07 July 2016 11:45:54 IST

How disruptive brands like Uber, Airbnb, transform lives

They offer opportunities that had not hitherto existed, giving people a chance at a better life

As a consultant, I am a great admirer of ‘disruptive’ brands like Uber and Airbnb. To someone like me whose very life and livelihood is about brands, these are the names that all brands ultimately aspire to be like.

And yet, I am also aware of the bad press that dogs a company like Uber — horror stories of rape, outrage over “surge pricing”, complaints from the government of Karnataka about its non-compliance (with some horribly archaic and unfriendly rules).

But as a consumer, I have more often than not been delighted with the new cars, generally polite drivers and use of technology. I wish some of the companies that I work for, including mine, had half the energy of a happening company like Uber.

However, let me talk more as a consumer and less as a consultant. This story is about what happened last Saturday night in Bengaluru. My friends and I attempted the impossible — driving through the city in the rain on a Saturday evening!

That fateful day

We ambitiously left JP Nagar in South Bengaluru at 6.15 pm in pouring rain, aiming to reach RMV Stage 2 by 7.30 pm. As our luck would have it, we had an Uber driver who was an exception and proved extremely uncommunicative and unfriendly, as he kept talking on the phone perhaps to his wife. To all intents and purposes, she was extremely unhappy with him. Our torturous ride continued till 8.45 pm — a small matter of two and a half hours for a 20 kilometre ride, as our trip sheet sadly showed!

It took me fifteen minutes and two malts to get over the ordeal. Not one to take it lying down, I rated the driver poorly and promptly got a response from the company; another case of technology and its value in customer service.

Meet Waseem

Things then changed dramatically for the better.

We left again at 10.30 pm, thankfully avoiding the traffic, and had the benefit of a smiling, chatty driver. On probing a little, I discovered that Waseem, our friendly driver, had completed his BSc degree in Bio Technology at Bijapur, and had plans of studying for his MSc. The only constraint was finance.

One of the bigwigs in Bijapur is an honest government servant at Bengaluru (yes, miracles do happen), who owns a few cars. He offered Waseem a job for three months where he would earn ₹1,000 a day should he meet his incentive targets. He does that regularly, smilingly. So in the three-month break, he would earn close to ₹80,000, which would enable him to pursue his academic dream.

I was pleasantly surprised at the demeanour of this friendly, ambitious young man who represents the middle class aspirations of India which strongly believes that the way to advancement is through education. More importantly, companies like Uber are providing opportunities that had not hitherto existed, in addition to making a difference to passenger comfort in cities like Bengaluru, which have no public transport worth speaking about.

Of course, Waseem is not the only one to benefit. My own driver of 27 years is today the proud owner of a Toyota Etios. As an Uber owner driver, he earns more than twice of what he used to earn with me. Even if a driver complains to you about app-based cab service providers, rest assured that it is a great opportunity for the entire driver community, who promptly get their dues paid and make at least twice of what they used to. The more enterprising ones are running small fleets of three to four cars, becoming entrepreneurs in their own right.

Government steps in

Even as I pleasantly exchanged a good night with Waseem, my overwhelming thought was one of regret for the way our State government operates. Instead of supporting the enterprise that is providing an opportunity to people to move up in life, they are setting up hurdles in their way, clearly with objectives that are not above board. But then such is our karma !

As I went to sleep, I wondered if Waseem had been more cheerful because he was single… but that’s another story!