Updated: Aug 23
Not to get ahead of myself, but back in 2018, someone very important asked the question posed by the title of this article - just a little indirectly.
That person was Harvey Finklestein himself - the current president of Shopify.
In a 2018 feature written for Forbes Magazine, Harvey addressed the massive shift gig work symbolized across the developed world.
He opens by addressing how the 2008 financial crisis forced several people to reinvent their idea of a professional career - turning from employees to freelancing frontiersmen - and how ten years of this revolution has signaled true change.
This wasn’t the buzzword-style change that sees itself trend on Twitter and then dies down in a matter of weeks. In Harvey’s own words, the gig economy represented a change that was ‘on par with the advent of the assembly line or even the weekend.
Heavy stuff. But before we understand what the man meant, and what it means about his own platform Shopify, we need to better understand what the gig economy is.
What Is The Gig Economy?
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘gig’ first used in context to live music - where 1920s jazz musicians referred to their one-off performances at a venue using the word.
Through the ages, the term has now grown to encompass any kind of one-off job, characterized by short-term, temporary, or independent contractors instead of full-time workers beholden to a single employer.
While the idea of independent workers has existed for centuries, the ‘Gig Economy’ refers to the widespread formalization, optimization, and integration of these small-term jobs into a multi-billion dollar mega-industry, facilitated by websites such as Fiverr and apps such as DoorDash, Instacart, and Uber.
While the kinds of jobs available in the gig economy are widespread, they all have one thing in common - every single gig worker, regardless of industry, completes a predetermined set of small tasks. This could range from writing a comedy skit to delivering handmade sweets - and is generally billable by the worker on a project-to-project or time-bound basis.
Evolution Of The Gig Economy
The biggest challenge faced by gig workers early on was a simple lack of outside support - to be successful, you had to be very skilled and very well networked, as there weren’t a lot of platforms to use when looking for work.
It’s generally said that financial disasters usually precede financial revolutions, and the same is true for gig workers.
Post-2008, as we mentioned earlier, thousands of previously salaried professionals found themselves laid-off. With over 20 million jobs disappearing overnight, the situation seemed grim for many, including both skilled and unskilled workers.
With time to burn and bills to pay, several of them began to advertise their skills - not to firm recruiters with paper-thin hiring budgets, but directly towards businesses and other individuals with jobs to do. The metrics began to portray a clear trend as the US economy stumbled into the mid-2010s - small businesses with no paid employees or nonemployer firms as they are called, grew by 69 percent between 2010 and 2014, especially in ride-sharing. Payroll employment on the other hand grew by just 17 percent in the same period.
The transport industry numbers don’t exist for no reason, however. Behind the scenes, you’ll also notice that these were the years where the world’s most famous gig economy job - driving - took the front seat. 2009 marked the birth of Uber while Lyft joined the party a bit later in 2012 - and the rest is history.
Today, gig workers find themselves in a similar space. The pandemic has led to mass layoffs, and several individuals are now turning away from increasingly unsteady fixed employment systems in favor of what seems to be the future of the working sector.
With something of a ripple effect predicted to take place in the gig economy, there’s never been such a bright spotlight on gig work before - but let’s not be too quick to make assumptions.
Uber: A Closer Look
Founded in 2009, Uber is the world’s most popular ridesharing app and is often credited with revolutionizing the way modern cities commute and travel. With over 15 million cumulative rides per day, the company has now become synonymous with the idea of ridesharing.
Uber runs on a simple model - one that has been successfully replicated in cities across the globe. As a driver:
You clock in as available for work.
You accept rides at your discretion.
You pick up and drop off a passenger.
Rinse and repeat, until you’re done for the day.
Before registering as a driver, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. Here are the things you’ll need to get started:
You must be over the minimum age to drive in your city.
You must have at least one year of licensed driving experience in the U.S. or three years if you are under the age of 23.
You’ll require a valid U.S. driving license.
You’ll need an eligible 4-door vehicle.
You’ll need proof of residency for the U.S.
You’ll also need to have your vehicle registered and insured.
Along with these, Uber does a background check on your social security number, taking any criminal or driving offenses into account. If you don’t own an eligible vehicle, Uber offers rentals starting at $150 per week.
DoorDash: A Closer Look
Founded in 2013, Doordash is a Californian startup that focuses on delivering food from local restaurants directly to its customers. Similar to other companies such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Postmates, DoorDash has become a major player in all fifty states.
Like Uber, DoorDash’s work pattern is pretty straightforward. As a ‘Dasher’, your work hours will generally look like this:
Open up the DoorDash app, and choose ‘Dash Now’ to start accepting orders or schedule a later check-in time.
The app presents you with order details, including the route and guaranteed pay you can expect.
Once you choose an order, follow the instructions onscreen and navigate towards your destination after picking up the package.
Complete your order and wait for a new one.
DoorDash delivery workers require slightly fewer things to get started when compared to Uber drivers. To register, you’ll need:
To be above the age of 18.
A vehicle to handle deliveries. Depending on the locality, DoorDash will allow you to use motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, or even walk.
You’ll require a valid U.S. driving license.
You will also need insurance coverage for your vehicle, and in some areas, for yourself too.
As standard procedure, DoorDash will conduct a background check to ensure a clean criminal/driving record.
How Much Does Uber & DoorDash Pay?
Both gig platforms come with their payment models, with Uber having a slightly more complex one.
In the case of Uber, the company takes a 25% cut from all ride revenue. Fares are calculated on a scale that varies from time to place, although generally drivers are incentivized to pick longer routes for better-earning efficiency.