The Gig Economy’s Death Cross

Financial Charts

Financial markets have some predetermined signals that are supposed to alert investors that the bottom is getting ready to fall out of the market. One of the more popular indicators is the “Death Cross,” which happens when the short term average value (usually 50 days) of a stock falls below the long term average value (usually 200 days). Some financial advisors argue this means a stock has peaked and you can expect a long term downward trend to begin, and we’ll theorize a similar indicator exists for the gig economy.

Market Share Over Profitability

Burning Money

The gig economy is Silicon Valley’s most extreme version of the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model. A business model that, as noted in a previous post, we think offers no long term value to the economy or the consumers that are using it. We’ve concluded this based on the fact the those who participate in this type of business model are offering services well below fair market value to gain market share, without concern over how the business will eventually reach profitability.

Because these businesses are offering services at an unprofitable level, they are easily identifiable by their high cash burn rates and the fact their operations are usually subsidized through private investment capital or early-stage Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). The list of notable companies we consider to be a part of this group is Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash, MoviePass, etc., and a variety of scandals have emerged over how some of these companies are paying their “contractors.”

Each one of these companies facilitates a connection between an end-user and service provider with the hopes of receiving a piece of the action – the very definition of a middle man. The problem is a middle man can’t earn any money in a non-profitable endeavor, and the results are beginning to show, something that should worry anyone associated with these companies.

It Can’t be that Bad

Borrowing Money

Take Uber for example, which has a well-publicized issue with driver wages falling below, or being just above minimum wage. With labor rates so low (a goal of so many organizations), many would imagine Uber must be a highly profitable business, but according to self-reported earnings, Uber’s losses are widening, and growth is slowing. These reports are leaving some early investors wondering if they will ever see a return on their investment, with the only possible fix to the situation being a significant increase in service rates.

In other news, MoviePass’s recent spiral has also been high-publicized as it continues to restructure pricing and access for its users to shave their massive losses. The most recent changes resulting in a lower number of users on the platform and higher prices for those customers that remain, although the only metric anyone cares about is the 126 million dollars in losses.

Even Lyft, which seems to attract fewer negative public relations mentions than the previous companies, has been forced to make some changes. Since Lyft also doesn’t have a profitable structure, recent changes in minimum wage laws have forced them to raise their rates to guarantee their drivers earn a living wage.

How to Create a Death Cross

In case you haven’t noticed the trend, time vets all business models, and the fix for all of these businesses is the same – they have to raise prices. The problem is most of their users have been acquired based on the price point of the service, not on its quality; therefore, the inevitable result of raising prices is a decrease in users.

It’s quite simple when you boil it down to most simple mathematical elements. On the hand, you have the price of the service, and on the other, you have the number of user on the platform. As the price goes up, the number of users comes down, and at some point, these two lines will overlap creating the “Gig Economy Death Cross.”

Death Cross

The Gig Economy Death Cross represents a sobering reality for these business models. At its core, it’s the maximum rate they can charge for their service before the user loss becomes unreasonable, and the resulting evaluation will determine if the company is dead on arrival.

Take the dollar amount at the point of intersection, multiply it by the number of users to estimate the revenue earned, and then subtract the company’s expenses. If the resulting number is in the red, I suggest you start polishing up that resume.

It’s always convenient for believers in these businesses to argue that an evaluation of this kind is too simplistic, we would counter by illustrating most of the business community’s longest standing principles are along these lines. Beliefs like, supply and demand, or word-of-mouth is the best advertising, have long stood the test of time, so it’s hard for us to comprehend how something like needing to generate more money than you spend could have slipped through the cracks.

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