Symbiosis or parasite

We hear a lot about disrupters these days.  Technology so a disruptive industry.  It has allowed new business models to emerge and firms have sprung up overnight that are sweeping away the old guard and rewriting the rules on how firms should operate.  They have disrupted.

Organisations such as Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and Hungryhouse are all paraded as the embodiment of this new wave of businesses.  In the main they all have something in common.  It is not that they are all billion dollar companies, which they are but rather that they provide connections between customers and markets; information; friends; transport; accommodation and; food.

They are data rich, absolutely focussed on service levels, provide their customers with easy to use online interfaces and are very popular yet there is another key similarity across them.  They are all asset light.  Uber has no taxis.  Airbnb has no rooms to let and Hungryhouse, the UK’s largest take-away has no cooks.

They all rely on other businesses to provide the services which they sell and this is what is interesting about the model.  Without the underlying, or host assets, the model will not work.  They are in a relationship with their suppliers that goes way beyond manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer.

They are in a symbiotic relationship and so need to be careful.  The relationship needs to work for all parties otherwise they will fall over into being a parasite.  There is big difference between the relationships between the pilot fish and a shark, the ivy and the tree, or the Human immunodeficiency virus and us.

There is no doubt that these companies have had a dramatic effect on the way we live and that they have set the tone for today’s business yet they need to be wary.  Big fleas have little fleas to bite them and so it is essential that they maintain a viable relationship between the needs of what they are and the array of smaller organisations that they have come to depend upon.

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