Multiple billion dollar industries have been built and sustained on a very common human trait — “impatience”. Think Uber. Think the concept of “fast fashion”. Think Deliveroo, DoorDash and GoJek. Think any form of on-demand service. All of these companies and the industries they created are driven by the impatience towards traditional industry structures.
As “on-demand” becomes the industry lingo for anything that is made available when a consumer wants it, the nature of our impatience is evolving. In a 2019 study conducted in the US by US Foods, the average acceptable waiting time for a meal to be delivered was 40 minutes. In a similar study reported by McKinsey in 2016, the optimal waiting time was 60 minutes. In a space of 4 years, the impatience factor reduced the optimal waiting time by 20 minutes for food delivery. Although the studies are not exactly comparable, but the trend of a declining optimal waiting time points towards how the dynamics of “impatience” are changing.
When Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp couldn’t get a taxi on a cold winter evening in Paris in 2008, the idea of Uber was born. The problem was unavailability, the emotion was impatience and the circumstances were trying. The very first companies who built successful businesses on the back of impatience were fulfilling an unavailability gap.
The same can be said about the concept of “fast fashion”. Before today, high-end fashion was a notoriously capital-intensive, bureaucratic and slow industry. The industry’s fortunes were driven by the collection of clothes that came out of designer’s heads and hit the runways four time a year — Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. From the runway to the shops / boutiques, the journey was agonisingly slow (potentially driven by the need to remain exclusive). When Amancio Ortega founded ZARA in 1963, he aimed to turn this “impatience” around the availability of high-end fashion trends into a massive business opportunity. This continues to this day, with the likes of Benetton, H&M, Primark, Peacock and now the embattled Topshop making fast fashion a multibillion dollar industry.
This article (below) nicely encapsulates how impatience has transformed the retail banking industry, and is driving the emergence of neo-banks:
Consumers Expect Everything On Demand, But Banks Are Slow To Respond
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…and this report from EY captures how consumers have shown more enthusiasm for adopting digitally-driven healthcare as compared to physicians.
Just like anything else, the dynamics of impatience is changing. The on-demand economy is rapidly pushing impatience due to “something not being available quickly” to “something not meeting our expectations even when it is available”. As a rule of thumb — the first movers in any category solve for “unavailability”, while the second / third / fourth….movers aim to solve for “meeting expectations”. In most instances, the first mover also shifts to meeting expectations to drive differentiation and remain competitive.
If we consider Uber the first-mover or the creator of the on-demand transportation industry, then the mission statements of some of its competitors make for interesting reading:
Lyft — “Improve people’s lives through the world’s best transportation
Ola — “Provide hassle-free, reliable and technology-efficient car rental services to Indians”
Didi — “We will strive non-stop to create better life experience and greater social value, through building a safe, inclusive and sustainable transportation and local services ecosystem for cities of the future”
Gojek — “Gojek is dedicated to creating and scaling up positive socio-economic impact on the ecosystem of users, driver-partners, business and micro-small-medium enterprise partners, as well as service providers”
Grab — “At Grab our vision is to Drive Southeast Asia Forward through innovation and grit. We do this by solving real world problems that over 620 million people face across the region”
As the business of impatience evolves, so does the need these startups are aiming to fulfil as the first order need of plugging unavailability has been done. If we contrast all the above with Uber’s mission statement, it still has the fundamental core principle of solving for “unavailability”:
Uber’s mission is to bring transportation — for everyone, everywhere.… Transportation that’s safer, cheaper, and more reliable; transportation that creates more job opportunities and higher incomes for drivers.
…but Uber know really well that it has solved for impatience and needs to move to higher-order needs, which is reflected in the different ride-hailing options available. It is now solving for economy, comfort, sophistication, luxury and space needs.
In 2015, Bain & Company attempted an extension of the classical Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and ended up with the below:
I am not going to debate whether they got it right or wrong. But if we were to look at our evolution of impatience, it has now moved on from being impatient about day-to-day functional needs (e.g. time saving, simplification, reducing effort, avoiding hassles etc.) to emotional ones. The momentum is very much towards our impatience getting the better of us, when it comes to ‘Life Changing’ or ‘Social Impact’ needs.
Let’s look at some examples and put some numbers behind how the business of impatience is evolving:
Calm valued at $2.2 billion, seeks to raise an additional $150 million in funding. Bang in the middle of the pandemic is perfect timing.
News that Calm seeks more funding at a higher valuation is not transcendental thinking
Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that meditation app Calm is looking into raising $150 million more at a valuation…
In 2018, Blinkist raised $18.8 million for its condensed reading platform for non-fiction books.
Blinkist raises $18.8M for its condensed reading platform for non-fiction books
We are living in the information age, but that doesn't mean that we have all the time in the world to ingest everything…
The on-demand, instant gratification culture fuelled by technology not only drives a billion-dollar startup ecosystem, but also the whole personalisation industry. Consumers don’t want to wander around mindlessly in digital stores but be presented with what they (might be) are looking for the moment they visit the website. This same impatience has trickled down to almost all other aspects of our lives, which also includes higher order self-actualisation needs. The annoying cookie alerts we receive and the ads we see for the things we have bought are all manifestations of our impatience.
Is this whole evolution of impatience and the brands cropping up against them, a good or bad trend? The answer is both subjective and relative, and there are multiple reasons:
Impatience is good when it strives to cure inefficiency — One of the industries primed for this is healthcare. In this informative article, top VCs investing in health-tech talk about their motivations and visions. One of the overarching ones is reduced time to consultation and treatment.
Where top VCs are investing in digital health
The world of healthcare has notoriously been described as "broken" - plagued with high-friction workflows, sky-high…
Impatience is good when it accelerates digital transformation — Insure-tech is a prominent example of how startups have disrupted incumbents through digital consumer interfaces, online sales and marketing models, purchase, servicing and claims processing and faster and efficient consumer interactions. Read below about insure-tech startup Marshmallow’s latest funding round and its mission:
Impatience is bad, when it starts driving simple functional needs and interferes with the time needed to realise higher order needs. For example, the furtive glances at your Deliveroo or UberEats app after ordering food is one example. Furiously texting your Uber driver when he or she is 2 minutes away from the pickup point is another. Constantly checking on whether an Amazon parcel has been delivered is the third. The constant reoccurring theme of “growth hacking” and “hustling” is the fourth example of the business of impatience running riot.
We are going to witness a significant transformation in the way technology influences our lives. Unfortunately, the impact will be black or white (with no shades of grey in between). Technology will help us in curbing impatience in some aspects of our lives, while at the same time heightening it in other aspects.
As our lives become more fragmented and complex, we will be seeking more advanced technology-solutions for mundane tasks. Making supermarket deliveries available within Deliveroo and UberEats, a rapid delivery platform of Waitrose, expansion of Amazon’s next-day delivery, WhatsApp driven local grocery store payment and delivery models, next-day pickup models, laundry pickup and delivery services, simplified share trading platforms, auto-completion and grammar recommendation systems in email providers, aggregators in all conceivable industries providing research / shortlisting / buying features etc., are examples of businesses or models focused towards impatience around functional needs.
We will gradually embrace a “slowing down” or “cut-back” version of our emotional and self-actualisation needs. The business of impatience around these needs will be the creation of businesses that enhance accessibility, simplify functionality and usage, reduce complexity, strengthen understanding, provide multi-platform always-on access and provide support and motivation. We will continue to be motivated towards learning, but we will be impatient around its accessibility and ease of understanding. We will seek out meaning, but will demand more support, motivation and guidance. We will celebrate and grieve, but we will be impatient about loneliness and isolation.
The business of impatience will slowly, but surely, move from solving for basic inadequacies to solving for complex societal, cultural and economic challenges.