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Sharing the misery: 2014 was a rough year for Uber, Airbnb, and on-demand apps

Caitlin McGarry | Dec. 16, 2014
Legal battles, labor scuffles, and dirty business tactics were on the rise this year as start-ups moved from sharing resources to on-demand everything.

A new kind of worker
With people clamoring to offer their home and cars for a price, it wasn't long before startups launched to help people offer their own physical labor for cash. TaskRabbit and Handy (once known as Handybook) became two of the main players in 2014, helping freelancers find odd jobs for a fee. Handy focuses specifically on help around the house, while you can contract a TaskRabbit to help with just about any errand. But both startups came under fire this year for the way they treat freelancers. TaskRabbit changed its algorithm--instead of letting TaskRabbits bid for jobs, the company matches users who need help with prospective candidates. This move was unpopular with a group of TaskRabbits who claim it eliminates their ability to choose the tasks they perform. Meanwhile, Handy was sued by two workers who alleged that the company treats them like employees while classifying them as independent contractors. Startups are increasingly relying on freelance workers to keep their costs down and their business running smoothly, so we can expect to see more labor scuffles between tech companies and workers in the new year.

No more MonkeyParking business
What happens when an app allows people to buy and sell resources they don't actually own? It gets banned. That's what happened to MonkeyParking, a Rome-based startup that launched in San Francisco to let drivers auction their parking spaces to cars circling the city in the quest to find a spot. But San Francisco law says buying and selling parking spots, which are public, not private, resources, is illegal. Not to mention dangerous. MonkeyParking isn't the only parking space auction app, and now cities are banning the practice across the board. Los Angeles passed an ordinance doing just that in November. Philadelphia is contemplating doing the same. Startups trying to "disrupt" parking might look at Luxe Valet's model, which uses garage spaces, not public resources, to ease parking woes. MonkeyParking is now connecting users who want to share their private driveways to keep itself out of trouble.

Order a man on-demand
When ManServants, a platform that offers men for hire, launched this summer, it seemed like a joke. The startup's prelaunch promo video was so ridiculous it couldn't be real. But ManServants is real, and though there's nothing wrong with offering the pleasure of your company by the hour, something about it just seems...wrong. The men you hire for $125/hour will do, say, and dress however you want (no funny business allowed), if you're into that kind of thing. At least they're not selling public resources, I guess, but is this really what the desire for on-demand everything has wrought? Sigh.


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