Complete Guide to On-Demand Apps
From the industry essentials, to an in-depth look at on-demand apps, their history, and how you can use them to make your property beautiful.
Table of Contents
- Solving One Big Problem – On-demand apps generally aim at solving one problem for consumers, and one problem only. Food delivery, celebrity cooking lessons, groceries at your door. They don’t spread themselves too thin, but also avoid becoming so specific they can’t source their work.
- Providing the Best of In-Person Experiences from Anywhere – On-demand apps try to deliver the best of what you could expect walking into any business, but they do it wherever you happen to be. This introduces convenience and is the most valuable aspect of the services they provide.
- Growing a Market that Already Existed – The “Gig Economy” is an outgrowth of a convenience market that already existed, but is being bolstered by the omnipresence of smartphones and the ease of app creation.
- Focusing on The Essentials of All Businesses – On-demand businesses grow by focusing on their workers’ needs and customer service. The essentials that make a traditional business fail or succeed apply equally to these “Gig” businesses.
- Ease of Sourcing – “Gig Economy” apps source their work in a unique way – a large, loose, at-will contractor pool that works when they want, and only as much as they want. This self-determinism is what is most attractive to contractors who engage in this market.
- Influencing the World Around Them – On-demand apps are influencing not only traditional businesses, who are adopting some of the perks of this type of work for their employees, but also local, state, and federal legislation that has an impact on their industries. Beyond that, these companies often invest in advancements that will benefit their market.
- Unique Challenges – There are unique challenges, such as contractor supply and difficulty standing out from the crowd, that are often more difficult for on-demand apps than traditional businesses.
In-Depth Guide to On-Demand Apps
The sudden ubiquity of apps that are “the Uber of X” is remarkable and undeniable. The market has always drawn those who are looking to make a profit by fulfilling the needs of those around them – and it’s no different with on-demand apps. Every day a new contender enters the ring with a service to provide, or a product to make your life easier in some way. The biggest difference? These days, the person on the other end of that transaction is probably your neighbor.
So, What Are On-Demand Apps and Services?
As the name implies, on-demand apps are focused on solving one issue, or providing one service, with the tap of a button on your smartphone screen the very moment you desire it. Some on-demand services will deliver your groceries to your front door, or drive you to the airport. Others, like Eden, will provide lawn, snow, and landscape services for you while you’re at work, taking care of a universally disliked chore and leaving you free to pursue whatever activity you prefer instead. In short, these apps provide you with something you want or need as quickly as downloading a program to your phone. Food, groceries, a haircut, local sports memorabilia, celebrity chef training sessions, even a dog sitter.
Some of these apps were borne from services that were once provided online through a website. Others are new ideas brought to market by entrepreneurs recognizing a need they can fill. Springing up around these apps is an entire economy, known as the “Gig Economy,” wherein regular people, usually lacking any specialized training, can make money on-demand just as easily as another person can spend money on-demand. And in between the buyer and the provider, both regular users of the application, sits the app owners who take a piece of the profit to run the operation and put food on their own table.
While there are many different breeds of on-demand service and products these days, this article will retain a primary focus around on-demand service apps. On-demand product apps have a great deal of crossover with service applications, but the two can face very different challenges at times. Particularly, we will address the “Gig economy” style of on-demand apps that source their work through independent contractors often working irregularly or “when they feel like it.”
I Bought the Service, But Who’s Doing the Work?
Providing a service with no brick-and-mortar storefronts is all well and good, but at the end of the day someone has to provide those services. Traditional businesses, and many online businesses, have physical spaces to hold material or dispatch personnel. Domino’s has stores nationwide where people make pizzas, load them into boxes, and drive them to your door. Amazon has warehouses where people pack orders and ship them out on trucks. On the other hand, many on-demand apps operate with little to no physical space, often lacking even a single true “storefront.” So who is training the workers? Who is providing them raw material? Who is paying for their gas and expenses? For on-demand apps in the Gig Economy, the answer is usually “The Worker.”
This highlights one of the key differences with on-demand apps: the method by which they source their workers. Where traditional businesses rely on job postings online and seek candidates through a formal interview process, many on-demand apps operate in the opposite way. In place of job postings, they’ll buy advertising space to try to capture both customers and contractors for their apps. Instead of hiring employees, they’ll hire independent contractors who choose their own hours, handle their own taxes and benefits, and come and go as they please. Instead of traditional 9-to-5 employment at a location, these contractors choose to provide service for the on-demand app at a time and place of their own choosing and by their own will. Gigworker.com reports that a full 1/3 of U.S. and E.U. workers perform services and are paid by the “Gig Economy”.
Some on-demand contractors will work for a particular app exclusively. Others will work for every app that does a certain type of work all at once, and bounce between them. The model of the Gig Economy easily accommodates this – a single mom who wants to pick up a handful of hours driving for perhaps Lyft or Uber while her kids are at school is free to do so, and never needs to apply for vacation time when her kids are on summer break. An enterprising freelancer who wants to deliver groceries during the day, do odd jobs on the weekend, and get paid to write reviews of every meal in between can do so. The apps are designed in such a way that it’s just as easy to use the “Customer” side as it is to use the “Contractor” side.
This is where on-demand apps in the “Gig Economy” have their most creative approach. By providing a simple framework to earn money quickly, these apps are able to attract everyone. From the guy on his couch looking to make his rent, to the director of a company looking to save a little extra for her kids’ college, the easy jump-in and jump-out nature of these apps with their low commitment threshold is very attractive. And for the app company itself, it saves all the traditional overhead and risk of hiring and training a workforce.
On the other hand, this creates a new kind of risk. Areas of low population density suffer almost universally with on-demand “Gig Economy” apps because there are fewer users to buy services, and fewer providers of those services. And those who do try to service low-population areas may find their work opportunities are too few and far between to be worthwhile. Further, because no one party is beholden to the other, on any given day the app may find it has nobody to provide service. Vice versa, someone making money in the on-demand app world may wake up tomorrow to find their favorite company has gone out of business overnight, eliminating a revenue opportunity.
A Brief History of On-Demand Services and The Gig Economy
The history of on-demand work, sometimes referred to as “Gig” work, stretches back more than a century, and perhaps even longer. To some, this is a new phenomenon associated exclusively with a wayward generation that does not wish to accept “traditional” employment. To a great many others, the “Gig Economy” is nothing more than a growth of the freelance market that has always existed. Most commonly, the name is said to hearken back to jazz performers of the early 1900s who would travel place to place for music “gigs” (a term still used in the music industry of today.) The roots of independent, freelance employment are deep, and extend as far back as employment itself. In the last century of American history many notable examples exist, from itinerant farm workers, to the temp agencies that started appearing in the 1940s as a means for employers to fill gaps brought on by WWII.
As the Internet took hold and became a commonplace portion of daily life, websites that allowed for individual jobs and one-off work opportunities began to pop up. Notables like Craigslist and Upwork paved the way for what was to come, as well as online marketplaces in which people could make money selling items, and even YouTube where individuals suddenly found the ability to monetize through content they create themselves. Though there’s no universally declared date and time when the “Gig Economy” became the shorthand for this style of freelance work, it’s generally accepted that it came into vogue at the end of the 2000s and into the 2010s as on-demand, “Gig”-style work experienced a very serious boom thanks in very large part to the app market. And serious may be putting it mildly – in 2018, Harvard Business Review reported that 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe were part of the “Gig Economy”.
With the advent of smartphones, websites that once offered these one-off style services were able to move to a more convenient and immediate medium. Instead of relying on individuals to own, and be at a computer, they were instead able to go everywhere with their consumers, comfortably and helpfully seated inside of the phones carried in pockets and purses. The app icon served as free advertising, creating a need just by existing in a space where people spent more and more time. The services created convenience, offered solutions, and unlike many standard businesses, were capable of offering 24 hours of operation daily. Coupled with the uncertainty of employment put into the minds of many after the collapse of the U.S. housing market in the late 2000s, a perfect storm of market opportunity and technological advancement came together.
The on-demand app boom, led by market notables like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Airbnb, took off. Everything from a spare bedroom to a few minutes of free time had an app that could commoditize it. Companies sprang up to fill every need, real or imagined, and other companies jumped in to backfill the specific needs of the “Gig Economy.” The ubiquity of smartphones, and the ease of having an app created, made it all too easy for everyone to dip their toe into the on-demand market. This has not tapered off. Through 2020, the “Gig Economy” has only grown, with estimates ranging from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3 individuals regularly or semi-regularly engaging in “Gig” work. Gigworker.com estimates that nearly 25% of individuals over the age of 18 in the U.S. are making money working gig jobs. Some market analysts have gone as far as to predict that within the next few years “Gig” workers will outnumber “traditional” employees (though just as many question the math they used to arrive at that figure.) Whether true or not, it’s quite evident that more and more companies are shifting away from traditional employment methods and towards the “Gig Economy.”
The Psychology of On-Demand Apps
The benefits to app and company owners are beyond obvious. But why are so many “Gig” workers jumping in? And what makes them so popular with consumers? The psychology at play isn’t as complex as it might seem.
For consumers, the advantages are easily understood. These apps focus intensely on “solving the problem” of the space they are in, providing creative solutions for an attractive price point. And the number one thing the apps solve is a problem that almost all Americans express concern over – lack of time. Having dinner delivered instead of sitting in line at a fast food restaurant or cooking removes stress and gives time back to a household that can be spent on anything. Are you willing to pay $5-$10 for half an hour of your life back? Finding that fee-to-convenience ratio is a major concern for both sides of the transaction with on-demand apps, but if they hit the mark, an app will find success and a market.
There is also an element of instant gratification to these apps. Human beings are affected by inertia in all things. It might seem appealing to have a burger right now, but is it really worth the effort of getting off the couch, into the car, driving across town, waiting in line, then driving all the way back? Instead, this internal debate has shifted to a question of whether or not an individual should use their smartphone. It’s no contest at all. The dollars bear this out: Businesswire reports food delivery apps will grow $100 billion by 2023.
One of the great myths of on-demand apps and the “Gig Economy” is that it is primarily of interest, and used by, the Millennial generation. However studies indicate that Baby Boomers and Gen X are just as likely to use the services, and are engaging in “Gig” work in increasing numbers. The draws of the “Gig Economy” are universal and valuable no matter the generation you are from. Indeed the Harvard Business Review indicated a few years ago that only 50% of “Gig” consumers are Millennial. One doesn’t have to be a Millennial to not want to have to mow the lawn on a 90 degree Saturday in the sun any more than one has to be a Baby Boomer to want someone else to fix the leaking kitchen faucet.
For many “Gig” workers, these apps provide a level of self-determinism, with some going as far as to say they revitalize the American Dream. Everyone understands the concept of “being your own boss” and the value of it. Many “Gig” workers express how much they value being able to set their own schedule and hours. In fact, according to Gigworker.com just shy of 80% of American “Gig” workers say they have a better work/life balance as a “Gig” worker. Further, there is a general feeling among “Gig” workers that the work they are putting in benefits them directly, instead of pouring energy into what some see as faceless corporations or companies that see them as a number. Labor performed by a worker who directly benefits from the work they do. As much work as they care to put in, they will get equal in return.
At the end of the day, it would be off the mark to say that on-demand apps created the market that has sprung up around the “Gig Economy.” That market already existed and was tapped in specific ways. What these apps have done more than anything is provide ease of access. They are tapping a labor pool that was already primed and ready to go, and a buyer pool that has proven to be much less interested in the in-store, in-office, out-of-the-house experience than conventional wisdom would’ve indicated.
Changing “Traditional” Employment, and the World
There is some evidence that, traditional employers have been adjusting their practices to offer employees some of the benefits that on-demand or “Gig” work offers. Flex time, or flexible hours and an adjustable schedule, have become almost a foregone conclusion in many offices. And while the COVID-19 crisis drove many to work from home, the ease with which that happened was helped along by the advent of work from home several years earlier as a perk for traditional employees that mirrored one of the perks of “Gig” work. Work from home has been so successful for some companies that they have begun to question the need to have brick-and-mortar offices where they gather all their employees. Studies indicate that most employees have expressed a greater quality of life and job satisfaction when working from home, leading some employers to regard it as a cost-free boost to productivity.
Perhaps most interestingly, on-demand apps are influencing the market spaces that they rely on, and the world at large. Uber and Lyft have both invested in automated vehicle technology (an advance that would cause a serious paradigm shift in their business models, to be sure). Some consumers even report making purchase decisions based on these apps. And this isn’t just influence brought on by reviews – it’s influence brought on by a service. For example many living in congested cities, where parking is as much of a hassle as a car payment, report less incentive to purchase their own vehicle because of the easy availability and low price of ride-share apps. For some it’s a greater value to buy a ride than a car, gas, and ongoing maintenance. This influence extends to every corner where on-demand apps have reached.
And in a critical shift from the phone screen to the congressional lobby, several on-demand app companies have become active in politics in order to influence legislation that would directly impact their business models. This has been seen most vividly on the topic of contractor versus employee designations – a very important distinction in the industry. On-demand apps, and their workers, rely on the contractor designation. It’s what allows the worker to choose their own hours, work when and how they want, and have the complete flexibility and freedom that makes the “Gig” style of work so appealing. And app companies enjoy the relationship as it helps them to maintain their vast network of workers unencumbered by the many concerns of employees, like scheduling, training, materials, and everything else that comes along with that territory. It allows both sides to be agile, responsive, and self-determine.
Challenges That On-Demand Apps Face
It isn’t all sunshine and daisies for on-demand apps and the “Gig Economy.” There are challenges unique to them, and problems that affect them disproportionately when compared with their traditional business counterparts. Here are a few:
Supply Chain Concerns – “Sorry, no driver is available right now.” Because of the loose nature of the business relationships these businesses have with their contractors, and the ultimate freedom and control those contractors hold, these types of apps can be left without any workforce at all if things go badly. And this can happen for any number of reasons – being priced out of the market, the service becoming suddenly less popular among consumers, new competitors, bad marketing, or simply bad luck. Contractors are the lifeblood of these apps, but they’re free to leave at any moment.
Law – As mentioned previously, on-demand apps rely heavily on the Contractor versus Employee distinction. If laws were to change that designation it would require a fundamental shift in the way these businesses run. But that’s not the only concern. Laws introducing painful insurance requirements, or placing restrictions on certain types of business can cause an app to abandon a state, or a business model. A real-world example of this is the liquor delivery service Flaviar, which has a lengthy list of states to which it cannot ship its product due to alcohol laws.
Notoriety – With thousands of “Uber of X” apps in the market it can be difficult to be discovered. Many apps exist in a middling state where they’re no longer small, but can’t seem to get enough steam to become big. Other apps are regional, servicing only certain areas and seldom expanding. Without serious effort put into advertising or a viral moment, it can be hard for many apps to take off. And this of course assumes that what they are offering is a service anyone truly desires. The landscape can be harsh.
Differentiation – Strongly linked to the drive for notoriety is the ability of apps to differentiate themselves from one another. For an average consumer with no idea what sets one app apart from another in any market, then how can you decide among them? It could end up being random chance if your app cannot set itself apart from the competition. Whether it’s “delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free” or “our monthly subscription that eliminates all fees” apps have to hang their hat on the thing that makes them unique.
Trust Factor – At the end of the day, it’s easy to lose customers in any line of business. One bad experience makes a louder sound than 100 good experiences. Adding to this universal challenge is that most on-demand “Gig” apps never meet their own contractors in any way. They can be anyone at all, with any disposition, and only as much motivation to do well as they bring intrinsically. This introduces a level of risk for on-demand companies who have to become masters of currying trust, and soothing bad experiences.
So How Do All These Apps Succeed?
There are countless on-demand apps, and new challengers appear daily. So you might find yourself asking “Which on-demand app is best?” The noteworthy in this space aim to be the very best at whatever their one “thing” is, providing all the perks of an in-person or in-store experience from the comfort of your home, store, car, or office. The measures by which these apps are judged are often the very same as any traditional store or business. And with so many apps in the market, performance matters. If an app doesn’t perform, nothing less than its existence is on the line. Those who thrive focus on the basics:
Top Quality Customer Service – The market is absolutely saturated with alternatives, and customer loyalty can be lost as quickly as an app can be deleted. The best in the space know that to retain customer loyalty they have to make everything as easy and enjoyable as possible – even typically unpleasant things like providing a refund for a failed service. Customers remember every customer service interaction, good and bad, and their dollars do the talking.
Reliability – Nothing ruins date night like finding out the food delivery you ordered an hour ago is being cancelled because the app couldn’t find a driver. A reputation of unreliability is enough to crash and sink any on-demand app. Keeping their provider pool strong and at the ready is critical.
Easy to Understand, Competitive Pricing – Hidden fees, inexplicable service charges, and difficult-to-follow pricing schemes will turn off any consumer. If your on-demand app is more like dealing with a cable company than a vending machine customers will leave for your competitors. The solution is not complex. The best in the industry explain their fees, and make pricing simple. And they don’t just make their prices as simple as possible – they make them truly simple. Naturally, those prices have to compete with the market. If your app is 50% higher than your competitor for the exact same service (often performed by the exact same person) then you’re going to lose.
Speed – Customers develop an expectation when it comes to services. In the same way that a person becomes impatient after 6 or 7 minutes in a drive-through, the particular service any app is providing has an acceptable timeframe as well. For an app to stay in the game, they have to be able to hit the right timeframe for their customers. Given that the source of their service is typically a freelance gig worker, it also has to be a realistic human timeframe as well. The truly great understand this delicate balance and provide tools that enable their contractors to hit the mark.
Straightforward, Simple Apps – Ever opened an app, took a look at the user interface, then closed and deleted it immediately? On-demand apps shouldn’t be like tax forms or long division. They should be intuitive and easy to use for every age group. The most successful examples in the industry have simple interfaces with as few screens and buttons as they can get away with. They use large-font text on clean backgrounds, and present all pertinent information in easy-to-consume ways.
Extremely Focused – The contenders in this space are focused on one thing and one things only. Whether it’s handyman odd jobs, food delivery, or celebrity coaching sessions, the best on-demand apps don’t try to be a diffuse “general store” of everything (unless, of course, their “one thing” is to be a general store of everything sold locally such as OfferUp or NextDoor.) An app that provides too many disparate services (for example, Italian food delivery and hand-knit wool blankets) is unlikely to succeed in both spaces unless there is a strong connection between the two things. Uber doesn’t provide guitar lessons or mobile phone repair. They stick to what they, and their providers, know.
Market Realism – At the end of the day, if the service your app offers is fulfilling a need you wish existed, rather than one that obviously exists, you’ll have no success. This isn’t complex – it’s simple supply and demand. Yet many apps have come and gone because they failed to recognize the market they imagined in their heads was not a market that the world really had. This isn’t to say that taking a risk by trying to create a need is a bad idea (after all, nobody needed a Nintendo before it was invented), but careful research needs to go into that decision before pulling the trigger.
Adaptability – Many websites and apps disappear because the service they provide is too inflexible to grow with changing opinions and desires. Adaptability is key to long-term success. The classic example of successful on-demand adaptation is Netflix, a company that once sent DVDs to people through traditional snail mail and competed with movie rental giants like Blockbuster. Recognizing the change in viewer patterns and desires brought on by the easy availability of high speed internet they created a major Video On Demand web platform that redefined an entire market and drove their brick-and-mortar competitors out of business. While not everyone has to have that impact, if your app can’t adapt to changing consumer tastes and needs, you might as well be the next Pets.com.
People, Not Apps – The flashiest, simplest, coolest on-demand app in the world is absolutely meaningless if nobody wants to perform work for the company. Allegations of payment issues, poor contractor support when it’s needed, and unreasonable expectations will drive users away from an app, and a competitor will immediately fill the void by fixing the people issues that plagued it. The flexible nature of the “Gig Economy” means that older, less human-focused “management” styles won’t sell. If the revenue opportunity is roughly equal, people will go where they feel best appreciated.
So What’s This Got to Do With Grass, Snow, and Landscaping?
Given all that you’ve learned above, it can be no surprise to discover that grass, snow, and landscaping services have also developed a strong on-demand model (after all, you’re reading this article on an on-demand service’s website). There are many players in the scene that call themselves the “Uber of Lawn Care,” and each is known for carving out its own niche, providing homeowners and management companies solutions to their lawn and snow needs. Here are a few of the approaches and strategies the names in this space employ.
Some companies, such as Home Advisor, Mowdo, and Thumbtack will source the work you request to multiple parties who contact you directly to name a price, giving you control over who you pick and introducing competition into the market. Other services such as LawnStarter, and Plowz and Mowz will quote you online instantly based on the parameters of your yard and the height of your grass letting you get services paid for and scheduled quickly and easily.
Along with doing the above, Eden also offers a significant catalogue of landscaping services and options and can have a professional in the field to you house in a very short timeframe to help you design the backyard of your dreams. And with updated quote pages, getting a customized price for grass, snow, yard work, and landscaping is easier than ever.
The advantages of choosing an on-demand app for your lawn and landscape care are numerous and include:
No Long-Term Contracts – One of the reasons many say they have avoided grass cutting services local to them is because they don’t want to be locked into a contract. Our lives are dynamic and perpetually changing, and long-term contracts have gone the way of the dodo in almost every aspect of service. Be it internet, phone, cable, satellite, even gyms, companies recognize people don’t want to be tethered to an extended obligation. On-demand lawn apps skip this step entirely, allowing you to decide when to start, and when to stop service with the click of a button.
A Competitive Market – Local lawn and landscape companies often face little to no competition, especially in smaller suburban neighborhoods. Lack of competition means pricing can be a real concern. With on-demand grass apps, competition is assured. In your neighborhood right now you could have six or seven apps vying for your dollar. And when the service provided is, on the surface, identical, price always wins. This kind of competition is ultimately best for consumers.
Versatile Problem-Solving – Due to the ease of starting and stopping on-demand services they provide a versatile solution to a problem that would once have been a major concern. Going on vacation for two weeks but don’t want your yard to get out of control while you’re gone? Snow bird headed out of state for a while, but want to make sure that everything is clean and ready for your return at the end of spring? Sudden care situation for an elderly loved one that has you away from home for an extended period of time? Whether signing up for a recurring package, or a one-time cut, on-demand grass apps can help you solve issues and reduce stress from any situation.
No Equipment Maintenance – Many households have found, with the ease of access and affordable pricing of on-demand lawn and landscape services, that they no longer need to own mowers, weed eaters, and other expensive lawn equipment. With the prospect of spending thousands of dollars to buy a good mower, and the additional cost of maintaining the machine every single year, and paying for repairs when it breaks, it’s easy to see why paying a small fee weekly or bi-weekly is more attractive.
Time Savings – It has been said before, almost no one looks forward to mowing their grass, weeding their flowerbeds, digging up an old shrub, or building a retaining wall. On-demand landscaping apps give you back your time, so you can spend it with family, while they solve whatever outdoor issue would have previously occupied you. You stay inside in the cool air, and they provide a high quality, high value service.