I’m not interested in technology for its own sake. I think it’s interesting precisely where (and because) it intersects with our daily lives. We’re at the beginning of many such intersections right now, but one that I’m particularly interested in is The On-Demand Experience Economy.
Traditionally, we’ve done two things related to items and experiences:
- When we wanted something, we had to go get it. This could be at a store, at a restaurant, or some designated meeting place where an exchange will happen.
- When we wanted something, we had to purchase it outright. There are exceptions for renting houses, or cars, but most things you had to buy in order to experience.
- If we wanted to know what the best things were, we had to do a lot of manual work to figure this out.
These three things are not only changing; they’re also merging.
Amazon has forced everyone who makes something to learn how to have it delivered to you. So either they use Amazon itself or they suddenly develop a high-quality and fast shipping service that gets you goods at Amazon speeds. The alternative is (usually) to go out of business.
This is a big problem for Amazon’s biggest competitors, which are large stores like Walmart and Target. Amazon is getting better and better at replacing these stores via free shipping, a better selection, and—quite significantly—not requiring you to go anywhere. You can just order and have the stuff show up at your house.
There’s a halfway step in there as well, which is where you still have to drive to the store, but all the stuff will be paid for, bagged, and ready for you to pick up when you get there.
If you look at tech startups, new services coming out, and general product and service innovation you can see this doesn’t just apply to supermarket and grocery items. There are companies who will come to where you are and pick up and drop off your laundry. There are companies that will fill your car with gas wherever it’s parked. And lots more who will give you manicures, haircuts, or whatever other personal service you need—without you having to go to a business.
That’s the on-demand piece, and it’s one of the reasons (along with limited selection) that the malls are dying.
The second piece is experience, and it’s orthogonal but arguably even more powerful. The idea is that people will be able to experience high-end products and locations (and people) without having to fully commit to a purchase or otherwise long-term relationship.
Traditional examples would be something like cars. Not many people have ever driven a 911 in their lives. Or an M3. Or a Corvette. And maybe they would love to do this, but could never afford to buy such a car. Or maybe they have a family and need a minivan, so even if they could afford a Corvette it wouldn’t be practical.
This experience component is making it so that people can own that BMW—just for the weekend. They don’t have to commit to it. They don’t have to give up the minivan. And they don’t have to pay the higher cost of ownership for more than a few days. But for their trip along the California coast they get all the benefits of their dream car.
Now imagine this for most nice things you might want to have access to, but not necessarily own. Golf clubs. Semi-automatic weapons. A small plane. A boat. A high-end gaming computer. A travel laptop.
One class of items where this probably won’t be as popular is personal items like clothes and shoes.
But let’s think bigger. Let’s say you’re planning this spectacular 7 day trip to the California coast, and you’re trying to make it as nice as possible, what else could you include?
How about staying in a nice home in the costal mountains that has a view of the water? YOu’re driving an M3 on those remarkable Highway 1 roads, and you’ve got a set of the latest PING clubs in the trunk. But where are you eating? Perhaps a special meal by a famous chef, hosted at a private home further down the coast.
Suddenly we’ve created an entire getaway, with some extremely high quality products and experiences, and we just paid for their duration—not perpetually. We can’t buy that house in the mountains overlooking the pacific. We can’t buy that M3. And we don’t know any chefs who can cook for us. But through this concept of buying ephemeral experiences, we can have all these things for the amount of time that matters.
I mentioned people, which, if you’re tuned properly, should have given you pause. There will be negative implementations of this (and already have been for centuries), but imagine the work that most comedians put into being funny with a very small chance of doing well financially or being able to make extra money outside the club.
What if you could hire a professional comedian to come drink with you and your buddies? Or what if there was a guy who’s so successful with women that you and your 20-somethings friends could benefit just by being near him at the clubs? Would you pay him to learn how to be relaxed around girls? Would you pay a Marine Biologist to come out on the ocean with you while you fish and answer questions about ocean life?
How about if they were rated with 4.8 stars by lots of people you recognize, as being “one of the most entertaining educators I’ve ever met”.
If I could pay an astronomer or cosmologist to come stargaze with me I would, in a heartbeat. Just to hear them talk, to tell me about the history of the universe, and what they are working on at the time. I give them $200 for a couple of hours, they made some cash, and I had one of the best nights of my life.
People will be able to leverage their skills, abilities, and possessions to make additional money by enhancing other peoples’ experiences.
So if I own Canon’s latest Mark VII Mirrorless camera, and a bag full of the best glass in the industry, I can keep it rented out and make good money of it. And when I need it I simply take it out of experience rotation so that I can use it for my trip. Except your sense of humor is like your camera. And your astronomy knowledge is like a nice car. They are things that you and others can benefit from.
Finally we have curation.
It’s one thing to be able to have good products brought to you wherever you are. And it’s nice that you can have any accessory, in any location, with any companion, when you want to experience something.
But what should you do? What music is best for this occasion? What does the ideal trip to the California coast actually look like? Is there a particular house/car/food/activity combination that would make it an especially rich experience?
Maybe you heard that your friend rode bikes for 50 miles, then rowed boats out into the ocean and then dove to see turtles, and the fourth grandson’s cousin of David Attenborough was the wildlife guide. Then you parasailed back and rode motorcycles to your cabin in the mountains, where you listened to a storyteller with genuinely frightening ghost stories.
The point is, that was a thing. It’s a thing that they did that 1) you’d never think of yourself, and 2) you wouldn’t have any idea how to set up.
There will be entire professions based on surfacing the best things in life to you, and then removing the maximum amount of friction towards you experiencing them.
It’s the shave gel that you must try. It’s the ultimate pair of single-monk shoes. It’s the brand of jeans that will replace your AGs. It’s the ultimate combination of foods at the restaurant you have a reservation at in 2 hours.
It’s about the ideal balance between serendipity and optimization. Sometimes you know exactly what you want, and you just need it to be executed perfectly. Other times you just want to be surprised, but in a way that you’ll like. If you’re dainty and hate nature, a hiking trip where you get chased by a real bear will not be “authentic”—it’ll be horrific.
So the magic here is understanding context, understanding preferences, and building the ultimate experience for any given moment. Maybe that’s a stay-at-home dinner tonight for under $12, or maybe it’s the best new cleaning products for the house, or maybe it’s planning a 7-day trip to Iceland.
- We’re entering a new life-tech intersection that I call the On-Demand Curated Experience (OCE) Economy.
- Things will come to us instead of us going to them.
- We will have access to accessories, products, locations, and companions/guides/expertise that we can leverage for short amounts of time when we need them.
- Having access to these high-end people, places, and things for short periods will constitute our migration away from owning to experiencing.
- We will have curation services that can recommend most anything to us at any given time, from what we should eat right now within 2 blocks, to a career path for your newborn child based on your desires and values.
Some will object to these trends because they seem focused on the haves vs. the have-nots. Others will say that the experience economy turns everyone and every thing into a prop for someone to enjoy. Then some will argue that curation removes the joy of natural discovery. All three of these objections resonate with me, but I think the benefits will outnumber and overpower the negatives over time, regardless of our objections.
I personally look forward to the positives.