ARGIA.eus

2021eko apirilaren 20a

Who is Glovo?

  • This is the third in a four-part investigative series examining Glovo’s business model and its relationship with the world it operates. Based on public statements by Glovo’s founders, this article will contextualize their world-view and the changes they hope to create in Basque Coutnry, Spain, and the world. Their ideology can be difficult to understand in the local context, but falls neatly into the dangerous new political ideology that has formed in Silicon Valley.

Paul Iano
2019ko uztailaren 21a
Sacha Michaud and Óscar Pierre, Glovo\'s founders.

“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”

        - Aristotle, father of the scientific method, the soil in which all of Glovo’s justifications take root

Glovo was founded by Sacha Michaud and Óscar Pierre in 2016. The story they tell in a variety of friendly media interviews is a touching story of a young man with a dream to bring anyone anything they wanted, whenever they wanted. This is not unusual for the type of company that they are aspiring to be: Apple, Google and Amazon love to tell the public how they were begun in garages by scrappy young college students with few resources and a brilliant idea, conveniently ignoring the fact that all these founders had incredibly privileged backgrounds that allowed them access to financial and social capital in breathtaking quantities.

This simple origin story speaks to a larger reality: Glovo is a company that may have been founded in Spain, but its real roots are US-American. The company is part of a club of influential companies started by influential people who share a common view of how the world works, a view most people here would find dangerous, if not frightening.

The Founders

Sacha Michaud is a Canadian-born UK national who began in the tech world by running a Spanish-language Yahoo portal called Latin Red, and then was recruited into Betfair – an online betting company – by Niall Wass, one of the top executives at Uber at the time. Michaud has been working in the tech world for decades, each venture a different version of the same thing: using technology and the limited liability of a platform structure to make millions charging fees for services that range from quaint – fast fashion sunglasses – to the morally questionable – addictive betting services. Michaud is the one with the contacts to connect a company like Glovo to investors, and the experience to run its day to day operations.

Óscar Pierre is a Silicon Valley stereotype. He is the young visionary that can sell investors and the public alike on the positive impact Glovo will have on society and pocketbooks. With his vision that “goes beyond just money” he is the emotional soul of the company: naive, undeterred by unexpected consequences, attractive, and full of youthful confidence.

The Roots

But there is more behind the curtain. The ways in which these two founders express their ideas and goals are familiar to ears that have been trained on Silicon Valley. They betray a deep belief in a “Californian Ideology”: a faith in communal projects headed by all-powerful leaders to improve society, an unwavering belief in the positive impact of any and all change, and the concept that the root of all conflict and inequality is due to a lack of communication rather than competing interests between classes and social groups.

If you focus on the communal ideas of connecting people in isolation these new companies can seem harmless, or even like a positive development. But there are deeper issues. In a study of the politics of Silicon Valley, Gregory Ferenstein showed that the leaders of these tech companies believe that 10% of individuals should control 50% or more of total income, and that this is because a truly meritocratic economy would be “mostly or somewhat unequal.” Asked to explain, they told Ferenstein that they believe in equality of “opportunity,” but not equality of outcome.

In the world they hope to create, it is not about “what people deserve to earn...its about maximizing people’s contribution to society.” Since market efficiency is critical, the best way to maximize this contribution is the creation of private entities, run by super-intelligent leaders with no checks on their power, that will bring about massive social change through projects like Facebook - “bringing the world closer together” and Glovo – giving “more free time to our users. More time for family, friends, or hobbies.” While they preach togetherness, the final result is a global controlling class, but now with a new and improved self-justification.

Control

In an interview with a tech investment firm, Michaud explained how Glovo is different from the interviewer’s package delivery company by stating:

“I imagine, your logistics...have many factors outside of your control...There are third parties that have nothing to do with you. You lose control. In Glovo it is the opposite. The ecosystem [that Glovo created] controls, see? It has total visibility at all times...that means the incidents [losses] we have are at an absolute minimum. After all, you know where your order is at every moment.

Glovo needs a system under its control. If not it wouldn’t work, they wouldn’t be able guarantee the quality of its service to the customers. This contradicts Glovo’s supposed hands-off relationship with riders, but is a necessary part of the business.

Rejection of Conflict

Unlike traditional liberals who see government as a protector from the excesses of capitalism, Silicon Valley technologists don’t believe that there are any real conflicts, just misunderstandings. Consequently, they believe that government’s role is that of an investor in innovative new social projects. The solution to all our problems is education, conversation, or innovation, and anyone who would highlight or even accept the reality of social conflict is someone who has their own selfish interests at heart.

In a podcast interview, Michaud stated that criticism of Glovo’s contracted labor conditions is “driven by unions, because they are afraid of becoming irrelevant.” He appears to truly believe that unions simply want power for power’s sake, which is bad, while Glovo wants power in order to make the world better and more connected, and therefore good.

These entrepreneurs think a platform like Facebook that “brings the world together” can solve the world’s problems, and also betrays the privileged lives they must have lived to truly believe in such a naive fantasy.

Rejection of Oversight

Since these companies see the government as an investor in the public, not its protector, they reject the idea of oversight outright. In the USA, these companies are well-known for regularly ignoring laws in a surprisingly blatant fashion.

On Twitter, Michaud states first that “We cannot stop technology, but we can legislate it so that its impact is just and beneficial for all.” and later misrepresents the new president’s statements about contract labor by saying “We can’t agree more that there is a need for a type of regulation adapted to these labor relations.” and that Glovo believes that “the government can advance in the public debate, overcoming this phase of complexity.”

Michaud’s position essentially boils down to a complete rejection of current law, stating that the government should enter into negotiations with Glovo to make laws that work for Glovo. Kind of like if one were to rob a store, then state that robbery is unstoppable, explain condescendingly that our robbery laws are not adequate for a world in which I rob stores, and then suggest that the government negotiate with me to make laws in which I am allowed to rob stores.

Creative Destruction and the Religion of Change

The most worrying factor is the concept of “creative destruction,” which is expressed more often in the Silicon Valley slogan of “Move fast and break things.”

As Sacha Michaud said: “We believe that Glovo needs to grow fast. Very Fast. If we don’t move and grow fast we have nothing to do.” The idea is that you learn by doing, which is well and good when it refers to writing or carpentry, but dangerous when reorganizing entire sections of the economy. It is an idea that ignores unexpected consequences, or really consequences of any kind. Michaud and Pierre must somehow believe that just by meaning well, they will end up doing good in the world.

Familiar Ideas, New Faces

These elements of Silicon Valley’s philosophy are unsettlingly familiar to those of the Italian Futurists of the early 1900’s and US-American entrepreneurs like Henry Ford. The Futurists believed in the power of technology and change, and the necessity of disruption to do away with the old. They were privileged elites, sexists and racists who believed in the right of artists and technologists to push progress at all costs in a “church of speed and violence.” In the end they became full-hearted proponents of the era’s fascist dictatorships.

Ideas evolve over time, and something that one day seems progressive and new can quickly turn into a monster if the fundamental basis it is built upon is not horizontal, democratic, and egalitarian. Now more than ever the companies and projects we build are based on ideas, not products. Those ideas must be examined carefully before they are allowed to “disrupt” the world.

We must relearn a lesson that was clear in that age. As Edward R. Murrow put it, “Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”

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