How Mobile Marketplaces Are Creating a Million New U.S. Jobs

Online marketplaces such as Uber and Instacart are rapidly transforming the way people get what they want – whether it’s a ride, a meal, or a pet sitter – when they want it. To make that happen, these companies are on a hiring spree, one that’s gone virtually unnoticed by the statisticians and economists who track the labor market.

An analysis by Menlo Ventures suggests that these emerging new businesses are already on track to create one million brand-new jobs in the U.S., many of them well paying and all of them filled in local markets by Americans. And that is likely a conservative estimate.

While these jobs require little training or higher education, they usually pay above minimum wage and offer many workers lifestyle flexibility and the opportunity to work close to home. This is especially important now, when studies indicate that other industries clamoring for employees are frustrated because they don’t have enough nearby applicants with the advanced training or experience to do these often-technical and specialized jobs.

What will drive this job growth? Digital marketplaces are being built on four megatrends of today’s Right-Now Economy, including:

  1. The increasing penetration of smartphones. Nearly one billion smartphones were sold worldwide in 2013, according to Gartner. Couple this with the rise of big data and a dramatic decrease in the cost of software development and you have a technology environment well suited to the marketplace concept.
  2. The rise of Millennials (age 18 to 34) who are digital natives as the dominant consumer group. They are already spending an estimated $1.3 trillion annually and have surpassed baby boomers as the leading consumer demographic group, according to the Hartman Group.
  3. The growing availability of a freelance labor market willing to take jobs with non-traditional hours that fit into their individual lifestyles. By some estimates, there are already 42 million Americans who work freelance, and freelancers are projected to compose more than half the American workforce by 2020.

Latent consumer demand for the services can now be obtained more easily through digital marketplaces. For instance, there are 100 million dog-owning households in the U.S., according to the American Humane Society, yet only 230,000 dog-sitting jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If dog owners have access to a more efficient marketplace of potential dog walkers and dog sitters, there could be a huge opportunity to create new jobs.

Marketplaces are capitalizing on these trends by aggregating supply (whether it’s dog sitters, babysitters, or cars for hire), increasing demand by creating easier and better buying experiences for consumers, and adding value to the transaction by providing add-ons that freelancers or small business can’t or don’t offer (such as on-call veterinarians and liability insurance). Technology makes it easier than ever for these companies to expand to new markets, creating strictly local jobs for workers but doing it without having to open costly and risky satellite offices.

To arrive at our job’s estimate, Menlo Ventures looked at the job-creation activities of numerous fast-growing marketplaces, including many in our own portfolio. For example, looking at Uber’s growth in Seattle, the company currently has 900 UberX drivers for a population of 635,000 people, compared to the 300 taxis in the city. By extrapolation, through the use of a current national figure of 170,000 traditional taxis (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), we estimated that Uber has the potential to expand to at least 360,000 UberX drivers nationally. It’s worth noting that in Seattle alone, there are more than 3,000 peer-to-peer drivers if Lyft and Sidecar are included in the calculation.

Furthermore, Uber pays more than traditional taxi jobs. The average U.S. taxi driver makes $30,000 a year at a rate of $14 an hour. By comparison, fulltime Uber drivers make $39,000 a year at a rate of $18 an hour.

Another example comes from Rover.com, a dog sitting service. There are 230,000 dog sitters in the U.S., and 430 dog-owning householders per dog sitter. A single dog sitter cannot service that many households. By opening up the supply of dog sitters through a frictionless online marketplace, in markets where Rover operates, the ratio comes down to 261 households per dog sitter. Rover.com has already created 25,000 new dog sitting jobs.

These figures represent only some of Menlo’s portfolio companies. When you include their competitors and other categories such as food service, creative and technical services, and home improvement services, the estimate can reach of one million – or more – American jobs created by online marketplaces. The same type of growth also is likely in international markets as these American companies expand globally.

Some argue that these are startup companies and that such growth is far from being a guarantee. But these companies are providing necessary consumer services, and once they scale, the network effect will take hold and they will become durable companies – much like Amazon – that will be able to survive and grow through changing economic environments.

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This post originally appeared in VentureBeat.