City & Gild: Catching a cab, or catching up?

I wrote recently about the sharing economy and the fact that hotels in New York are in court with Airbnb. Surprise surprise, now the black cabs are on strike because of Uber. As the hoteliers of New York claim their grievance is with Airbnb not paying hotel tax, the cabbies are apparently upset because they think that the Uber app is calculating fares and therefore is effectively a taxi meter.

I can’t count the number of times of times I have stood on the streets of London in the small hours watching black cabs trundle past with a heavy load. You consider switching from one street to the next to see if it’s a better traffic flow and more likely to have a taxi with a light on. What Uber effectively does is have eyes on all the local streets for the rare beast that is an available car.

At The Gild we work heavily in innovation. We predominantly do this within the world of fast-moving consumer goods, but it can be anything from beer and chocolate to fashion and mobile phones. In these worlds competition is fierce. Cadbury has had an incredible amount of success with its Marvellous Creations range, but you don’t find Mars or NestlĂ© charging into court screaming “it’s not fair, they used jelly beans in their chocolate bar and we didn’t think that was allowed”. They get their heads down and they respond with their own innovations.

Competition in the world of product and service is a good thing: it pushes us forward, it makes us innovate, improve and strive for better. I simply cannot understand the response of industries who bemoan and worse try to legislate against progress. Can you imagine if Encyclopedia Britannica had successfully squashed Google? The best response to innovation and increased competition is better innovation.

Black cabs are part of our heritage, part of the fabric of London, losing black cabs would be like ending the monarchy. But imagine if LTDA (London Taxi Drivers Association) had put all its energies and a little bit of cash into developing a competitor app called The Knowledge instead of striking.

The app could call a black cab for you, provide a feed of tourist information (backed by the tourist board) and even a round up of the cabbie’s views on politics and religion. I’d use that instead of Uber, I’d get better value and I’d feel like I was supporting our local guys.

It’s a pretty simple rule of commerce, if the competition starts to look better than you, don’t have a tantrum, step up.

Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild,