The BYOV Class

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Essays

This morning I read Matt Yglesias’s incredible post on Vox about the apparent oncoming collapse of the democratic political system. His view, as described in the article, is that political parties are increasingly ideological; that parties are using the extreme political tools of the constitution to create zero sum scenarios in policy-making, eroding the effectiveness of the democratic process.

I thought it was interesting (and Chait’s response just as much so) because it got me thinking about the future of governance more generally. And so, a quick detour. The on-demand movement of the last half decade, powered by Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Shyp and others, is here to stay. The consumer of the day can come to expect that they can access goods and services from their mobile device, and that those goods and services will be at your doorstep day-of, and even hour-of. My friend Semil suggests that this is table stakes for companies developing consumer experiences today. There are some concerns about the unit economics of these models — many lose money on each transaction — and I agree there are many growing pains, some of which will be scary, to address before we realize the on-demand economy. But where my interest is actually most piqued is not in the sustainability of today’s platforms. If the consumer behavior has indeed changed, the platforms will — or should — adapt to continue to meet the demand. As of today, the platforms provide three primary services:
— Payment processing
— A fraud protection mechanism (insurance, background check, minimum quality)
— A dispatching service that dynamically matches work requests

What’s shared by all these platforms: *drivers, using their own vehicles*: It makes sense. On-demand in this environment means ‘delivered to me’ and someone has to, well, do the delivery. BYOV (bring your own vehicle), as Jonathan Matus from Zendrive calls it.

What’s *missing*, however, from all these platforms: *agency and ownership*. The BYOV class are, for the most part, considered independent contractors (for most, but not all of these companies) and as such do not get benefits, but also don’t get equity, or any other access to any of the decisive authority in managing the platforms. And they are the most important piece of the puzzle, after all. So what if we open these platforms? 

What’s to stop a community of drivers from partnering with a payment processor, integrating off-the-shelf dispatching technology, and going to market with the democratic version of these platforms? Is that like proposing a social networks be more open, which seems to have failed time and again?

I would be interested in the platform that offered governance tools to these drivers, so they could organize, impose a collective will, and manifest that will themselves. Perhaps it would be an even more decentralized marketplace, or a razor-thin implementation of an on-demand company, with a management layer that was elected, or appointed, but more like a public administrator than a CEO. How would they vote on best practices? How would they design their amendment process? What about voting on the platform fee? What would a democratic BYOV company look like?

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