Should Funeral Directors Beware Of The Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome?

"If a butterfly flaps it's wings in China, it causes a hurricane in the Caribbean."

If a funeral business in Manchester sells funerals packages online, does it cause the a loss of personal service in a Funeral Directors in Glasgow?

Digital technology causes tsunami waves of change to crash through traditional industries. Digital disruption is a typhoon ripping apart traditional industries. Traditional trades that have successfully operated profitably for centuries are disappearing. Ignore this trend and you will be out of business. Try to fight it or protest against it and it still advances unstoppable in its force. This truth is the same for any industry. None more than perhaps the most traditional of all industries, the funeral industry. 

In this post, I want to show how a traditional business steeped in history, suddenly faces a force of digital disruption. It arrives so quickly that it shakes the model of that business it to its core and reinvents the future. I will show how a traditional business is rapidly losing ground and profits to an online tech firm. This new firm had no history or experience in that industry. They just saw an opportunity to make life simpler, cheaper and more accessible for the consumer. They used digital technology to take this idea from zero to a $60 billion business in 5 years.

The same is happening to the funeral industry. 

60,000 Yellow Taxi Fares A Day Less & Counting

The first documented public hackney coach service for hire was in London in 1605. Gasoline-powered taxicabs began operating in Paris in 1899, in London in 1903, and in New York in 1907. The New York taxicabs were imported from France by Harry N. Allen, who decided to paint his taxicabs yellow to maximise his vehicles' visibility. 

The epitome of a New York street scene is a yellow cab. Watch a movie set in New York and look at the streets and it is a mass of yellow cabs. There are 51,398 men and women licenced to drive taxicabs. There were 13,605 licences in force in 2014. 

Here is the startling news. The traditional business of taking a yellow taxi cab in New York is losing ground rapidly to a new player on the market. In the last 12 months, yellow cabs have lost 60,000 fares a day! In the same period, Uber, a digital disrupter of traditional businesses, provided 70,0000 more taxi cab fares a day over the same period. In 2015, Uber earned $200 million from New York taxi fares alone.

Who Is Uber? 

Uber was started by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp. In five years they took the traditional business of a taxi, digitally disrupted the process and turned it into a global brand worth $60 billion. 

I have used Uber in London and Manchester. Nothing could be simpler. Uber is essentially a taxi app which connects drivers with passengers directly, instead of through a centralised booking service or just hailing a cab in the street. Tap open the mobile app and choose the type of car from economy to luxury that you want to use. You see the driver's picture and map location of the car. You can follow it's arrival street by street. You hop in, no cash, no tip, no hassle and off they take you to your destination. Watch this video here about how it works. 

As Uber has grown, the NYC taxi market shrinks.

As digital disruption advances, traditional businesses lose ground and profits.

New entrepreneurs and business owners win. The driver wins as you can set the time you want to drive, how long you want to work. The app sends work to you, it tracks your hours, tells you about your passenger and gives you insurance. The customer wins because you can get the car when you want it, and do away with cash and tips. You then rate the driver using online reviews. Online reviews are increasingly going to become the social proof for businesses. 

As you can imagine, traditional taxi firms are not happy about Uber. In February 2016, 8,000 London Cabbies had a demonstration trying to bring London to a standstill. While it is sad to see, digital disruption will still advance despite the protests. It is the customer who is driving and benefiting from this simple online platform. Traditional business will have to adapt and change, or it increasingly lose its market share as digital technology advances. The funeral industry is facing the same storms ahead.

What Is Digital Disruption?

Larry Alton gives an excellent explanation in entrepreneur magazine.

"The word “disruption” is largely misused in entrepreneurial circles. Over the years, entrepreneurs have confused innovation with disruption. And, while disruption certainly involves a lot of innovation, they are not one and the same."

He goes on to say;

"Disruption turns an industry on its head by offering customers something that previously didn’t exist, innovation merely makes an existing value offering better, cheaper or faster."

As Uber has shown over the traditional yellow taxi cab, people like simplicity and personalisation. If you can take a process that’s dated and put a modern, tech-savvy spin on it, you can make a big difference. And, if you can do this while simultaneously making it cheaper for the consumer, your chances of being successful are dramatically increased.

The Butterfly Effect On A Funeral Business.

The name "Butterfly Effect" was coined by Edward Lorenz for the effect derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. The theory is that everything matters. That even the flutter of a butterfly's wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. If you change even the smallest of life's details, you completely change its outcome.

Digital disruption is happening now in the funeral industry in a major way. According to a Financial Times report in April 2016, the UK funeral industry is worth £1.7 billion a year.  It is predicted to grow by 2.9% in 2016. Who will get that extra business? It amounts to millions. As tech entrepreneurs continue to enter the funeral business market, it will be at the expense of traditional business. Tech firms with no history, background or experience in the funeral industry are creating new products almost weekly. They are starting to take market share. Sit up. Take notice. 


If a funeral business in Manchester sells funerals online, does it cause the a loss of personal service in a Funeral Directors in Glasgow?

I don't know. But what I do know is that traditional businesses from all sectors are being shaken apart by the storms of change.

It's not a time to batten down the hatches and stay safe.

It's not a time to shout and demonstrate that it's not fair!

It's a time to plan.

It is a time to strategize and act.

Joni Mitchell sang

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And they put up a parking lot

"You don't know what you've got till its gone ..."

Many Funeral Directors have been passed down a family business. Digital disruption could take that away. I don't think we will go to a museum to see them sometimes in the future. So that you maintain the funeral business that was passed on to you, it's critical to act. So that, your funeral businesses stays relevant to the times. And that you have a productive and profitable funeral business you can pass on to the next generation someday. 

In the next series of posts, I am going to lay out seven steps you must take to prepare for the stormy weather ahead. 

I would love to hear from you! Please comment below or email me with your comments to