Malcolm Gladwell interviewed Benchmark’s General Partner Bill Gurley this morning at SxSW. The topics of conversation ranged from improvements needed in healthcare and passive drug testing in professional sports to rare catastrophic disasters and, of course, Uber. Gurley was an early investor in Uber and is very proud of the young company’s accomplishments. To date, Uber has created 300,000 jobs globally and—although the data is not yet available—it appears to be having a positive impact on DWIs. According to Gurley, Uber will continue to grow because 1) Millennials do not care about owning a car and see car ownership as a utility, and 2) senior citizens are an untapped market. As the audience applauded these achievements, Gurley asked what other company has created as many new jobs as Uber has?
The question was rhetorical, but Gladwell responded in a way that only he can. Once the applause ceased, Gladwell stated that he prefers when disruption happens authentically versus when it’s driven by technological advancements. He acknowledged that the 300,000 jobs was impressive, but questioned whether it was actually more of a transference as opposed to a creation. Are the jobs “created” by Uber essentially cannibalizing the auto industry? And who is going to protect Uber when driverless cars become available? Gurley was seemingly flustered but quickly regained his composure and reiterated the point around Uber’s ability to create jobs. Gurley also contended that driverless cars will take some time before becoming a reality, if ever.
But Gladwell’s point raises an interesting question: Are advancements better when they happen authentically and therefore reflecting a shift in society, or are they better when driven by technology, which often solve one issue but create another—like the potential cannibalization of the auto industry?
SxSW has given us a healthy debate and something to continue to discuss at Wunderman.