Depending on your preferred source, either H.L. Mencken or P.T. Barnum said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." If either gentleman were around today and observed the knockoffs of Uber offering convenient delivery of almost anything, he might put "laziness" alongside intelligence.
Uber-influenced on-demand startups and apps are offering delivery of everything from pizza to underwear. Fortune estimated that $4.1 billion was invested in on-demand startups in 2014. Arguably, many of these startups provide a service that is adequately filled and/or do not cater to a viable and interested market.
Here are a few of the stranger on-demand services that have popped up in recent years.
- Push for Pizza – The self-proclaimed "Uber for Pizza" simply allows you to push a button, and pizza arrives 20-40 minutes later. Build your pizza with sausage, pepperoni, onions, olives, or mushrooms. Domino's and other pizza places already have apps that allow you to order pizza online with a greater menu choice, but here is the real question: Have we reached the point in society where it's too burdensome to call a pizza place with your order and, God forbid, interact with an actual human being?
- Eaze – With the increased legalization of marijuana, this was bound to happen. Eaze is the first to offer online sales of marijuana from legal dispensaries to medical marijuana patients. It is certainly possible to see these services expand as marijuana is legalized in more places, but there are still many legal and logistical hurdles to deal with thanks to the conflict between state and federal laws. At least it is a less sketchy alternative to the long-established marijuana home delivery service, aka the "dealer."
- Doughbies – On-demand cookies are supplied in the San Francisco area by Doughbies, and similar enterprises are popping up locally throughout the nation. Doughbies focuses on a single product and a relatively small area, allowing it to keep expenses and delivery reasonable. We wonder how many people use Doughbies after Eaze visits?
- Drizly – Drizly is among several groups that are vying to be the "Uber for alcohol." They have been quite proactive in dealing with state and local laws, and have correctly identified one area where it is better for society if goods are delivered to the consumer. Nobody would argue that keeping the alcohol-impaired off the road is a bad idea.
- Homejoy – The "Uber for maids" was shut down in July due to lawsuits claiming that employees were misclassified as independent contractors. However, the on-demand home cleaning service simply expanded too quickly based on introductory offers and could not gain repeat customers at sustainable prices. It simply wasn't viable.
- UnderClub – Portrayed as the "Uber for underwear." UnderClub is targeted at women (sorry, guys) and offers a subscription service with one pair of underwear per month for $22, based on a size and style questionnaire.
It may be a stretch to call this the Uber of underwear, since it's more of a subscription service than on-demand, but UnderClub is being portrayed that way. We have to think that an app truly supplying underwear on-demand would have a limited (albeit highly motivated) market and would have to charge a major "discretion premium."
Hmmm... marijuana, cookies, pizza, alcohol, cleaning services, and underwear. If that assortment doesn't say college student or recent graduate, we don't know what does.
All of these startups would be well advised to look at their inspiration a little more closely. Uber is a success with the public, but it has yet to turn a profit. Uber has succeeded to date because of the massive worldwide growth potential, and even that is a risky proposition based on the costs it will take to maintain the service. Uber may still succeed, but it will require a lot of investment capital to reach the tipping point. To expect the same growth potential in on-demand underwear is just bizarre.
This all brings to mind a few more quotes. Mencken said, "Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood." W. C. Fields said, "It is morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money." Those two quotes seem to sum up the state of Uber-induced startup mania. Gotta go; someone’s at the door, and we don’t know if it’s our pizza, cookies, bourbon, or underwear!