The on-demand economy in Ireland

Ireland has produced many pioneers in the on-demand economy. As people have less time they look for fast, easy solutions. The on-demand economy is on the rise, and here’s why. 

It’s a Tuesday afternoon when I call Cillein Farrel, one of the many spandex-clad Deliveroo cyclists you may have seen weaving through traffic in Dublin around meal times. It turns out I’ve called him at a wrong time; he’s in a rush to deliver a batch of burritos to a customer in Rathfarnham. Deliveroo is just one of an increasing number of on-demand services operating in the capital, that offer people quick, simple, cashless transactions at the touch of a button. This is Dublin in 2016 where, as long as you have a smartphone and a credit card, you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it, within a couple of clicks.

Still mainly confined to urban areas, on-demand technology is emerging to meet the needs of working populations and their desire for instant service. To put it simply, we’re becoming either too lazy or too busy to go out and buy things for ourselves, and tech companies are racing to take advantage.


Ireland as a hotbed

Dublin’s rapid transformation into a tech-hub in recent years has made it an ideal market for businesses like Deliveroo, which recently expanded into Cork. ThinkBusiness spoke with Cillein following his lunchtime shift when things had quietened down. “Most of the time it’s young professionals,” he says, when asked about the demographics of the people he delivers food to. “They live in nice apartment complexes, usually around the Grand Canal Dock. Sometimes you’ll also get a young, affluent family, typically living somewhere like Rathgar or Donnybrook.”

With the economic recovery picking up speed, a new generation of Irish worker has emerged, with plenty of disposable income but a shortage of time spend it in shops or restaurants. It’s this market that attracted Deliveroo, while German outfit Zipjet, an on-demand laundry app, chose Dublin as the first city to launch its global expansion. Dublin is compact in size, has a strong smartphone and broadband penetration and a growing workforce willing to pay a premium for convenience. “It’s rarely ever students I deliver to,” Cillein observes, before taking off to deliver sushi to a software developer.

Indigenous industries

It’s not all foreign firms leading the charge in this area, either. Irish tech entrepreneurs have been making waves both at home and abroad. In the US, Oisin Hanrahan has developed an app that instantly links users with handymen. Dubbed Handy, the Irishman has so far raised $64 million to expand the business globally. Closer to home, Jules Coleman founded Hassle, a website and app that helps users arrange a professional to come and clean their home. Hassle has been a hit; Coleman became a millionaire when a German company bought her app last year.

Buymie is another Irish tech start-up hoping to ride the wave of the on-demand boom. Its app allows consumers to order products from local shops and have the items delivered by a personal shopper within an hour. “The on-demand economy in Ireland is really in its infancy, which is why we are so excited to be driving it forward,” explains Buymie CEO and co-founder Devan Hughes. He believes the innovations that the on-demand industry can offer will have a tremendous impact on our world; perhaps as revolutionary as Henry Ford’s assembly line once was. “[Ford] turned a luxury reserved only for the wealthy into transport for the masses. By combining cutting-edge technology, capable of matching large scale supply and demand, with a network of willing and able individuals with access to their own smart devices, services like personal grocery shopping can, for the first time, be made affordable and reliable.”

Who are these people?

Some consumers might be a little uneasy with the idea of a stranger arriving on their doorstep with a bag of groceries. Using Hassle means letting a stranger into your home to do the cleaning. Uber involves hopping into a stranger’s car. “Every picker that joins our network will go through a full background checking process,” says Hughes, when I enquire about the vetting process Buymie’s personal shoppers go through. “We begin with an initial screening call, which is followed by an in-person interview. If they’re deemed to be a good fit for the role, they then have to complete our online training. This covers everything from identifying the ripest fruit and freshest veg, to how to use the Buymie Pickers app.”

The employment opportunities offered by the likes of Buymie is one of the most interesting aspects of their growth. Apps like these provide job opportunities to taxi-drivers, house cleaners, handymen, and deliverymen; these are not high-skilled jobs specific to the tech industry. But could someone make a full-time living from this sort of work? “This is definitively more of a part time deal,” says Cillein. “But the pay is good enough to keep you ticking over if you are a student or looking for a career in something else. The hours are flexible enough to that if you do have other commitments you can easily work around them.”

Making money

This is all well and good for time-starved office workers who need life’s little chores outsourced, but what’s in it for companies like Buymie; how do they make their money? “Buymie charges a fixed delivery fee, but 100% of this is kept by the picker,” says Hughes. “Regarding maintaining the Buymie platform, we currently apply a small margin to each item which can vary depending on the type of item and store.” This does not appear to be the long-term vision, however. “Our vision is to democratise online and on-demand delivery services for small and medium-sized retailers by partnering directly with those stores and providing them a platform to extend their customer reach,” says Hughes. “We can work to remove the markups to make the service as cost-effective as possible for the end user.”

This is a pertinent point from the perspective of the traditional SME. While many are concerned that on-demand applications will disrupt and ultimately replace existing businesses and service providers (taxi drivers in Paris revolted last year when Uber arrived in the city), there is the potential for apps like Buymie to help small retailers sell online who previously didn’t have the resources to do so. The evolution of the on-demand economy, therefore, poses not just challenges but also opportunities for local businesses in all parts of Ireland.

Article by Peter Flanagan.

Main image by Marco Aprile / Also pictured above is Oliver Dewhurst, general manager of Deliveroo Ireland.