is a shame, because the underlying questions addressed by the FNV in this article surely are important, even though some aren’t exactly platform oriented.

 Deliveroo showcases in turn, with their own calculations, that deliverers earn substantially more than the specified amounts in the FNV reports. Two researches on the impact of the company have been executed on their behalf as well. Backed by a research carried out by Capital Economics, Deliveroo shows that their contribution towards the economic growth in the Netherlands amounts 26.8 million euro (measured in terms of gross domestic product). The platform also claims to realize 2,100 new jobs within the food service industry.

In short, too many contradicting messages, and hence high time for a mature discussion as well as independent facts.

What should Deliveroo do?

Many of these discussions end in a ‘tis – ‘tisn’t argument. FNV says the algorithm offers couriers less gigs when they refuse many assignments. Deliveroo says it isn’t true. FNV states that couriers are dissatisfied, and that Deliveroo is exploiting the freelance construction. Deliveroo contradicts this. We’re not getting anywhere. Personally, I think it would be constructive to see Deliveroo present facts (and figures) in the near future, and if possible to show proof by the use of a ‘trusted 3rd party’. In fact, I don’t understand that the judge of the first court case went ahead with the existent unclarity. It really was unnecessary.

What should the FNV do?

It would grace the FNV if they would bury the hatchet they have been swinging somewhat too enthusiastically. The issues the FNV is concerned about are relevant in most cases, but the veil of activism surrounding the message only leads astray. It’s a shame, because these two trends seem to be discoverable in the FNV’s messages:

  1. The dissatisfaction of the FNV with freelancers that shouldn’t be freelancers in their opinion;
  2. The concerns about platform specific dangers for the vulnerable individual.

The first issue isn’t a platform specific discussion. Legislation on freelancers is unclear in many countries and regulation is lacking. This constitutes a battle to be fought at a different level. If the FNV is allowing this discussion to overshadow the platform debate in respect of trade unions, a great chance is lost.

This great chance is in regard of point 2, the platform specific questions. They do exist by the likes of:

  1. The influence of working at piece rates on behavior (and safety) of food deliverers;
  2. The influence of algorithmic management on food deliverers and road safety. From results of research 1 and 2 should become clear whether, and under which circumstances, piece rates are a sound idea or not;
  3. The unique chance platforms offer to achieve real time transparency of decision making processes of the algorithmic management by means of an algorithm accountant. Something impossible in offline matchmaking. So, there are chances at hand;
  4. The possibility to support initiatives in which suppliers become and remain the owners of their own data. (Something that needs to be researched first in order to understand whether it would be of value at all. This topic has my curiosity.)

Constructive discussion

It appears necessary to me that food delivery platforms and trade unions should take a constructive approach on these queries in cooperation with research partners –if it works for me behind closed doors at the workshops I organize, it might work as well in the openness. All parties are still hunting the golden egg and seem to be a (long) way from finding it. Experimenting and learning together to see what works best isn’t a bad idea at all. Even when, according to the media, opinions diverge greatly, all stakeholders have smart and willing people employed that are ready to move forward, which is exactly all that is needed in this debate.

This article was originally published in Dutch on ZiPconomy

How Uber’s wild ride may end up as Silicon Valley’s greatest start-up deception

Uber, the company rewriting the definition of disruption only three short years ago, is soon to list shares on the NYSE. Upon Lyft’s disappointing market entry, expectations are high regarding Uber’s future. Working with an exceptionally fragile model, it is questionable if the scale-up will be able to realize its ambitions. This article explains why.

Growth ingredients

 In order to understand the model’s vulnerabilities, one should first be aware of the ingredients for the growth Uber experienced within the United States. The American model of Uber is based on the fact that many cars are idly parked in driveways (whereas fixed expenses continue), as well as high unemployment rates, an inefficient public transport network, growing smart phone adoption, ambiguous regulations, and an inefficient taxi market –which had deleted the word ‘service’ from its vocabulary long ago.

Under these conditions, Uber was able to offer an excelling customer experience at acceptable rates and hence grow exponentially. It won the clients’ and investors’ trust and started an international expansion. In less than a decade a multinational business with an office hosting over 18,000 employees has been established with 24.2 billion dollar venture capital. 

Weak network effects

Platforms realize their growth by using network effects. I once switched from the the popular Dutch social network website Hyves to Facebook as I wanted to stay connected to my international friends Nederland. Facebook is a mighty platform, due to international network effects. Uber’s platform also works with network effects, but there are two important side notes to be made. Uber having thousands of taxi’s driving around London doesn’t influence pick-up times in any other city. As client and driver have to meet one another physically in a taxi, the company doesn’t benefit from international, but only from local network effects.

Secondly, transactions take place physically and locally, and a correct balance between supply and demand has to be created from city to city and sometimes from postal area to postal area. Uber has to deal with an asymptotic network effect. Growth in supply intrinsically shortens the waiting times before pickup and stabilizes the supply, yet a tipping point exists at which an additional taxi as supplier on the platform doesn’t add any value for the client. The arrival times will not shorten anymore, and the increase in service quality offered to the client will be brought to a halt, even when more taxis are added to the network. After this point, every newly applied taxi driver won’t benefit in competing against (local) competitors. 

Because of weak local network effects, it is relatively easy to launch locally active competitors. Last week new steps in Sony’s announcement to launch its own taxi service app in Tokyo appeared. By cooperating with 5 established taxi companies the app will start out with about 10,000 taxi’s, according to their words.

The affiliation with self-owned shared bikes and scooters, another of Uber’s ambitions, is a long shot again. This new form of mobility will go hand in hand with other billion dollar funded start-ups (of which some are already on the brink of failure) in each and every city, and has to be discussed with the local government to let this new form of mobility ground within a city. Uber Taxi shows us that the enterprise has had to adopt a more collaborative approach to be allowed to operate in several cities. In order to succeed with its ambitions regarding bike and scooter sharing, these kinds of collaborations will need to intensify drastically. That in itself is contrary to an easily scalable model. Regardless the question if this could function as a viable business model. An interesting read is this interview with Tony Ho, vice-president of global business development at Segway-Ninebot, by the Financial Times. He is convinced that “Electric scooter sharing start-ups, including Bird and Lime, are not sustainable”.  

Low switching costs

As long as a driver meets local requirements, the threshold to start working for any app is low. From the moment a competing app becomes available within a certain city, oftentimes we notice that a great amount of drivers switch from one app to another. The same applies to clients. After installing the the app and creating an account, it is extremely simple to switch between these apps to see which of the two offers you the best supply for the moment. Brand loyalty of users on both supply and demand side is utterly low. Many drivers are listed with several platforms at the same time. Combining this with local network effects, one can understand that there is much playing space for local or national competitors.

Of course, they won’t have the scale advantage of an internationally operating party, which can invest even more in the development of technology, but the local operating party may cooperate more easily with corporate clients like hospitals and residential homes. Yes, Uber’s technology has an advantage in ‘on demand’ orders, yet many orders could still be made and planned upfront. 

National and institutional context

The added value of an app is strongly dependent on the national context in which it operates. In the United States the market offered room to scale up a service we know as ‘UberPop’, a service banned from almost all European countries. Furthermore, many European countries do have well-functioning, tight public transport networks, lowering the added value of the service Uber is offering. 

One of the centerpieces of Uber is its reputation system which has to guarantee that the a trustworthy driver is behind the wheel. This is one of the main aspect of adding value in countries where the government lacks checking mechanisms, but in many countries such checks are solidly in place. The reputation system has become more or less an automated HR-manager filtering out the rotten apples, rather than a substantial improvement of the system.  

The app to access your mobility

Considering the above, it isn’t striking to notice that Uber has changed its strategy in desiring to become app that is your access point to mobility. A taxi service is exchangeable, but the homepage to your mobility is a much stronger starting point.  

Although Uber has a strong hand to play, and a great wealth in gathered data to work with, it will still be a huge challenge to realize its renewed ambitions. Whereas they entered a fragmented taxi market, being able to provide substantial added value to suppliers, it will now have to cooperate with the status quo and other newly entering players, which will stand their ground and most importantly: they won’t share their client contact and data with any other party. 

Even if Uber will reach the point it has mind, it is still questionable whether it will develop sufficient scale to make the circle come round regarding its revenue model, let alone the fulfillment of promises made to its investors. In that respect, Uber still has a long road ahead and it could definitely happen that the greatest start-up adventure in history, as described by Adam Lashinsky in the book ‘Wild Ride’, ends as a deception.

What will our working life look like in 2040?

Invited to a 5 minute pitch addressing attendees of the ‘Festival for Modern Workers’, I was asked to give a sneak peak into the future of work. What will our working life look like in 2040? Which are going to be our greatest challenges and opportunities? And what is going to be the major task of the Werkvereniging, a group professionals working towards modernization of the labor market, supporting modern forms of work, life and learning. I decided to form my speech as a plea for the future of work, which I gladly present.

Interestingly we speak about 2040, yet not even understanding our current times. 2040 is a long stretch away. In 2040, I may be grandfather and my children Joep, Sophie and Anna may have finished their studies. Although they won’t have stopped learning, neither will have I.

If one would ask a tech optimist what working life would look like in 2040, surely he would be of the opinion –I’m implying a he, as chances are he would be a man– that technology will have solved all our issues by that time. Wonderful, as we don’t have to take any responsibility right now. The problem lies in the fact that tech optimists tend to forget that ratio doesn’t beat emotion and that success of technology is found in facilitating people, not in leading them. Something, on a side note, many so-called leaders might want to reconsider.

 If one would ask a flex working optimist an identical question, the imagined worker would appear as an empowered happy individual, hopping from project to project. Someone who keeps learning for a lifetime and who works to live and doesn’t require much government intervention. He or she will fend for himself or herself. A beautiful utopia stemming from a certain bias of the world being equal and honest, all people being able to choose for themselves what they would like to do and everyone overflowing with ambition.

 If one would ask an optimist on social securities, say someone of a trade union, the same question again, the answer would be that everyone has a fixed job, would work in accordance with collective labor agreements and they would pay their monthly contribution without any delay. There is no need to wait for 2040 to understand that this model starts to crumble within the Netherlands and at many other places this system has once flourished.

 If one would ask a platform optimist, someone from the category I belong to, the what working life would look like in 2040, I would state that platforms lower transaction costs, solve information asymmetry, enable the individual to market his or her skills optimally, facilitates temporary cross-border and cross-bubble cooperation, and that data and review scores will have replaced diplomas by 2040, but hopefully even quicker. I would argue that those capitalistic platforms, where workers are dependent on, will have been replaced by cooperative and decentralized variants and the considerably downsized government will guarantee social securities ‘by design’, hence equalling the playing field for everybody.

Anyone claiming to know what 2040 will look like, lies like a trooper. All our statements on what 2040 could be are more or less wishes spoken from the perspective or bubble we’re living in at the moment.

All very well, so let’s be clear about that. What I may be able to share is what I personally hope working life would look like in 2040. And what the ingredients would be to possibly end up at that point.

What I hope to see, is that our working life by 2040 looks somewhat like the following: In 2040, we would have found a balance in ways technology is empowering the individual in a facilitating manner. Workers will organize themselves through platforms in a way that fits them well. Not confined to borders or descent, nor the temporary nature of a formation and giving equal chances to everyone. Continuously developing and simultaneously valuing and judging on actual added value. Not based on the privilege of the bubble you belong to and which bubble you support. With the correct, ever changing, balance between on and off, gearing up and slowing down.

When we would like to have a world of equality and equal chances as a central element, it implies that by then we will have take a step back. Which also means that the definition of success will have to be rewritten. However much we may be complaining, we are still part of the lucky 1% of the world’s population. Don’t feel guilty about it, but be aware of your position.

With a more fluid role of working individuals, a more fluid framework is needed to follow suit. All verticals, sectors and collective labor agreements will have been crushed by horizontal thinking and social securities will have been unlinked from their dependency on working relationships. I might even drop the B-word of Basic Income.  Better even: basic facilities and social securities for everyone. We will have noticed that all chit-chat about generations X, Y, or Z has been short sighted. Every individual has different needs during each phase of life. Generations differ, but we’re still humans after all, all clichés included. A more fluid system will be essential. I hope we’ll be at that point in 2040.

But hope buys you noting. Time to talk actions. What steps are there to be taken now in order to reach the utopian 2040 scenario?

Currently, I observe a world in which several parties with historical interests have entrenched themselves. And from that position beyond the reach of daylight they keep trying to survive. Living in a continuous phase of denial. I also notice that very few parties dare to take their responsibility and that new initiatives are received with great enthusiasm, but all stakeholders are greatly lacking urgency, the guts and the ambitions to pull through seriously. 

To achieve the 2040 scenario, a change of system will be needed. To reach such an objective it will show to be essential that our past, interests, fear and ego lose their dominant role in the debate and we all admit that we’ve realized, “We have no clue what we should do.” The good news is: you are not the only one. Starting from vulnerability, without being trapped in sectors and verticals, we can start building together. Recognizing that each and every one of us, coming from whatever background, is also a willing and good person. In the end with the same goal as the party he or she now despises and might even consider his or her greatest enemy. 

Exchanging our ‘have to’ for a ‘want to’, our ‘it’s impossible’ for a ‘how can we make it work’, our focusing on ourselves (single stakeholder) for a focus on us (multi stakeholder), and our ‘walking out’ for recognizing and taking on responsibilities. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of ALL stakeholders together. Nobody excluded. So it’s your responsibility as well. Even when 2040 sounds comfortably far away, it does not exempt you to keep burying your head in the sand.

What could be the role of an organization like Werkvereniging in all of this? I see a role as initiator, connector, catalyst, bridge builder, incubator and in ‘practice what you preach’. Even Werkvereniging has to exit its own bubble and step on the gas of ambition. If we want to make the 2040 scenario happen, we should all start the expedition together. Yes, I’m in favor of it.

Gig economy assumptions debunked. Or not really?

The role of platforms can no longer be excluded from debates on the future of organizing work. I predict that labor of every sector will –at least partially– be organized by platforms over the years to come. Not only by external platforms, but also internal (white label) platforms catering for the organization of both the flexible and the fixed shell of organizations. The gig economy is a bright mix of flavors and more are to be added soon.

My personal unease with discussions on the gig economy’s future is in the way the current circumstances are projected on the future and mostly expressed in extreme scenarios. Harvard Business Review published this blog post debunking some mythes about the gig economy. These are the statements, which are reportedly untrue:

  1. Millennials love to gig;
  2. We’re all going to be giggers;
  3. Gig is better;
  4. Gig work is unfulfilling.

All in all, it sounds like an interesting list of statements and maybe you do experience it as a major setback we’re not all going to be giggers in the end. But, to say the least, this didn’t take me by surprise. Why? Because the listed items aren’t very substantial. I started to write an article on the individual points, but soon I realized that such wouldn’t contribute to a constructive and informative analysis. Therefore I would rather point out why these kind of generic researches do not contribute to the public debate.

1 . Labor and platforms are too manifold to be wrapped in one-liners

There is much talk about the ‘the’ gig economy, but it is hard to make any statement on the gig economy in general. Why? Because every industry and each kind of platform has its own dynamics, including its individual opportunities and challenges. Still we fall into the trap of generalizing. The very same thing happened during a meetup regarding a Dutch documentary on the gig economy (to be seen here) last Thursday in Amsterdam. Initially the conversation wisely started by mentioning these broad dynamics, just to throw all caution overboard and keep on generalizing. The way things happen to be.

A few random variables determining the dynamics of a platform:

  • Is the gig done online or offline?;
  • Are new employment opportunities created or is the platform eating off of the other’s part of the pie?;
  • Were gigs usually done on the black or the white market?;
  • Does the worker posses unique or commodity skills?;
  • Are the skills scarce or abundantly available (there could even be a scarcity in commodity skills)?;
  • Is someone’s income from the gig economy supplemental or main income?;
  • Is the platform willing to cooperate with established institutions or not?

2 . ‘The’ platform worker is nonexistent. Neither is there a platform generation.

At the meetup, a cleaner formerly working with cleaning platform Helpling (now suing the very platform) and a cook actively working with gig platform Temper joined the table. These two platform workers wonderfully illustrated the dynamics of the platform workers’ world. On the one hand the domestic cleaning lady feeling dependent and controlled by the platform, moreover carrying the feeling that she is unable to do anything else, and disappointment over the platform not hiring her. On the other, the cook possessing unique skills, exactly knowing how to squeeze out every little bit of what the platform has to offer, skillfully profiling himself and enjoying the optimal freedom and flexibility of working via a platform. Measuring both platform workers with the same yard stick would be pure nonsense.

Just like the enormous diversity within the platform economy, also ‘the’ platform worker is a very broad concept. Furthermore, it is very important to understand how this ‘worker’ would have functioned outside of these platforms. In other words, is the platform a worsening or (at least) some enrichment to the opportunities of supplier?

Resulting from EY study, quoted several times in the HBR article by the EY author, among the respondents of the generation of millennials ‘only’ 24% earn money within the gig economy and that “the percentage of millennials with full-time careers is rising at a brisk clip from 45% in 2016 to 66% in 2018”, according to their collected data.

I am in the blue of the origins of the assumption that certain generations would be more or less ‘gig’ sensitive, but I do think –which surely is an assumption as well– that it is not advisable to project such far-going expectations on a complete generation. Even though this generation is digitally a lot more skillful than the previous and is raised more self-reliant in believing the sky to be the limit –which does influence their mindsets– it still does not imply that this generation would massively show forth a change in behavior. Besides, every individual processes through several phases of life while his or her priorities shift between different areas. I compare it with the assumption that the ‘new’ generation does not like to own a car and prefers access over property. Nothing wrong with that as long as you do have but a few obligations, yet when time comes –as is my personal case– that you settle to start a family, have children, etc. the priorities begin to shift and other topics become important. Those priorities will logically change per life stage. Similarly, one changes his mind when looking for either greater flexibility or more certainty, independent of being a millennial, or generation X, Y or Z.

3 . An increasing amount of gig work is invisible

Talking about the gig economy used to be clear and straightforward. Platforms like Uber, Deliveroo and Helpling were all there was. It couldn’t be more convenient. The trend nowadays is platforms mixing in with the ‘traditional’ matchmakers. Dutch gig platforms Temper and YoungOnes platformize specific categories formerly organized by the employment agency industry. The next step being platforms organizing the flexible shell of organizations and consequently the full workforce of organizations, also because fixed personnel can be organized more efficiently by use of a platform. Parallel developments are found in the rising use of algorithms for selection procedures, as implemented by several publicly traded companies, and the use of artificial intelligence.

Whereas the gig economy used to be rather isolated about roughly one year ago, making it relatively easy to identify, I now predict platform thinking as a mindset and technique to play a rapidly growing role in every industry in the years to come, both behind the scenes and in the open. A movement not restricted to the platform start- and scale-ups currently using these techniques, but also within existing organizations. We should realize that there are great opportunities to a) redivide the market, b) increase the market and c) improve the opportunities and position of workers. I’m still disappointed about the measure of awareness within the entire sector, in strong contrast to the mobility industry.

It goes to show that the manifold gig economy is not to be wrapped up in a few one-liners and that it is high time to continue the debate on a different level.

Gebouwd voor de toekomst: Hoe Sharetribe het ‘steward ownership’ model omarmde

The shareholders quest to playing a constructive role in a company instead of shareholder serving company attitude, was the main topic of the ‘Ownership Conference’ I visited in Berlin last week. The centrally highlighted model during the congress was called the ‘steward ownership model’.

I’m discovering this model, because the platform economy is in hot debate about the extractive character of money. Venture Capital investors and entrepreneurs are often in it for the short-term profits only. This, in fact, can lead to perverse stimuli regarding long term decision making. Moreover, in many cases headed this direction the founders (as well as some employees of the first hour) will find their way out after a take-over, leaving the business crumbling.

The video below shows my interview with Juho Makkonen, founder of Sharetribe. Sharetribe creates (open source) software for anyone to build their own sharing economy marketplace, without the premise of any technical schooling. Sharetribe has gone through a transformation over the span of last year and became a Steward Ownership company. This means that:

  • the voting rights aren’t in the hands of the investors, but in the hands of the management team working for the company;
  • the company cannot be sold ever;
  • salaries have a ceiling;
  • the investment return for investors is capped at 5x and shares may be bought back with a maximum yearly rate of 40% of the company’s profit.

Although this model wouldn’t be a workable fit for every entrepreneur, it is a very interesting way of embedding securities within the business’ ownership model. The model is however not new; the 130 year old company Bosch also runs on a (partial) steward ownership structure.

Reshaping Work: 5 insights into the gig economy‘s most urgent issues

The early gig economy discussion has majorly been focussing on commodity skilled labor like taxi driving, household cleaning, and click working, but recently there is shift towards a more encompassing approach. A beneficial trend, as I’m convinced that platforms will soon be organizing work in all kinds of industries.

ING published a paper titled ‘Algorithms versus the temporary employment sector Is there a future for temporary employment agencies?’. Their prediction is that about 20-70 percent flex work market share is to be redistributed by the rise of online platforms. In this context it isn’t surprising at all to see a growing number of stakeholders joining the discussion.

October 25th and 26th, 2018, the second edition of the ‘Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy’ congress took place in Amsterdam. Although many congresses on this topic focus on one specific stakeholder only (e.g. academics, start-ups, unions, or the deployment agencies), this congress exhibits a unique multi-disciplinary approach. An approach worth copying.

This blog is devoted to the tweets I put out during the congress, highlighting and elaborating on the congress’ most remarkable insights into the gig economy’s most urgent issues.

1. What is the size of the gig economy?

Depending on definition and the duration of a gig, researchers find sizes for the gig economy from 0.4% up to 22% of the total labor market. You see: there isn’t any meaningful statement to be made. Does that matter? It actually doesn’t, as long as each and every research clearly states which variables are and which are not accounted for in the used definition for the gig economy, something apparently difficult in practice. It wouldn’t be a superfluous luxury to see a bit more unity established among researches.

One of the most important, yet still underemphasized, variables is whether a transaction is processed by an online or offline platform. When talking about the challenges and opportunities arising from a online platform processed transactions, it would by definition be perfect to include those transactions only. But when the size of the full gig economy is to be considered, and something is to be said about working conditions, it would surely be beneficial to have an accurate measure of the size of the entire gig market. No valid statement can be made about cleaners working through helpling in comparison to other unknown cleaners working through other intermediators (working without a platform or even by classifieds, etc.). A second example can be found in the food delivery sector. has its own hired deliverers, for whom it has orchestrated all social securities and insurances, but they deliver only 1.4 percent of the total number of deliveries executed by the platform. The other 98.6 percent is being carried out by couriers hired by the restaurants themselves. Until we start gathering knowledge about the working conditions of this group, we can’t say anything useful concerning the market as a whole and whether a platform is a blessing or a curse compared to the status quo.

Another outstanding point of the opening keynote by my colleague Koen Frenken is the fact that many gig workers use these gigs as ‘supplemental income’. Lauren Sepoetro, public policy advisor at Uber, confirmed this later on in the congress. UberEats isn’t meant to be the main source of income. Which is virtually impossible, given the fact that work hours are generally around lunch and dinner times. It still is a plus to hear such facts confirmed by a leading platform.

2. Platforms, the new generation deployment agencies?

The ING paper ‘Algorithms versus the temporary employment sector Is there a future for temporary employment agencies?’ predicts, as stated before, that about 20-70 percent flex work market share is to be redistributed by the rising online platforms. Shocking figures. Existing deployment agencies surely aren’t passive, yet the message is clear: Their work is cut out for them.

Last week, I shared a blog on the Danish platform Meploy organizing both their own and the external flexible shell of organizations through one platform. And also the employment agency industry has published quite a few statements and editorials about their role within the platform and freelance discussion.

During the presentation of Oxford Internet Institute researchers, working on a fabulous research on online work within the gig economy, the presentation slide below was shown. Platform Sourcing (check their report ‘Platform Sourcing: How Fortune 500 Firms Are Adopting Online Freelancing Platforms’) is a term I had not yet come across, but it sounds good. The more I think about it, the more I talk about it with others, and the more I start to be convinced that the link between platforms within the gig economy and the employment agency industry is merely logical. I think that the answers to questions on social securities for platform workers could be found in this direction.

I assume all of us are convinced that the full labor system needs to be redefined. Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the UK based RSA (check this club!), shared his vision that no fiscal differences should exist for clients and workers between fixed and flexible forms of work. However, it is clear for such a shift to happen, we will have to wait a couple of years. And, for the time being, we will have to find our solutions…

3. Are official degrees still valid in the gig economy?

Platforms lower the threshold to enter the labor market. The majority of the gig platforms are open for use to anyone without any prior experience. No degree required. During your first gigs on the platform you’ll establish your reputation score, which will help you in receiving your next assignments.

The question at hand is: are degrees still valid in the online gig economy? The answer by colleague Andrea Herrmann of Utrecht University is clear: “No”, as she concludes after extensive research on data from one of the world’s biggest gig platforms. Moreover, the number of years of experience on a platform and the reputation score are important, the latter to no surprise. Gender, on the other hand, is sadly also of importance; men do earn more than women for the same kind of work in the online gig economy like elsewhere.

It is, on the other hand, interesting to experiment with these things. Swedish social services experimented in drawing up traditional resumes from the experiences and reputation scores of gig platforms CV. A very interesting experiment.

4. How satisfied are workers in the gig economy?

Juliet Schor, Professor Sociology at Boston College, has been researching the platform economy with her team over the last year. I met (and interviewed) her in Utrecht before, about three years ago during the first International Workshop on the Sharing Economy. Juliet shared her keynote results from the research on satisfaction, autonomy and income of workers in the (offline) gig economy.

Interestingly, those who use the platform for supplemental income, without developing a dependence, are usually very satisfied and have a great sense of autonomy and earn a decent amount. Why? Because they profit from their position to only choose the well-paid gigs and don’t fear getting lesser scores; even deactivation of their account would not have a much of an impact on their lives. They are skillfully ignoring the control mechanisms of the algorithms. Likewise, a deliverer working for Postmates who lets the client come to her car to collect the delivery. She finds it too dangerous to go up to the door herself at such a time of the day. She doesn’t mind ignoring the rules of the platform, because she isn’t dependent on the platform for her income.

The situation for those that are dependent on the platform. They have to take every available job and will choose for the lower paid gigs as well. Additionally, this group suffers from the fear of the negative consequences of a bad review and how it influences their feeling of working autonomously.

5. The gig economy from a worker’s perspective

Special to the Reshaping Work congress is the fact that all stakeholders are present and involved in the development, host round tables –of course I joined the table with the Dutch Trade Union FNV after writing my last week’s blog about them– and on the second day I shared the stage for the debate called ‘meet the gig worker’. (Watch last year’s video).

In this edition, representatives of Deliveroo and UberEats shared the stage with 6 of their ‘own’ gig workers. Some of the findings:

Scheduled or really on demand?

Deliveroo works with scheduled services. Three variables can give the deliverer an advantage in his application for a gig:

  1. Does the deliverer act on the agreements and did he work for earlier reserved sessions;
  2. Last minute cancellations (if anyone cancels a session more than 24 hours in advance it does not effect their score);
  3. Does the deliverer work during peak hours (Friday, Saturday, and on Sunday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.).

Of course you can sign up spontaneously, but when the maximum number of deliverers within a region is reached, newly logged in workers won’t be scheduled. UberEats doesn’t work with scheduled services and is purely on demand. You may expect the Deliveroo model to lead to better income for the couriers; because the supply is regulated, it will never be possible to have too many couriers working simultaneously in comparison with the number of assignments. At UberEats there is less grip on the supply side of the platform. It would be interesting to research which of these models shows to be most profitable to the deliverer.

To be or not to be a freelancer, that’s the question.

The foremost discussion of the moment and the years to come is on whether the platform worker will be a considered a freelancer or is to be hired by the platform? The Attorneys I spoke to about the Dutch context predict this issue to remain unclear for the coming years.

Although there is much talk about the worker, there is but little place for them to express themselves. Inviting them to speak up, may lead to interesting results. Their response on the question if they prefer to be a freelancer or to be hired, their unanimous answer is: “Freelancer.” Especially interesting as the very same workers asked for more clarity on income and tariffs earlier in the conversation. Their motives:

  • The results of your efforts show forth immediately. Cycling faster, earns more. The competitive element is experienced positively;
  • The flexibility: work when as long as you want;
  • Autonomy: be your own boss, make your own choices.

Although the choice is clear, it remains questionable if the individual deliverers are able to understand the risks concerning insurances, work disability and pension first of all, and secondly, if we would ultimately like to pay the price for the uninsured worker as a society. A number of platform representatives I talked to during the congress were open to compulsory insurances for workers. As long as it would not be considered as them becoming the employer. Bottom line, the choice is between flexibility and security. Which is no desirable case.

What is the bottleneck?

Right in the middle of this discussion, a to me unexpected and rather underexposed  stakeholder with an enormous influence on the bicycle deliverer’s fortune showed up: the restaurant. Platforms like Deliveroo and UberEats give restaurants not yet active in food delivering the opportunity to tap into their network of couriers on the platform. However, this does not prepare their processes to having their food delivered. A few points of consideration:

  • • Long waiting times: commonly other clients take precedence over the bicycle deliverers and their waiting is at their own expense;
  • • Restaurants aren’t yet accustomed to packing meals for transport. The result: flooded, mixed, neither very attractive nor tasty meals in lousy paper bags. Something the couriers will be judged on in their evaluations on the platform.

Deliveroo indicates to help restaurants with advice, but there is still much to improve for both platforms. I’m, however, interested whether these negative experiences also hold for restaurants with their own hired deliverers. I assume not to the same extent as a result of an increased feeling of ownership.

Wrapping up

Over six years ago, I decided to start working on the platform economy full time. All based on the conviction this development would be influencing every industry over a span of the next decade. First crowdfunding, secondly the sharing economy and consecutively the gig economy. I also predicted, reasoning by pure logic, the last of these to be the most interesting and to offer the most relevant issues. For, surely, the heavier someone depends on a platform, the clearer the pain of a suboptimal model.

It was wonderful to see so many different stakeholders become visible on a personal level during the debates and to noticed how they opened up for each other’s opinions and challenges. This way of communication is much more pleasant than the one in court cases. The stakeholders’ next step is to take a more constructive attitude towards the outside world on an institutional level, as that is the road to success for all who are involved.

I recognize myself taking on the task of bridging gaps by bringing several parties within stakeholder groups together and by connecting stakeholders with one another. I am excited to do so from an independent position and honored to play this part.

Meploy is showing businesses the future of organizing flexible work.

Many discussions within the gig economy focus on platforms connecting the individual demander with an individual supplier. The one-on-one transaction. A taxi driver and a traveller, a cleaning lady with a private citizen, and the babysitter with a family with children. Platforms lower the threshold for these kind of activities and pave the way for markets to grow. It has caught my eye that recently such discussions mainly focus on the individual client. There is hardly any word on the opportunities such platform developments could offer to business clients.

Slightly over a year ago, I travelled to Copenhagen to meet up with the founder of gig platform Meploy. Initially founded as a platform to connect freelancers to businesses for short term gigs, it soon they made an interesting switch. By converting to a staffing model, they hired the ones who would execute the gigs and became a completely digital first employment agency.

I kept following Michael, Meploy’s founder, and met him several times throughout Europe, just like last Thursday in Brussels. He told me they now facilitate fixed clients with their complete flexible hiring. And during last year only they have grown by a factor of 10.

Meploy is a platform that more or less shows how I expect the gig economy —though I rather call it the platforms facilitating the organization of work— to develop over the next couple of years. Beginning with the facilitation of gigs for (and between) consumers, slowly evolving to a means of organizing the flexible shell of organizations, whether or not white label. This is highly interesting to organizations, because the benefits of those platforms in lowering their transaction costs can now also be applied to a business HR environment.

Besides taking the flexible shell into their own system, another extra interesting plus for the organization is that it can additionally benefit from the platform’s talent pool. In doing so, the platform takes over the whole organization flow of the flexible shell. This development may have an considerable impact on the temporary work agency sector. Whether this impact will turn out to be an opportunity or threat is to be determined by the industry itself. This area of the gig economy has not yet been part of the discussion, but will, in my opinion, have great impact in the near future.

P.s. A couple days ahead of my conversation with Michael, I read his latest blog in which he announced to yearly share 10% of the companies profit among those that worked through the platform over that year. He has given thought to a cooperative model, but with the impermanent relation to workers on the platform, it would not provide any added value in his opinion. With this, I believe he has created a finely unique solution.

Case analysis: Dutch Trade Union sues gig platform.

It had been in the air for some time already, the rumor mill had been grinding for over a year, but it only happened last week. On the day home cleaning platform Helpling was to announce a newly received investment and expansion to Switserland, the Dutch Trade Union FNV pooped the party by their announcement to sue the platform.

The message of the union’s press release was very clear: FNV is of the opinion Helpling should hire cleaners that are using the platform. What struck me is that the article contained quite some factual errors. Statements in such a measure incorrect that it could not just be coincidence. Throughout the article, the FNV speaks about freelancers, which is incoherent with the Dutch legislation which describes these workers under the domiciliary services act.In the case of small-scale services and home related gigs between private persons, this act is an exemption provision on mandatory financial burdens employers are supposed to carry. Besides this, the article states that each cleaner earns €11,50 per hour, although each and every one is free to set their own price on the platform. Although there is a lower bound to avoid a race to the bottom, there is no maximum price. Only recommended prices are shown as an indication of how other cleaners in the same region have set their rates.

Apart from quite a few suggestive statements —as former marketeer, I know very well how to exaggerate things in your own favor and that, when receiving a message, the sender’s agenda shouldn’t be overlooked— the reasons behind these errors are highly questionable. The overall message is clear anyhow and would not have been less clear if facts had been presented correctly. These mistakes are simply unnecessary.

Is it a random choice to sue Helpling?

Helpling is not the only platform mediating between individual demand and supply working under on the domiciliary services act with a revenue model based on a commission per transaction. Similarly, cleaning platforms,, and babysitting platform Charley Cares use this combination. Although this is a separate discussion from the one concerning the employment of workforce, I do notice more platforms working with the same construction by profiting from the margin on transactions. In this respect, FNV could have been less picky.

This case in perspective: is the Helpling model really that revolutionary?

What does Helpling do? It enables households to order a cleaning help by means of an online platform (market place). Besides this, the platform supports in quality control (intake by phone, ID checks, and a reputation system), in back office (complaints, questions, replacement help in case of leave), a planning tool, and payment module. The company earns money by skimming off a small margin of every transaction. A widely used model, although I am aware of different forms such as subscription models used by other platforms that offer household cleaning services.

Is Helpling unique in its way of working? It definitely isn’t. This kind of service has existed for years. One example is the Dutch company HomeWorks; a business exploiting the same model as Helpling for the last 25 years. The only difference is in the fact that it isn’t an online market place, but a company that deals with supply and demand in the market manually. It also has service coordinators checking on the quality and are even coming along on the first cleaning; this surely is an interesting case in the discussion on hiring or not. All of this makes HomeWorks’ model expensive, with a final commission of about 39%, compared to Helpling which receives about 23%.

If it is of importance to the FNV to fight for the rights of this target group, why didn’t they speak up much earlier at the establishment of companies like HomeWorks, or even at the turn of the century?

This example shows that that the gig economy has existed for ages, but the emergence of platforms has shifted the matchmaking to become automated or even outsourced to the client by a market place model. Solely taking into consideration the matchmakers working with a digital first platform strategy when it comes to the gig economy, most of the gig market is being ignored. And that, that is a missed opportunity. Read more about it in my blog: “Is the discussion on the gig economy still on-topic?”.

What would happen if the FNV will prevail?

Not being a jurist myself, I haven’t read the charges and can’t make any predictions in respect of this case. Yet, when the FNV prevails and Helpling will be ordered to hire the domestic workers, the consequences are obviously foreseeable. As Helpling starts hiring the domestic workers, the final price per worked hour will surge to at least 20 euro. As hardly any individual is willing to pay this amount per hour, the platform won’t receive any further bookings and Helpling will soon go bankrupt. Would that solve the problem? Not at all. The cleaning will still be done, but moved to black market.

(The domestic service act has been criticized more often. Another interesting system is in place in Belgium: the Service Cheque. After all the good I’ve heard about it, I’ll soon delve deeper in its ins and outs.)

Does the FNV burn its bridges with this approach?

Every unionist I’ve spoken to in person is convinced that the rise of work mediating platforms (in the broadest sense of the word) isn’t stoppable anymore. I also see many opportunities for cooperation between platforms and trade unions in a way of ensuring collective agreements in algorithms. In the end, both of them should focus on their common interest, especially in markets where workers are scarce. Everyone understands that if the market really wants to grow, it will be necessary to eradicate all unclarities and uncertainties. Investors want clarity above anything, for unclarity equals risk.

Being convinced that both stakeholders will have to find common ground more often in the future, this isn’t quite a desirable start for their relationship. Furthermore, I’m convinced that the FNV has burnt its own fingers by choosing this approach. A solution to these kind of cases only arises when all parties (platforms, interest groups, unions, and government) take their responsibilities. FNV already has an interesting track record in relation to platforms:

  1. Charged Deliveroo (soon to be decided);
  2. Cooperation of Temper and FNV Horeca, about which the FNV board ventilated its dissatisfaction publicly;
  3. Here, the case Helpling.

I can’t imagine any platform willing to start a cooperation or join in an experiment in which the FNV is involved. If I would be working for a platform, I wouldn’t take the risk and rather look out for another cooperation partner. This, in my opinion, really is a missed opportunity. Mostly because a cooperation between platforms and unions could create opportunities to work on an inclusive labor market. Mainly in industries known for their fragmented workforce, we have no official figures on what working conditions look like, but we do know that they would be up for improvement (including those in the cleaning and food delivery industries).


The main conclusion is that the cleaner, described by the FNV as the ‘brave individual’, will not be better off in the end, even if the union prevails in their charges against Helpling. Moreover, it is clear that suing Helpling alone appears as a random act; the example of HomeWorks shows that this way of working has existed much longer. The gig economy is much, much larger as what is happening on a platform like Helpling.

All in all, the predominant purpose of these charges seems to be the raising of awareness of the problems behind the platform economy. FNV is not choosing an unknown route, although it surely isn’t the one I would have chosen.

To see if there will be room for a more mature and constructive debate, we will have to await the outcomes of this court case.

Is the discussion on the gig economy still on-topic?

The greatest frustration for policy makers and researchers on the platform industry is the lack of access to platform information, such as user data and more general data, like transaction numbers and gross revenue. Luckily, there is an interesting exception in the Amsterdam based platform company

As this platform is publicly traded, it is obliged to publish their (officially audited) results. Moreover, the investor calls, the question time by phone in which investors can ask all their questions which are to be answered directly by the board, is public. These calls are extremely interesting and educational.

The takeaway —how appropriate— of the call regarding the yearly figures of 2017 is that the platform doesn’t see the rather purely logistic platforms, like Deliveroo and UberEats, as their competitors and doesn’t really believe that these models will ever be viable.

TakeAway got involved in the discussion by announcing that they will hire and insure their own deliverers and give them an honest salary. In such, they openly distance themselves from the freelance solutions exploited by Deliveroo and UberEats. Delving a bit deeper into the numbers, one sees the beauty of this thought, yet that it is of little or no effect practically.

Out of the total number of executed orders in 2017, grossing around 68,3M, only 1.4% has been dealt with by the platforms own deliverers. In 2016, it accounted for only 0.5%. The end goal is to grow to a maximum of 5%. Why? Well, according to TakeAway, organizing the logistics of this activity will always be a loss-making business. TakeAway uses their own deliverers as an acquisition tool for new clients and restaurants and as a branding tool; they want their own deliverers to be visible to the outside world and to contribute to their ‘brand awareness’. Something of greater importance since the appearance of Deliveroo and UberEats, I assume.

We have no clue about the working conditions of the other 98,6% of the executed orders. Are they hired? Have they been paid under the table? Are they insured? Etc. Etc. In the case of TakeAway, you can’t say anything relevant regarding the working conditions of couriers in the food delivery sector as long as you don’t know the first thing about the situation of the majority. Especially when taking into account that the company considers direct phone-ordered meals at the restaurant as their largest rival. Their estimate presumes that 70% of the total take away orders at restaurants (so, ordered by phone to be taken home by the individuals themselves or the courier hired by the restaurant) are made without the interference of any platform. With this being clear, you may conclude that the number of deliverers working for the platform of a dominant market player is almost negligible.

Bottom line: 

In discussions on the gig economy, the complete picture is hardly ever taken into account. We notice, for example, that bicycle couriers working through an app are just a fraction of the whole market. Trying to have an informed discussion about food delivery couriers while forgetting to include the market’s majority, makes the conversation completely useless. The food delivery sector is not an exception; I see more sectors with the same massive bias in the discussion.

Looking at the market from this perspective, it is of interest to see how platforms could centralize a fragmented market in order to do something beneficial for the sector as a whole.

Staying on point regarding TakeAway: the platform has a respectable number of 32,929 affiliated restaurants. Assume that about 30,000 restaurants have their own (hired) deliverers. TakeAway, as a platform, could easily offer these restaurants extra services in order to take better care of the protection and rights of these couriers. This centralization (through a platform) of a fragmented and uncontrollable existing market could first provide for possibilities to enable automated enforcement by means of reviews or obligatory security videos at profile creation, and secondly for the potential of making certain existing legislation superfluous, since the centralized character of the platform and the technical possibilities have made them superfluous (providing the platform can be audited by, e.g., a trusted third party).

All of this might be far-fetched, but with foregoing example I would like to stretch that one should have a broad perspective on things and consider all variables of a market. The gig economy isn’t a separate market, but part of THE economy. Work provided via platforms is in many cases not new. Platforms centralizing a fragmented and uncontrollable market in one way or another, can contribute to the benefit of the market as a whole in making it meet social needs and desires.

Airbnb as a cooperative: a viable scenario?

In the midst of the tidal wave of discussions about the holiday rental website Airbnb, a highly remarkable message appeared on September 21st. In a letter addressed to the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), co-founder Brian Chesky shared his vision that Airbnb believes “that twenty-first century companies are most successful when the interests of all stakeholders are aligned.” Consecutively, he revealed the ambition to reward the platforms’ hosts with shareholdership. Such would allow them to profit from a successful IPO. Irrespective of the question whether this is part of a spin-doctored marketing initiative or Chesky & Co showing sincere intentions, he surely opened the door for a discussion on a new generation of sharing and gig economy platforms.

Taking a free ride

Platforms like Airbnb,, Uber and Facebook are marketplaces which in principle don’t own anything themselves. They make use of resources provided by the users of their platform. Although these users are indispensable for the creation of value of the platform, the profits of the platforms disappear in the pockets of the shareholders. Which, in most cases, are not the users. Moreover, the focus on maximizing shareholders’ profit forms an incentive to impair the users of the platform.

Platform cooperatives

Chesky’s plan is in line with a internationally growing desire for more equal models. His ideas aren’t completely new. In recent years, several experiments have been executed with so-called platform cooperatives. On such platforms users, mostly suppliers, unite themselves as a cooperative. They collaboratively invest in the technology on which they depend. Likewise, a group photographers owns and manages the stock photo website Stocksy, about 800 Denver-based taxi drivers started a local Uber-competitor under the name Green Taxi, and cooperative experiments of counterparts to Deliveroo and UberEats are rolling out in France. Although there are only a few successful platform cooperatives at hand, it is a soothing thought that platforms are faced with alternative possibilities.

Not new, but unique

Chesky’s idea turns out not to be new, yet it is unique. Where many platform cooperatives start out as cooperative and are having a hard time to sufficiently scale up, Airbnb would finds itself in a reversed situation: the platform started as a commercially and centrally managed platform to be handed over into the hands of the users. Where many experts expect these kind of developments from start-ups using complicated blockchain technology, it is interesting –and disillusioning– that a two hundred year old model can also be found to be the solution.

Alternative scenario: May it be a bit more ambitious?

The ambition of Chesky, given that he would proceed, is groundbreaking. But is his plan as ambitious as it could be? The redistribution of ownership is new, but it still has focusses on the same old goal of Airbnb going for an IPO in 2019, to in turn be consumed by the day-to-day affairs of the stock exchange. Why not a bit more ambitious with a transformation to a cooperative with voting rights? ‘Because investors with an IPO want to have a solid return on the risks they were willing to take,’ could be an answer. Although most ‘alternative’ thinkers despise the making of great profit, I am of the opinion that an entrepreneur or businessman should be rewarded for his effort and the risks he has taken. =

What if a hosts would receive the option to automatically exchange, say, 25 percent of his profit into stocks? Effectively, hosts could slowly acquire a growing share in the cooperative. With an average of 500.000 overnight stays per day for an average price of 80 dollar hosts could, calculating for the expected growth, pay up to 32 billion dollar over the next 10 years. The gross value of Airbnb nowadays. This would make the cooperative the sole owner of the platform. At the time the hosts become co-owner and co-manager of the platform by means of a cooperation, a better equilibrium in making decisions about the future and its place in society can be achieved.

First step

However, this is a first step, and also this model wouldn’t be perfect. The current focus on hosts and not on neighborhoods and cities has shown its dangerous sides when not all stakeholders are involved in the decision-making processes. Alternative platforms like FairBnB do try to involve all stakeholders, but they have a hard time getting established. All in all, we have to experiment with new ways of ownership and management models of platforms. On the other hand, cities like Amsterdam, The Netherlands, figured out that they don’t have to blindly expect the (voluntary) support of a platform like Airbnb. It is time for them to take matters in their own hands.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, Airbnb has surely started an interesting discussion.

The New Uber Model: Best or Most Foolish Choice Ever?

Last week, the ‘new’ Uber CEO published their new model in which the company will start focussing on transportation methods other than cars only.

“During rush hour, it is very inefficient for a one-tonne hulk of metal to take one person 10 blocks,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. “We’re able to shape behaviour in a way that’s a win for the user. It’s a win for the city. Short-term financially, maybe it’s not a win for us, but strategically long term we think that is exactly where we want to head.” An important step and confession is made regarding Uber’s future as an “urban mobility platform”.

Across media outlets the news was received as the ‘turn’ of the Uber model. In my opinion exceptional statements, given the fact that this ambition didn’t appear out of thin air. (As was also covered in an interview with me in one of the major Dutch news outlets.)

This blog will be dedicated to a thought experiment (as I used to do in my weekly Dutch newsletter with a commercial move Deliveroo made) in which I summed up several points why this step would be the best or the most foolish choice ever. Not so in order to judge, but in order to make one or two things clear.

Why this would be the smartest choice ever for Uber:

  • The growth of taxi’s is very limited in every city: As we noticed in New York last week, it is only a matter of time until cities will limit the growth in number of cabs. In other words: The growth model has its boundaries;
  • Within cities roads are generally very busy, moving by car is in many cases not the best option;
  • Therefore it is much more interesting to offer several forms of mobility. Cars for the longer rides –in being more profitable for drivers as well– and other forms of mobility for the shorter ‘last mile’;
  • Whereas Uber is strongly dependent on (freelance) drivers in the current model, the company will have a much tighter control over supply side of the platform with shared bikes, scooters and walking bikes. (Except when everyone will trash the bikes in canalsand other waterways. ;-))
  • Currently, the Uber model is, regardless of their dominant position in many areas, particularly vulnerable. The network effect is weak (check video below). For both demand and supply, the switching costs of changing platform are extremely low. US based drivers usually rely on several at simultaneously. Altogether not the most reliable model make the step onto the stock exchange;
  • The one owning the leading app (the ‘urban mobility platform’), has a strong market position. It makes you less sensitive for competition (like Google being the platform almost everyone uses to start their searches) and with all data gathered, you should be able to create many benefits for both your client as your own organization.

Why this step could be Uber’s most foolish choice ever:

  • Despite weak network effects, Uber has built a unique brand. They control –up to a certain degree– the rides, have a launched a wonderful app, and even their turbulent past is slowly fading away. They also were the first on the market. So, why would they sacrifice their strong market position?;
  • Although Uber was the frontrunner on the taxi market, we notice many active strong players in other parts of the mobility market. Large platforms for bike sharing, shared scooters and walking bikes have some years of advantage. On top of that, these platforms have invested billions into this market. Where Uber entered a enormously fragmented and dropped off market, we now have a very different situation at hand. Which unique value can Uber offer in comparison with these platforms, which most probably have plans to expand their supply as well?;
  • The Uber taxi model is fueled by the capacity of others, which is managed by others and in which others cary the risks. The Uber driver will have to arrange for a car, make sure it is insured, tidy, well maintained, etc. That is the model which made Uber great. With this new step, the model is rigorously changed (maybe this is the biggest news about this step) to a model in which Uber will buy and manage the assets themselves. Will Uber be able to do so? Surely they have made the necessary investments in similar start-ups, but will they be able to roll out such a model globally?;
  • Although Uber’s arrival has lead to resistance in many cities, the company entered an already existing taxi market. People already ordered taxis, rules for taxis already existed (even though Uber didn’t always agree on them). To put it shortly: Uber entered an existing and reasonably stable market. The market of shared bikes, walking bikes and scooters is a entirely new market. Many cities don’t have any policy regarding these new forms of mobility and will have to start forming it in the years to come. On the other hand, users will also have to get used to it and adopt it into their ‘system’. This really is a long term project. Does Uber (and its investors) have the endurance to pull this off?;
  • This model is simply less scalable. It requires more time, human effort, adaptability and money to become successful in your own strength in a new city. Moreover, you are dependent on the legislation which still has to be written. They seem to be crazy….

When adding things up, I think Uber doesn’t have much to choose from. As the platform seemed to be the first app to combine all self-driving cars, it has meanwhile become clear that this is a too long-term scenario as well. On top of that, it has shown that this method won’t provide a solution for the growing mobility problems in our inner cities. They will have to come up with something different. Of course, there is an options for them not to invest in shared bikes, walking bikes and scooters themselves, but it is questionable if the larger parties that have joined the market are willing to offer their supply through a different platform. As this includes that they would provide a third party with their client contact and all their data. They will never do so. Actually, a model which makes participants offer their capacity to others on a central platform only works when the supply is fragmented. Something that isn’t the case in these market segments.

Will Uber be able to realize their ambitions? I don’t know. With Softbank as investor (which is taking part in almost all forms of ‘on demand urban transportation’) they might stand a chance, albeit with a heavy and interesting task to accomplish.

What we can state at this point is that almost all platforms had an overly ‘asset light’ start, but are investing more and more in owned material. Which indeed is a very interesting trend…

An Uber-app of the people? Success criteria of platform cooperatives highlighted

Following the sharing economy, now the gig economy, the ‘Airbnb of labor’ with platforms like Deliveroo, Helpling, and Uber, is on the rise. In the United States, the growth of the gig economy, with jobs like taxi drives, bicycle couriers, online translation services and ‘local home services’ for cleaning, babysitting, and dog walking tasks, outnumbers the growth in Europe. Platforms like Uber, Deliveroo, and Helpling lower the thresholds for consumers with smart technology, so they can buy services conveniently and cheaply. Ideal for the end user, but how about the labor providing worker?


Although everyone agrees on the fact that these platforms are a strategic and technical masterpiece (as well as in their marketing effort), there also is an ever growing amount of critique. Parallel to the well-known debate about power concentration, privacy, and data, more and more questions are asked about the fact that users, who add value to the system, build up a dependency relationship with the platform, but don’t get any profit of this return. Combine this with the billions of dollars in venture capital invested in these platforms, and logically some of them go looking for alternatives.

The urgency is the strongest within the gig economy. At the moment you, as laborer, are strongly dependent on a platform, the impact is the greatest.

Platforms with cooperative ownership and management

In recent years there have been discussions and experiments with an alternative decentralized model in the United States, in which the ones adding value to the platform will indeed be rewarded with the ownership and management of the platform. Trebor Scholz, ‘scholar activist’ and associate professor at New School in New York, christened this philosophy ‘platform cooperativism’.

The philosophy behind this idea sounds simple an pleasant: What if the Uber drivers would be the owners and management of the platform? With the diminishing costs of technology and growing international interest of users, discussion about and experiments with cooperative platform models are taking place in several industries.

Highlighted examples

1. Green Taxi

Back in 2016, 800 Denver taxi drivers gathered to invest a 2.000 dollar each for the development of the Green Taxi cooperative. This is about one-third of all cab drivers in Denver linked up to this organization. Regardless of the total investment being overover a million dollar, Green Taxi hasn’t invested in their own technology. This is being bought from Autocab, a SaaS provider of central taxi systems.

Besides ‘honest’ ownership and control over their own central unit, the unification in a cooperative also provides a strong united voice in debates around, for example the allotment of taxi stands at the airport.

2. Up&Go

Whereas the majority of platform cooperatives invests in technology and the management of the system themselves, Up&Go from New York changes tack. Up&Go facilitates existing cleaning cooperatives in New York with an app to better help their customers. The cleaners keep the control of the contact with their customers and determine also the price, without being bothered by the (further) development and maintenance of the technology.

Up&Go is a initiative of several ‘do good’ organizations; the company who built the app is a cooperative itself. However often Up&Go has been mentioned as an example, it still isn’t a cooperative itself. The developers, I communicated with, told me that the cleaning cooperatives using the app will in turn become the owners of the platform by a cooperative model over time. In the end a similar result, albeit with a different approach.

3. Stocksy

The market with stock photo websites grows rapidly and suffers from a lot of dissatisfaction about the power and the margins on these kinds of websites. This inspired two photographers, previously owning a traditional stock photo website themselves, to take the leap to a new model in 2013.

At Stocksy photographers who are affiliated with the platform, with a maximum of 100 at the time of writing, also became co-owner and manager of the platform via a cooperative. Stocksy tries to profile itself as an exclusive stock photo website: there is a strong selection at the door and every picture that is published is judged by an in- house committee. This is the way photographers build a high-end brand not only distinguishing itself in the market by its model, but also by quality and exclusiveness.

Prerequisites for success

The promise of a platform managed and owned by its users sounds attractive, yet isn’t as easy as it sounds and is definitely not a fit for every industry. Following a in-depth analysis of several cases I’ve composed the next 6 considerations that could lead to a successful cooperative platform model:

1. Market

Platforms are successful due to network effects. The more people join, the better a platform functions. The fact all of your friends are on facebook, makes it the best platform for you to join to connect with them. Breaking the network effect is generally speaking extremely difficult, as you have to convince everyone to switch to an alternative platform.

Although a monopoly position in a growingly internationalizing world is the best way to optimally create added value for its users, part of the playing field of the gig economy looks differently: the gig platforms facilitating labor in physical ‘offline’ places. The taxi driver has to meet the customer in order to complete the transaction and the cleaning lady has to come to your home in order to clean it. As supply and demand are physically located close to one another, there is no leading national or international effect, but only a local network effect. This differs completely from platforms like Airbnb (sharing homes) and Upwork (online labor) where supply and demand are usually situated in different parts of the earth.

The fact that in many segments of the gig economy the meeting has to take place in an offline environment determines that these segments only need a (hyper) local network effect. This offers opportunities for new players and existing local organizations like taxi companies and cleaning cooperatives. Green Taxi is a wonderful illustration of this point.

Platforms lacking a requirement for a physical meeting between supply and demand, oftentimes even being located on different continents, it is much harder to make a decentralized initiative work. As for now, it only seems possible when the workers offer a unique and exclusive product, as is the case with Stocksy.

2. Technology

The platform cooperatives I’ve researched thus far have shown me three variants of dealing with technology:

  1.    Individual development (Stocksy)
  2.    Joining a cooperative providing the technology (SaaS) and support (Up&Go clients)
  3.    Using existing technology within your industry (Green Taxi)

To develop and successfully launch your platform (multisided marketplace) is an art in itself. It is questionable if a group of cleaners or drivers –the same counts for lawyers or accountants– possess the needed qualities to develop successful technology that is able to compete with the current generation of apps on the market. I doubt it and consider it a risk to have about 100 taxi platform cooperatives with 100 poorly functioning and hideous apps or mobile website.

Personally, I find the Up&Go model the most interesting of them all. Existing, and in times to come maybe also occurring, labor cooperatives being empowered with a platform model, which in turn continues as a SaaS-solution. Following the saying of ‘let a cobbler stick to it’s last’, laborers should rather focus on what they’re good at and developers behind Up&Go at what they do best.

An additional advantage is found in that investment can be shared among several cooperative clients, which will greatly influence the quality provided to the customers benefitting of it while using the platform. Important note on the side is that this entity should have a cooperative approach itself, or the story would start all over again.

3. Government

In order to realize a more democratic playing field, there are plenty of opportunities to seize for governments. Governments can lower thresholds by behaving like a platform themselves and facilitate local platform cooperatives with APIs with a link to their identity checks, a ‘certificate of good conduct’ database, and so on. On top of this, governments can use means to break data monopolies of larger players.

The government could, e.g., change the taxi meter by an app in which drivers have to log in and which by means of camera continuously checks if the driver behind the wheel is the one with the linked registration. In the background, data used by companies like Uber to feed their algorithms can be released publicly enabling each and everyone building a taxi app to use such.

4. Cooperation exceeding the Cooperative

If you want to make impact as (platform) entrepreneur, you may choose by making impact with the growth of one organization, or by putting up a replicable model. As for the local impact of platform cooperatives a replicable model looks most viable.

But how to offer a spoiled Uber customer who got used to use only one app in every city in the world for ordering a taxi? By cooperating. This is the reason it will be necessary to make agreements exceeding the platform itself, e.g. about data standards, reputation systems and the more. In that case a customer form city A will be able to book a taxi in city B. Hence a dozen Davids may be an alternative to a Goliath.

5. Support

The power of a platform falls or stands with the grace of its users. When the supply or demand group unites, it can be done in no time. Existing associations, sector organizations, or trade unions can play an important role in supporting or setting up platform cooperatives. Look for support your platform cooperative can obtain from partnering with such organizations — and also what your company can offer them in return.

6. No handicap

The fact that an enterprise is owned and managed by a local group of workers should not compromise the quality and convenience of the app, the service, or even the price levels. Before starting a platform cooperative, take a deep look and decide whether your platform cooperative would actually be able to offer an honest alternative to the larger, venture-backed platforms before starting it.

Tricky, but never impossible

Although there are many opportunities for successful platform cooperatives, of which the interests of the user are leading, it has become clear that the model is harder to realize than initially indicated. Trickier doesn’t mean impossible, and hence it encouraged me to see a diverse group intrinsically motivated professionals taking up the challenge during my visit at the  ‘Platform Cooperativism’ congres in New York last November. Because real entrepreneurs and do-gooders avoid challenges.

Crash and burn: this is what I learned from my failed crowdfunding campaign.

‘It’s allowed to make mistakes’ is a lofty phrase used by many managers and business leaders, but in practice there are only a few stories to read about the lessons learned from failures. What a waste it is; therefore, I’m willing to discuss and share mine with the associated lessons I’ve learned.

I’ll be talking about crowdfunding. In 2011, I have been the first person in the world to finish a share-based crowdfunding campaign. 171 investors accumulated 20.000 euro for translating, designing, and printing of the English version of my book, Brand Expedition: A Journey Visiting Europe’s Most Inspiring Brands, within 10 weeks. A book as a business with the ambition to be marketed as an international bestseller. Now, more than 5 years on, the project of the English book has been discontinued officially. The enormous ambitions and the boundless energy haven’t resulted in the desired results, and both the investors and I are left empty handed. In this article, I’ll look back on the crowdfunding adventure and share my ‘lessons learned’.

Crowdfunding lesson 1: Why people invest?

This book campaign was marked by the choice for crowdfunding with shares through the Symbid platform. First of all, this hasn’t been a strategic choice, but one that came by happenstance. I know someone involved in Symbid and he convinced me of the idea to crowdfund. To me, an interesting chance to realize my ambitions for an international bestseller and a great success case for Symbid. The book and the story of my journey were quite well-known (150+ publications in all imaginable media).

In hindsight, one may ask if the choice for crowdfunding with shares had been the best option. The question I should have asked myself is: Why would people invest in my dream, and help me realize an English version of my book, which was successful in The Netherlands?

Of course, I posed the question to quite a few investors. What turned out is that the broad majority took part because they fancied the idea or they were in for their own benefit in a signed copy of the book, an consulting session, or a presentation. The expectation of ‘an overwhelming profit’ wasn’t mentioned by anyone. Not so surprising in itself as the value of the book will only decrease over time; and, with an average investment of about 50 euro, it wouldn’t have made anyone rich.

If most investors weren’t in it for the profit, the choice of crowdfunding with shares, being wise after the event, hasn’t been the right choice. Maybe I would have accumulated a couple thousand euro less, but for the choice of a shares campaign I had to pull up Book BV, a private limited liability company, and Book Cooperative UA, an official cooperative, and my sole proprietorship had to be turned into a private limited liability company forcefully. This just because the 80% of the remaining shares for me, with a paper value of 80,000 euro, were perceived as profit by the tax authority. I was almost forced to pay tax over this amount. Without this construction, only half of the money would have been sufficient.

Crowdfunding lesson 2: The valuation?

Coming up with a decent valuation of a non-existing company is a troublesome task. In my case, I sold 20% of the shares in Book BV for 20,000 euro, which implied a valuation of my book of 100,000 euro. Despite the great ambitions we had for the book, one may say that the valuation was still quite sassy for a book of an obscure author, regardless of his reputation within the Netherlands. And by the way, he had decided to publish the book independently and solely sell it on the internet.

CONTEXT : At the valuation of the book, we presumed an ambitious, and in retrospect vulnerable, scenario in which the book would become an international bestseller. Nowadays, there are crowdfunding variants on the market in which the valuation is postponed, a so-called ‘convertible loan’. One raises funds from the crowd in exchange for a loan with an x interest rate. At the time the next bigger investor joins, the previous investor will be offered the opportunity to convert the the loan into a share. The initiative has usually lasted for some more months or years by which the valuation can be based on far more information. Moreover, the mostly young and inexperienced crowd benefits from the knowledge and negotiation power of this investor.

 Crowdfunding lesson 3: Choose the right funding target.

I had chosen a funding target of 20,000 euro for my campaign. This amount was reserved for the translation (5,000), the design (2,000), the print of the book (10,000), and the establishment of both the private limited liability company and the cooperative (5,000). Besides, 20,000 euro was also the minimum amount to crowdfund at Symbid, partially based on the fact that 18,000 euro was needed to establish a private limited liability company.

20,000 euro was actually to little, as the sum of the costs mentioned above already accounts for 22,000 euro. In addition, I needed an office, ICT infrastructure, diverse subscriptions, and I had to put bread on the table for myself. I, furthermore, employed a complete team of interns and volunteers, incurring considerable costs.

In order to give the project a chance, I invested over a year of my time (excluding the time for preparations and the campaign) and bore many of the cost personally.

I could have chosen a cheaper solution or should have raised more money. The assumption that additional cost would sufficiently be covered by book sales coming into swing, was, looking back, a risk I should have arranged for with a bigger margin.

Crowdfunding lesson 4: Does your crowd match the audience of your project?

Although the audience of my English book would not be in the same country, the overwhelming majority of my investors lived in the Netherlands. Of course it was logical to raise money among the Dutch as my network and reputation were mainly directed to the Netherlands, but it made it much harder to set the stage outside of my home country.

Realistically I think that It wouldn’t have been possible to crowdfund the project fully outside of the Netherlands, for my reputation and network weren’t sufficiently established there. Next time, I will be looking for a better mix between the two.

Crowdfunding lesson 5: Community management is an art in itself.

Crowdfunding sounds fancy: you’re obtaining, besides the ‘funding’, also an involved ‘crowd’ with your campaign. In my case 171 investors. But at the time you’re busy establishing your company or project, it will be hard to keep that audience involved. I have invested in several hundreds of crowdfunding projects to see how others deal with this. Conclusion: the number of project owners communicating well with their supporters can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Reflecting on my whereabouts, I’ve send an update to my investors about the progress with a certain regularity. I also made an analysis of the several areas in which the investors are actively involved and which of these could be beneficial in finding answers on certain questions. But as the ambition to market a translation slowly showed less and less feasible, my contact with my investors worsened rapidly.

This is my main lesson: Plan ahead for ways to involve the crowd and devote time to it. Also when you’ve got the feeling things won’t work out as planned. Perhaps, even more so in such cases.

In the end, Book BV and the Book Cooperative UA have existed for five years, although it was clear that the project would not meet the ambitions we used to have. The reason? I didn’t want to admit things had failed to work out. I also dreaded the administrative hassle[4]  associated with the termination of the private limited liability company and the cooperative, which wasn’t necessary at all. Quit as soon as you know that things won’t take a turn for the better anymore.

Business lesson 1: Don’t immediately write off the status quo.

Crowdfunding is often seen as: ‘Power to the crowd and fuck the status quo’. Initially, this was my perspective too. By releasing my English book, I would neglect banks, publishers and book stores on my way to international success.

Although an individual with a common sense may achieve a lot these days, one has to question himself if his choice is the best. Something being possible, doesn’t automatically imply that you should do so[5] . Regarding the publishing of my book, I organized everything concerning the translation, design, print, distribution, and marketing myself. If I would have asked myself where my strengths are and what it is that gives me energy, it wouldn’t have been the negotiations with printers and distributors. Exactly that part took most of my time.

For my (upcoming) books Crowdfunding, de hype voorbijCrowdfunding voor DummiesWavemakers and Platformrevolutie I did ask myself that question. Hence, I became aware of what I expected from a publisher (editing, production, access to sales channels and access to an events network). This has benefitted the quality of the productions.

Keeping everything in your own hands has the advantage of teaching you how everything works and what is and isn’t possible.

Business lesson 2: Don’t let success be dependent on only 1 idea.

My plan to make my English translation world-famous seemed infallible. For the promotion of the book I challenged over a hundred million Facebook fans of the 20 brands, described in my book, to make my book the first video-audiobook in the world. Every fan would read a fragment of the chapter about their brand on camera. Thousands of readers would realize this audiobook. That in itself should boost the sales of the book.

Practice turned out to be more intractable; it was hard to reach the fans. I didn’t succeed in convincing the brands of the added value of this campaign and the threshold of putting yourself on video to read a piece seemed too high. Through many detours I collected a few hundred videos. I hired people from several countries through to contribute, made deals with discounts on presentations in exchange for movies of the coworkers and more. Unfortunately, it couldn’t bring the viral effect to the campaign like I had in mind.

Subsequently, I tried to catch the attention of bookstores in the UK with a targeted guerilla action, hired a scout to gauge the interest of publishers in Germany and the UK, tried to allure brands with great deals, and opened up a box of other ideas to ultimately get sales up, but I didn’t make headway.

Business lesson 3: Borders remain existent even in the internet era.

Although it seems that borders are inexistent because of the internet –I contact people from at least 5 countries on a regular day– such is not the case for the physical business world. My idea, to sell my book from the Netherlands to anyone in the world, turned out to be opportunistic. It proved that Germans prefer German books and the French population prefers to read French books. On top of that, it was hardly possible to get the attention of the media and other partners as an obscure newcomer to another country. You rather build your reputation and network in a country first, before eventually launching a book (especially when published by yourself).

Business lesson 4: Know when to quit.

The money of the crowdfunding campaign had been spent on the production costs in the first months. I had spent over a year on the project and still a stack of a few thousand prints filled my office space. Moreover, nothing indicated tides would possibly change.

The question, “Shouldn’t I quit?” ran through my mind several times, but accepting that the adventure had ended and the process of finishing the project, for which 2 limited liability companies and a Cooperative were established, with which I had to deal, caused me to remain indecisive year after year.

At some point, earlier this year, I decided on the termination. As I communicated this to the investors, reactions were generally very positive. Most often, the feedback I received sounded: “Why did you leave ends loose for so long? My most important lesson: Quit when you have to quit. Leaving things unfinished only cost unnecessary energy and money, and in the end you do know –being honest with yourself– which solution is best. So, also reminding myself, get yourself together and have the guts to quit something!

Business lesson 5: Success is found in the bigger picture.

The English book project has cost, besides the investor’s money, almost 100 grand of my own money as well. An estimated accumulation of the cost I’ve personally contributed to the project consistent of ‘lost’ hours, extra paid taxes, the additional notary and accountant costs, and the expenses of campaigns; all was I paid from my own pocket.

Economically you may say: “It has been a massive failure.” You feel the ‘but’ coming. Without this crowdfunding campaign I wouldn’t have had a chance to beat John de Mol in the Sprout challenge for ‘best entrepreneur of the year’. I wouldn’t have been invited to become one of the ‘40 Young Potential Leaders under 40’. I would have never written two books about crowdfunding. And, finally, my interest for the platform economy, of which crowdfunding is a part, would not have been aroused in me. This subject has had my attention for the last four years. Since November 1st, I’m working at the Universtiy of Utrecht, in the conviction that the platform economy will influence all imaginable industries in the years to come.

If I would look at the financial result of the English translation of the book only, while answering the question “Are you successful?”, I would say: “No. Absolutely not.” But when I look at the bigger picture, I’m sure that without this campaign I wouldn’t have achieved as much as I have achieved. In this regard I don not see myself as a victim of the mistakes I made; the mistakes I made ultimately contributed to a better version of myself. And I’m thankful for the fact that these chances have been created and been given to me.

In conclusion

Although some lessons sound no less than logical in today’s context, it is important to recognize that the crowdfunding landscape looked completely different in 2011. This puts a ‘which is logical’ in a whole other perspective.

When looking back to this educational adventure, in which I have not been able realize the huge ambitions of the English version of the book as a worldwide business success, but including the pocketed experience, I have achieved things of which I had not dared to dream or think.

I couldn’t have made this unforgettable trip without the support of the crowdfunders; thank you for your trust. Also a big ‘thank you’ to Schuiteman Accountants & Adviseurs, the office I’ve been working together with over the last few years. They make sure, in exchange for insights in the platform economy, that I don’t have to worry about putting up a Christmas tree, which has been taken down already. Additionally, I would like to thank Wim Kiezenberg of DesignAgain, Paul of, Kim of Hosting on Demand, and Alfred of Imagine People for their contributions. Finally, I’d like to thank all volunteers and interns who have worked together with me during this part of the expedition: Germaine, Dave, Tamara, Peter, Martin, Maarten, Bjorn, Stephanie, Jos, Jurgen and Kelly. Thank you all!

Header photo: Martijn Arets, expedition leader of Crowd Expedition, photo by Sebastiaan ter BurgCC BY 2.0

The beginning of Crowd Expedition phase 2: Platform cooperatives and inclusiveness through platforms

In 2012, I started my Expedition into the platform economy. Embarking with the conviction that the rise of the platform economy would influence every sector within the next 10 years, I took it on me to discover and describe the landscape, to analyze the dilemmas, and to figure out future scenarios. The expedition’s key question has always been this: What has to happen in order to see the platform economy reach its full potential in a way in which all stakeholders will take the right advantage of it?

Since 2012, I’ve traveled 13 countries where I interviewed and talked to over 400 entrepreneurs and experts in regard of this development, I visited dozens of meetings in the role of speaker or researcher and published hundreds of videos, articles, blogs, and news letters to share my views and thoughts. With this unique knowledge, the renown and the network in the pocket, I now advise many local and national government bodies, corporates and nonprofits, and the media refers to me as an expert about two to three times per month.


Although I dare to say that I’ve gained unique expertise, I also know that many of my questions haven’t been answered yet. On the one hand, I had the opportunity to choose to capitalize my knowledge and the investment of 5 years of my life and the energy by advising organizations on how to make the transition to a platform model. Financially interesting, but it didn’t seem a good idea to me to leave the exploration of such an amazingly interesting development at a time like this.

Pressing platform questions

When you’re looking at the biggest challenges of the platform economy, baring the reaching of full potential in a way in which all direct and indirect stakeholders take fair advantage of it in mind, the following two questions stand out:

  1. Although the platforms we know nowadays facilitate the ‘empowerment’ of the individual, the ownership and the governance of the platform is in the hand of a small group of shareholders. Prioritizing stakeholders’s interest, combined with the dependency of the user, may entail unwanted (social) effects. Are there any other options?
  2. Where the beginning of the era was marked by paying much attention to the technical part of (the impact of) platforms, the discussion shifts more and more to the chances as well as to the threats of platforms to our society. Platforms lower thresholds and offer opportunities for education, work, care and social contact. The key question is: Do platforms really increase the chances on work, income and meaning of life.

These are the most important question which contribute to a sustainable and inclusive platform model. Questions that haven’t been answered yet.

Digging deeper

Although I cooperated with many different parties and individuals over the first 5 years of the expedition, it still was pretty much a ‘solo’ expedition. From today onwards this will be different. With due pride, I announce the second part of my expedition within the platform economy. During the coming 18 months, starting from today, I’ll be dealing on a part-time basis with two researches regarding both questions mentioned before at the ‘Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development’ at Utrecht University.

One research will focus on the chances and obstacles of platform cooperatives and will be a exploration of platform models based on shared ownership and governance. Users of platforms gathering together to cooperate and invest in their own app to provide a local alternative to huge platform monopolies happens in the USA more and more frequently. One famous example is Denver’s Green Taxi; 800 drivers invested 2,000 USD each in order to develop their own app, with which they currently possess a market share of 34%. I’ve been dealing with this topic for some time now, and visited platform cooperative congresses in London and New York last year. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to fully focus on this topic.

The second research focusses, under the title ‘Platform society: new chances for inclusiveness’, on the extent in which different platforms create new chances in society. The research aims to gain insight in the effects of platforms on the economical and social position of the youth, and on the policy options and instruments to increase the inclusiveness of platforms. With this research, I focus on sharing platforms, labor platforms and knowledge platforms.

Both researches will be under the leadership of –and in cooperation with– Koen Frenken, Professor in innovations science at the Utrecht University. Our cooperation has started quite a few years ago; among others, we co-wrote an article in The Guardian, and now created the opportunity to really work together.

The other half

While dedicating three days a week to the Utrecht University, two more days a week are left for other tasks. This scarcity forces me again to make decisions and to focus all the more. Which is convenient. I’ll be using these days to continue writing the books ‘The Platform Revolution’ and ‘Wavemakers’, and I’ll continue to share my knowledge and vision as a speaker on (international) congresses and meetings. I will also be available as an advisor and sparring partner to governments, corporates and start-ups in respect of the developments within the platform economy. Besides all this, I will definitely continue to share my insights through video interviews on my YouTube Channel (meanwhile there are almost 400 videos available), my weekly news letter and through my role as expert in the media.


This wonderful step forward is also a great moment to thank some of the ones that have made these first 5 years of the expedition possible. Without their help, I would have never reached the point in which I am now, and from which I can make this step., Schuiteman Accountants, MKB Servicedesk, DOEN Foundation and all Crowd Expedition interns and volunteers (Dave, Claartje, Kelly, Roel, Rosanne, Gino, Eva, and Jurgen). And the 300+ contributors to my 4 crowdfunding campaings to fund my expedition. For the first research, I’d like to thank the “Strategic Theme Institutions for an Open Society at the Utrecht University”, and for the second research “NWO National Science Agenda”. Of course, I’d like to thank Koen Frenken for granting me this opportunity, and most of all I thank my family, Jannette especially, as they have been supporting me during the last 5 years. Thank you!

sharing economy

Check: This is how the expectations about the sharing economy in 2016 turned out

As an entrepreneur you’re looking ahead, yet you also reflect on past events to learn to analyse what has happened, and to adapt your strategy accordingly. When entrepreneurs reflect, why do experts hardly ever follow their example? I’m taking the challenge by reviewing my ‘5 predictions about the Dutch sharing economy in 2016’.

1. ‘Traditional’ companies take the step into the sharing economy

The prediction:

“Traditional (corporate) companies will join in the sharing economy themselves. The automotive industry will be taking the lead. Also corporates like Facebook and Google will join the sharing economy.”

The reality:

The first steps into the sharing economy by corporates where as expected mainly investment and acquisition based. AccorHotels acquired the high-end Airbnb variant for about 170 million and directly promised to stimulate the development of the platform with another 70 million.

In the land of mobility, corporates knew to find the start-ups as well. A great way stay current with the newest developments. General Motors, for example, invested 500 million Dollar in Uber rival Lyft. In time, the company wants to use Lyft as a platform for its upcoming self-driving car’s.

Own initiatives were deployed by BMW, among others. The company announced a pilot with 40 self-driving taxis in Munich just before year’s end.

Especially insurers have been exploring their future during this year. A Dutch insurance company, Centraal Beheer, started a pilot by offering insurances for shared cars in late December and OHRA experiments with Clixx: an insurance that allows you to insure your car for a single day for sharing purposes.

The prediction that sharing activities would be started by Facebook and Google has turned out to be mistaken. Only Facebook launched Marketplace this year and Google experimented in ‘ride sharing’ with Waze. Both (still) with minimal impact. And that’s about to stay that way for a while, I expect.

In many segments corporates are clearly not taking the lead, but like BMW’s vice president Klaus Buettner said, “Someone else spent the money to educate the market and then we came in with a cool product. We will not be the largest, but we can be the coolest.”

Question of definition:

However the sharing economy is the most frequently used name for this development, I also see a rise in the the terms ‘collaborative economy’ and ‘(peer2peer) platform economy’. The core of these developments is that individuals find each other through platforms in order to make transactions. In this article I’ll be using both sharing economy (things) and ‘gig economy’ (labour/tasks). To keep this story accessible for the reader, I decided to use sharing economy as an all encompassing term, knowing it might not be the ideal terminology, although it’s most recognizable.

2. Greater supply of sharing platforms

The prediction:

“A huge growth in the number of sharing platforms.”

The reality:

However the supply in absolute numbers has grown, the growth in number of platforms is disappointing. Especially in segments that are already well represented (accommodation and mobility) fewer companies started. All in all, it seems that the sharing economy market for platforms with serious growth ambitions has been satisfied.

In case new sectors are added, more entrepreneurs are starting at the same time. This year sharing platforms offering storage space launched. In the Netherlands, both Djeepo and Storage Share started at almost the same moment. It was the very same story with Dutch based campervan sharing platforms Camptoo and GoBoony in 2015. See here the complete overview of sharing platforms.

3. Growth through partners and APIs

The prediction:

“Platforms will open their APIs for others, so they may grow faster.”

The reality:

This prediction can clearly been filed in the category ‘the wish is the father of the thought’. To me, growth through APIs and opening up to others is a reasonable step within the sharing economy. Entrepreneurs still don’t seem to have their business organized well enough to take this step. Many platforms enforce their own market position first, and are only then looking beyond their own abilities. Sharing within the sharing economy is still hard.

4. More on-demand working platforms

The prediction:

“A growth in platforms facilitating (lower educated) labour. Rising discussion about the durability of these kind of platforms.”

The reality:

However Uber, Helpling and Werkspot made again good progress in 2016, the growth in number of platforms for temporary work in the Netherlands stalled. The growth occurred mainly in the ‘on demand’ delivery of fresh food, where UberEATS, Foodora and Deliveroo launched in a number of larger cities. The battle in the delivery market is turning towards the question, who is not only going to have the digital, but also the physical contact with the customer. This, again, can be seen in the acquisition of the German Resto-in by just after the change of the year. In the United States, many more similar platforms are active and I noticed a strong growth over the last year. Additionally, the discussion about the inequality of these platforms was stirred.

Laborers are earning less and less in the USA, though platforms offer employees the opportunity to change their fate. 2016 has been the year of ‘platform coops’, i.e. platforms being owned by the people on the job. In Denver, a taxi platform cooperation of about 600 drivers had put together 2.000 USD each to build their own taxi-app. In the meantime the have grown an impressive market share of 34 percent in the region where the cooperation operates.

5. The market will mature

The prediction:

“Platforms can’t hide behind their ‘disruptive’ character any more, and will take their responsibility.”

The reality:

This prediction has absolutely been fulfilled. Although platforms grew exponentially in their first phase, I noticed a few platforms making choices that impact their short term growth negatively in 2016, this to strengthen their raison d’être on the long run.

For example, Airbnb made agreements with the governments of Amsterdam and London, amongst others. The company programmed local legislation into the platform. According to Financial Times the company hence forfeits a yearly income of about 382 million euro in London only. Calculating these short term losses is a characteristic of thinking short term. In case Airbnb wouldn’t have done so, other measures and legislations would have affected the business anyway. Now they’re working on a solution together, i.e. this step has been essential to the company’s long term raison d’être.

Every well-thinking entrepreneur could have anticipated this move of Airbnb. Under the cover of disruption and innovation, platforms like Airbnb were able to grow rapidly in a very short time, also due to the confusion about legislations, though they knew that the time would come they had to conform to existing rules.

You may also recognize smaller platforms that use the hard lessons large pioneers like Airbnb have learned. AirdDnd, a platform for home restaurants, proactively offered a legislative proposal in order to direct the discussion with the status quo into a manageable environment from the very beginning.

Additionally, public authorities are taking the sharing economy more and more serious. Last year I’ve been speaking with Dutch institutions like the The Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER), Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) and the Dutch Ministry of Finance about the impact of this development. It truly seems that the sharing economy is maturing and that offers a more durable perspective for the future.