It’s 5:05 p.m., and I’m somewhere over the Southern tip of Greenland on my way back home from Paris. I was actually quite lucky to have even made this morning’s flight in the first place. I overslept because for some reason, my iPhone decided to turn itself off while I was sleeping. I have no clue why – it was plugged in and fully charged when I turned it back on…only to discover that it was already 40 minutes past the time I was supposed to leave the hotel. Initiate mad scramble to get to the airport.
In spite of the stress of leaving Paris, my time there was absolutely worth it. I had just spent the day before receiving a Netexplo Award at the organization’s conference. There I was in a giant college auditorium with 500 French businesspeople, listening to simultaneously translated presenters speaking about how technology will change the world.
The cruel irony was that we were touting the great future of technology at the event, and yet today’s technology, my iPhone, had failed me. Then just 10 minutes later, my fortunes changed again, and technology saved the day when an Uber X black Renault came and whisked me away to Charles De Gaulle airport, just in time to catch my flight.
That’s the thing about technology – usually, it makes our lives better, but you can’t overly depend on it. I couldn’t live without my iPhone, but I wanted to throw it out the window when I awoke to find it still asleep this morning. Had it been earlier, that Uber that saved the day wouldn’t have even been a sure bet. As it had turned out, the entire Uber platform was on strike in Paris just two days before when I arrived and needed a ride.
But crazy transportation adventures aside, let’s get back to why I was in Paris in the first place, the Netexplo Forum 2016. I had the honor of sharing the stage with 9 other cofounders who were awarded for their innovations in digital technology, ranging from a team in Colombia that reimagined prosthetic limbs with Lego-built attachments to a team using the Bitcoin blockchain to iron out land rights for citizens of corrupt countries.
Somehow, I felt out of place. We built an app to help people find flexible work. These other winners were making technological breakthroughs. The guy who stood next to me was a PhD in Norway who created a system of robots that can traverse any type of terrain, and if the terrain changed and the robot needed a new part, it could 3D print itself whatever it needed, attach the new parts, and continue traversing. Crazy. I wanted to give him my award, too.
As the day progressed, I found myself more and more interested in the ideas that were people-powered. And yet again, this theme that you can’t overly depend on technology rang true. For example, blockchain technology is great because it eliminates the potential for fraud and corruption, but you still need people to work with government officials to agree on rules and regulations for granting land rights. There was an unspoken agreement among the conference attendees that the ideas that used technology to give people a better opportunity in life were the really inspiring ones.
The power of the Lego-based prosthetic limb’s impact lies in making the recipient child feel special and proud. Or there’s the crowdsourced translation app that lets the people of South Africa, a country with dozens of languages, converse with each other and start to desegregate villages and communities.
In that same vein, Wonolo is democratizing work – making work merit-based and flexible, putting the power in the hands of the workers, which, in turn, creates a better experience for businesses that need help via on-demand staffing. And when I think about it like that, I’m glad I didn’t give away the award to the guy from Norway. Our amazing technology is crucial to making Wonolo work, but it’s just an enabler to give people the chance to explore new work opportunities that previously weren’t available to them.
It was an absolute privilege to be honored with a Netexplo Award and to be able to travel to Paris to accept it. As an added bonus, it was a constant pleasure to hear the French say “Wonolo”. They made it sound so elegant and sophisticated, like Wonolo should have a shop next to Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Élysées. That will probably never happen, but perhaps in the not-so-distant future, Wonoloers will be working at shops up and down the Champs-Élysées and throughout cities around the world.