Martijn Arets on the platform economy | Flexcast Ep. 3

In this blog article you can read the shortened transcript of our Flexcast the Podcast about #flexibleresourcing and #flexiblework! This third Flexcast is a conversation with our guest Martijn Arets, Platform Expert.

Gabi: Hi everyone and welcome to the Flexcast. The podcast, that deep dives into the topic of flexible resourcing and flexible work. In multiple episodes over the coming weeks, we will highlight different angles by answering questions about the benefits, challenges, trends, technology and the future of flexible work.

In the first two episodes, we briefly explained what flexible resourcing entails. If you haven’t already, we invite you to listen to the first two episodes to get up to speed with the concept and to discover what it means and does for businesses.

In the next two episodes, we will focus more on the flexible platform workers side. My name is Gabriella and I’m your Flexcast host. With me today is Wiggert de Haan, co-founder of Roamler and our guest Martijn Arets, Platform Expert. As platform expert, Martijn examines the developments of the market, challenges the stakeholders of platforms exposes dilemma and has a clear vision of the future of work.

The perfect guest to try to find an answer to this episode’s question: What are the current trends around the platform economy and its users?
So who’s ready? Let’s get started. Welcome Wiggert and Martijn and thanks for joining us today. Martijn, you are a platform economy expert, can you briefly describe what you do on a daily basis?

Martijn: Thanks for having me. And yes, the base of what I do is I do research on different platform topics. Also together with all the stakeholders in debates. I think a lot about platforms, I write about platforms on a daily basis. so what to do in general is look at different questions in a platform, and gig economy, and mostly focusing on the question, okay, how to make a platform economy work for everybody.

Gabi: So why did you decide to dive into the world of the platform economy?

Martijn: This may be a strange route, but I have a background in marketing and events and in 2010 I quit my job to follow my dream. So I traveled for five months in a old Volkswagen T2 Van through Europe, talking to the leaders of 20 big European brands like Alessi, Lego, Manchester United, Mini, Adidas, Skype. When I returned home, I started my own company and I wrote a book, Brand Expedition, about my interviews with the brands.

Gabi: All right. And I’m curious, because your interest started with crowdfunding, but it’s shifted now towards more working via platforms in a crowdsourced way, I guess.

Martijn: It’s more that my interest, crowdfunding is just a platform that connects demand and supply, creates trust and then also facilitates in a transaction. From there I was looking much more broader to the platform economy because this platform model works in different markets.

Gabi: And why do you think people choose to work via platforms, Martijn? What are their motives and what opportunities does it bring to them?

Martijn: I think the best thing that you can do is to ask that to themselves. But what I hear from people working via platforms: that they really like, the flexibility and the autonomy by working via platform, because normally organizational processes, they are really focused on the process and organization and not around the individual.

Gabi: You did a crowdfunding action for your book ten years ago, but besides that, have you yourself worked through a platform?

Martijn: I didn’t do any work via platforms. I did hire people via platforms and also in the different sections of platforms. I invested in about 400 different cases just to learn on how the process works. I also did in total 4 crowdfunding campaigns myself with sharing economy.

Gabi: Wiggert, from your experience, do you hear these motives from platform workers as well? So the flexibility and autonomy that Martijn was talking about?

Wiggert: I think flexibility at home and there are many other reasons, for example, people can also develop themselves through platforms really well. So do the tasks that you’re really good at, which is also autonomy, of course. So yeah, I think those are the most important reasons for people to work through platforms.

Gabi: And Martijn, of course, every new development has its challenges. What challenges do platform workers face?

Martijn: I think the challenge is that the platform worker doesn’t exist the same like the freelancer or the employer or whatever. So it’s a really different population. So some people, they use it as a main income, some people just use it for just some additional money to buy beer. So what you see in general on the gig economy challenges are the impact of the algorithm in allocating work to people.

Gabi: Wiggert, how do you think platforms can tackle these challenges?

Wiggert: I think there are different ways of tackling the challenges and of course it depends on which platform worker you’re dealing with because as Martijn mentioned, there are different kinds of platform workers. But I think in general we have the obligation to help them where we can in order to work safe and on a well based way. So, for example, if we’re able to provide insurances or we can help them to build savings for later, those are things we should definitely look at while still not jeopardizing their freedom.

Martijn: I think that platform company has its own challenges and also questions in in that. So what do you do? What do we don’t? I think what really is typical for platforms is to have a attitude of facilitating the worker. A platform is a kind of a matchmaker between a really big group of demand and of supply and because platforms are really the new middlemen within this normally fragmented market, there are also opportunities to really exploit these benefits of skill.

Gabi: But all in all, what I hear is that the platform workers have a lot of benefits from working via these platforms and that are really central in the business models of these platforms, right?

Martijn: Yes and no. I think that always depends on the platforms. And with labor units i also talk about that some kind of platform works are the kind of work that was already precarious before platforms and will always be precarious work like home cleaning like a food delivery and the chance there is that’s the situation in the markets was already bad and of course that doesn’t really give platforms the freedom just to also be a better employer.

Wiggert: So what do you think about how the labor unions react on those platforms? For example, in helping households?

Martijn: I think they are choosing the the easy way, by advocating that having a contract is the best thing that can happen to you as a worker. They’re really promoting the temp agency model. So the thing they’re advocating by saying, okay, as long as you hire people, everything is okay. And this is something that doesn’t only apply on platform environment, but also in the worker environment over all. Let’s say with the warehouse of Amazon or there’s also a lot of technology and algorithms making decisions about the worker. So what I think is that the labor unions don’t take the responsibility of putting the real issues on the agenda and only focusing on some questions that are, not the solution. I also understand, because it’s easier to get attention from media when you win a court case, but in the end, the question is, okay, but for who are you doing this? Helping is competing with informal markets and labor unites are ignoring informal markets.

Wiggert: If you are going to prohibit it through the platform, then house cleaners are going to work with people without even paying taxes on it or being in sight of people.

Martijn: Yes the alternative for a home cleaner at helplink is informal market not a cleaning company.

Wiggert: So how could they solve it? What should the labor unions do?

Martijn: I think be more honest about the real problems. I did a keynote at a CNW conference, which is big in the Netherlands, just before COVID and I started with okay you say you’re fighting against a bogus employment, but I think you’re promoting a fake security because when the alternative is such a short term temp contract, then you also don’t have any security at all. So I think more focusing on the worker and not only on the contract form.

Wiggert: So I think my opinion is: let’s say the platform workers are not really represented through the labor union. So they they’re picking up the glove and are fighting for their case. Do you agree on that? That platform workers are not really represented by the labor union? And if or if not, how can we make sure that they are being represented? Because I think, as you said, there are so many different platform workers. I find it really a struggle to represent them or to make sure that they are represented.

Martijn: Yes, good question, because I think labor unions in the Netherlands already have the challenge in representing workers at all. Because if you look at the population who are there presented, it’s a really old population with really nice stable contracts. So they have a lot to lose when things are changing. And labor unites you are not representing flexible workers and they’re also already fighting against everything that has to do with with flexibility.

Wiggert: How can we solve that issue? Because I think what you’re saying in the old way of working, if I would be a member of a labor union, then I would do it in the boss his time time and I probably get time from my boss to be active for the labor union as well. But that’s obviously not there with a platform worker because all the time that they are working are they’re reworking they don’t have time or don’t get paid to reassemble themselves and to represent themselves as well.

Martijn: I think at the moment that labor unions have a good story to platform. Like with traditional labor unions, big employers are also paying a part of the contribution for them. So they are also thinking about how to fix this as I think the main underlying problem is okay, the story of the solution doesn’t reflect to the needs of the worker, also outside of of platform economy which is of course a sham, because the the idea of the concept of a labor union is about creating a more equal level playing field between people that want to work and people that are offering work. That is why you keep them responsible of lacking to take their responsibility.

Wiggert: I understand what you’re saying and I think that could be a solution. And at the same time, I think that platforms should not try to own the worker, so to speak. So I really like it if a Roamler also uses our competitors because that makes their task more meaningful. So let the Roamler or the platform worker decide which platform they’re going to use. And not being kept by us and try to bind them to us by offering them services and then having all those parts of services with different platforms.

Martijn: I don’t say that it’s the best solution, to make labor units the employer. But your way of thinking with Roamler and the way of facilitating the worker is also really completely different than traditional matchmaking in labor markets. Like with Temper agencies: they’re really focusing on the ownership of candidate and data. Well, platforms are much more think about how to facilitate it. And of course, there are different platforms with different backgrounds and different intention of course. But in general, and that’s also maybe a problem in discussion: There’s also discussions about Uber and Deliveroo, but they are just one flavor of many in the platform landscape.

Gabi: So let’s, let’s move on to our next question on the Gig CV. In collaboration with multiple platforms, you recently launched Gig CV, a digital resume for platform workers in which they can easily retrieve their data for future work opportunities. How did this project come to life?

Martijn: I’m quite long active in the debate of platform and also gig economy and I was looking at: What are the main challenges and questions with a gig economy? What I saw: Platforms are a really low threshold for people to enter labor markets because it’s also like with with Roamler… if you want to work 30 minutes a month, it’s okay. And there’s no traditional employers that wants to employ you for 40 minutes a months or maybe 40 minutes a year. Same also with Airbnb, you can just rent out your spare bedroom for one night a year. It really offeres lots of opportunity for people to enter the labor market, gain experience in the labor market and also to work in different industries. At the other side you also saw that people working via platforms are really building up a data within the platform that really helps them to get more work and sometimes also better pay. So thats the ratings they get, but also the more functional data. Because that really gives trust to the people that want to hire you via the platform. So then I thought: okay, so why don’t give this data also to the worker. So what I did is: I did a one year research funded by some platforms, labor unions and other institutions, about: What are the opportunities in this and what was already tried and why did others fail? So then during a meeting in October 2020 with many platforms, there was quite some positive response on the idea. And then I thought, because there were still many questions, and also the debate on data portability is already formed based on many assumptions and the way to validate assumption is just to do it.So that was the reason why I initiated Gig CV. To find a way how platforms can share this data within a digital version made with Gig-workers.

Gabi: For me, it seems logical that their experiences are worth something and there should be something out there in which they can validate the experiences that they’ve built up by working through different platforms. So is this one of the suitable solutions for the challenges that platform workers face?

Martijn: I think it could be one solution, because in end, we’re still validating. So the question is, of course, it’s nice to give the worker their data, but what is the value and does it also give them a higher chance to get work in other parts of labor markets it can contribute to a certain group of labor markets. Let’s say people who are studying.

Gaby: More active I guess?

Martijn: No not that they are more active, but let’s say people that want to be a lawyer. So you’re studying to be a lawyer and you are you’re making some money by working in a bar, probably this data is for your future not so important. But let’s say you are doing babysitting via a platform like CharlyCares and you want to do work in the sector, then you can use this. But also for people with no work history at all. So there are different situations where this could work really good for workers. That’s all something we’re now going to research to learn more about that.

Gabi: All right. And Wiggert, Roamler also implemented Gig CV into their app. Why did you choose to participate in this project?

Wiggert: Yep, it’s available in the app. You can easily download your Gig CV at the moment.

Gabi: So can I use my CV to get a higher salary?

Wiggert:You can try, but then we’ll have to see how many tasks you have performed. So we implemented it because we really, truly believe that, that Roamler should not be bound to only one platform and they should also use other platforms as well. And I think this is just a great way for them to own their data. The GDPR makes it really clear that they are entitled to this data. And if we’re going to provide them, let’s make it nice and usable, and not try to frustrate them to get out the data. One thing that you mentioned, Martijn, you said that you could use it… I kind of heared that you said: to step up to a regular job. I don’t see it as a step up. I see it as a side step or a different step, but there’s, of course, a lot of people that just wants to work to a platform and in some stages of their life, platform works.

Gabi: And they can get it just by downloading them, downloading the Gig CV themselves. They don’t have to go via Roamler and ask them.

Wiggert: I have one question for Martijn. So I think the Gig CV, what you said, is something that you can use to show potential employees what you have have done in the past. So, for example, if you use babysitting, then you could maybe apply for a kindergarden or something. I think it could also be a really good way for local governments to to help people from a stage where they’re unemployed, to take the first steps where in a platform you can be more flexible in picking your own work at your pace. Do you see also a opportunity there for the Gig CVs, to get people from unemployment through platforms to maybe regular jobs or maybe more on platforms?

Martijn: I see this also, this opportunity. And basically these are two questions. So the first part is: Can platform work be a solution for people who are unemployed to gether work experience? And then second part is: Does this data that you collected, contribute to other opportunities on the labor market or platforms. And yes, I see that as a big opportunity, but I also see, talking to many local governments that they are liking the idea but they are afraid of experimenting because they only want to have the perfect solution for the people also knowing that a perfect solution probably won’t ever be there. You also have the chicken egg problem because they only want to join when it’s perfect. But it can only be perfect when we experiment. So I’m also talking to other local governments in Netherlands right now to try to do such an experiment, because it’s also one of the validation parts of Gig CV to see, does this data also contributes for people for more opportunities have in labor markets?

Gabi: So what does the future for platform workers look like?

Martijn: I think the only question is how does the future of platform work? But I think more broadly about the future of work and the role of platforms in organizing work. where in the end platforms can help to put the worker central and not a process or the manager. I think that is a much more interesting developments because then you’re also not talking about, what is your contract status? Because there is also platforms to organize work within organizations. In the end when you’re working for a boss in an organization, you as a worker know always better what you want to do and what you can do than your manager. At the moment that you also give this autonomy to to the worker again and and organize this via platforms. Then I think that we have a much more flexible labor market also within existing labor contract relations. And then you also make people also much more responsible for their own work, but also for their own developments.

Gabi: I completely agree and I think this connects very well to the pass-on question from our previous guest, Bart Gotte. Bart is a business futurist and he told us that you know him very well. He has an interesting question for you. He asks you the following: ‘How does he foresees that these platforms will evolve next, and will they become really, really ecosystems which will be enriched with functionality so that they are not only just for matching but also an ecosystem to work within?’

Martijn: I think they will offer in the end much more services than only the dimension of demand and supply which is also good for platforms itself. Because if they’re only doing the matching your competitive advantage is also not that big. Let’s say with Uber or wherever in the world is a ride in a taxi from A to B. But I think also by getting more experience, and also more learning about how this platform and also this matching works, you can also organize much more complex tasks. And then it will be also more interesting for a much bigger part of the labor markets.

Wiggert: I got a question to add and my question would be: ‚What do you see for opportunities for platforms for the growth of people? So if you look at ,for example, Temper, they have the barista classes where you can just follow a barista course and then you can not only be a dishwasher, but you can also be a barista, right? So I think that fits really well in what people like to do in terms of instant gratification, but then for work.

Martijn: I think there are quite some opportunities for platforms there because in the end at one side I should also mention they’re facilitating so they don’t try to own the worker at the other side, you also have benefits when people are working a lot of hours via your platform and also of course depending on your platform.
So it’s also about changing a platform in: How to be of maximal added value for the individual and also how to get them on board in different stages of their career? Because, of course it can be a decision to say: I only want to have a worker for one year and then they have much more experience and then we let them go. But of course, that’s also a kind of waste that you have. Especially for the platform, but also for the worker. So I think that platforms can do lots of things, like helping and educating the worker. But you also need to have a different kind of tasks. You can also grow within tasks and of course there are already platforms doing this there maybe giving the newbies, the new workers the simple task. And from there you can also grow in your role. And of course then if you look at maybe, let’s say in 20 years and also think about all the developments like Web3 and AFTs and these kind of a blockchain stuff, they can also think, okay maybe you can also organize it at a way that

people are also partly investing within their own education, their future by also partly maybe paying in this himself, but then they maybe can get the money back while working via the platforms. What you also want to make – the balance – because you want to educate them, but you also want them working for via different platforms and how are you going to find the balance in that. I think that will be a really nice task.

Wiggert: I think if platform workers can work to through other platforms and if they are making more money because they can be more efficient. So that’s beneficial for the platform worker, and also in the end for us. And I think it’s more of a challenge for us to get them on board and to treat them really well and to make sure that they are Roamler fans than anything else.

Gabi: So we’re entering the final stage of this episode. We always return to our main question here. Based on our conversation today, Martijn, what are the main trends around the platform economy and its users?

Martijn: There’s no sector I can think about where platforms don’t play a role. That’s trends. But I also see that in the end the platforms are really putting the user central instead of the process, which of course there are quite some people that need to get used to that and in the end also the thresholds of starting new initiatives is also getting lower and lower because also technology and software is getting cheaper. But it is also really really important to realize that in the end the success of a platform doesn’t reley on technology, with good technology, you can build really bad platforms and with crappy technology you can have really good platforms. And that’s also something I think is really important to realize.

Gabi: For our next episode, we invited a platform worker, Wim Beverdam. Martijn, it is time for your pass-on question for the next Flexcast guest. What would you like to ask Wim?

Martijn: So Wim, what I would like to know from you is the question: Do you think an initiative like Gig CV is interesting for your personal situation? Why and why not? And at last, what kind of data is in your opinion valuable to receive?

Gabi: All right. Very interesting question, and I’ll be sure to pass on the question to him in the next episode. That brings us to the end of this episode, a special thanks to Martijn Arets for joining us during this valuable discussion about the trends around the platform economy.

Did you like this conversation and would like to know more about flexible resourcing or platform work? Follow Roamler on LinkedIn, where they share the latest knowledge, news and trends about flexible resourcing and platform work.

Want to hear the full Flexcast the Podcast? Klink here!