If you can't get it on-demand yet, chances are that you won't have to wait too much longer. Goods and services, from meals to maids, are now readily available through the app store. But as these companies compete to be more convenient than the last guy, they inch closer and closer to offering things you wouldn't normally turn to a stranger for - or at least you wouldn't have five years ago. Just last week, a service called Boomerlaunched, which allows you to order a dermatologist to your home to provide botox treatment. Soothe, another recently launched service, sends a masseuse to your door, table and sheet in hand. They are convenient, sure, but how do these companies guarantee safety within their fleet of on-demand employees, especially as they enter your home? Scratching your head? Me too.
Check out the website of almost any on-demand service and you will see some combination of the words "vetted," "background checked," "certified," "licensed," or "insured." But what does that really mean and can we really trust that the shared economy will stay safe? I decided to talk to someone who works in perhaps the most sensitive space, on-demand childcare. Sara Schaer founded Kango last year because, as a working parent herself, she saw the challenge of getting kids to school, camps and other activities. Sending her kids alone in an Uber was not an option. Schaer explains the start of her company as more of a personal necessity than an entrepreneurial eureka moment:
"There was no time-efficient way to find drivers or sitters I could trust so we started a collaborative app that allowed parents to help each other out with carpools, childcare or playdates." The company was not meant to be an "Uber for kids," which highlights the first major lesson entrepreneurs can learn about entering highly regulated spaces. Make sure you understand everything about the service you are providing or product you are selling. This may seem like simple advice, but far too often founders get stuck on "a good idea" that they have no personal relationship to.
When Schaer's community carpool app was a success, the team decided to pilot their Rides and Care service. After researching permits for Transportation Network Companies (TNC's) like Uber and Lyft, Kango tried to apply for a permit specific to driving unaccompanied minors.
Even though Kango was the third (after Shuddle and HopSkipDrive) to begin operating in the space, they were told by the regulators that they were actually the first TNC to apply for a license specifically to drive unaccompanied children. Kango then had to put itself on hold as the TNC permit application was updated for companies that provided underaged rides and care. A couple of takeaways:
#1 Don't solely rely on your competitors to guide you when it comes to legal regulation - do your due diligence and take the time to research. Had Kango just looked to its competitors, the company would have risked major legal issues down the road - not to mention compromised customer trust.
#2 Regulations are adapting in response to these new sets of on-demand startups, not ahead of them. This means that entrepreneurs must be able to adjust their company policies extremely fast. To stay ahead of them, Kango partakes in "ongoing safety-related steps, including (but not restricted to) periodic background checks and vehicle inspections, as well as monitoring of driving records."
You may decide to go above and beyond what customers expect - and it would be wise. Kango, for example, prides itself on allowing parents and families to interview drivers beforehand, request certain preferred drivers, or accompany their child on an initial "ride-along." And while it might seem like more work than reward to run so proactively, Kango's steady success expanding from the city of San Francisco to the Bay Area and beyond suggests something else. Extra layers of self-regulation, especially when it comes to companies that rely on an immense amount of customer trust, might actually be the edge that ends up separating the winners from the losers.