When the start-up raises prices: a modern horror story

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Jewel Packard awoke one morning to find that her favorite startups had been transformed into profit-maximizing corporations.

You Are Probably Going to Have to Tip Your Uber Driver From Now On,” the 24-year-old read in horror on Elite Daily. “Classpass Is Doubling Its Prices, Making It More Expensive Than Joining a Gym.”

Horrified, she spit out her Blue Bottle coffee, which had been Postmates-ed to her doorstep for a fee of 17 cents.


“How can this be?” she wondered aloud, scrolling through her AdBlocked version of Elite Daily. “What next??”

She would never know what happened next; Elite Daily had instituted a paywall, and even Googling the headline could not get her around it.


A sense of dread was mounting; Jewel began to worry that it wasn’t sustainable to pay an Instacart worker $2 to shop for and deliver 60 pounds of groceries in 15 minutes during a hailstorm.

She sped to Facebook to see if her friends were also freaking out. No such luck: The first 49 posts in her News Feed were live videos of middle school science experiments being conducted by graduates of Columbia Journalism School.


But still she scrolled, and she scrolled, and she scrolled, desperate to connect with another person. Finally, when she reached the last of these live videos — a Financial Times columnist trying to report on the municipal bond markets after eating a handful of ghost peppers — she saw nothing but ads.

Did she want to buy a custom-made sweatshirt, for $15.99, that read “Nobody Gets Sh*t Done Like a LIFEGUARD AT THE YMCA”? She did not.


Had it always been this way? Jewel couldn’t remember a time when Twitter was not one sustained advertisement for a LinkedIn webinar, when Pinterest contained anything other than promotions for Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon and Cooks vs. Cons on the Food Network.

Just then, a notification appeared on her iPhone. Jewel had received a new Snapchat message.


"Finally, human contact," she thought. But it was a Sponsored Snap, from Lockheed Martin.

This was only the beginning of The Transformation, of course. Jewel would lose more startups as the months went by. Airbnb, forced to pay hotel taxes by meddling local governments, would institute onerous Residence Sharing Convenience Fees. Venmo, lacking any business model whatsoever, would begin charging pennies and then dollars and then an annual membership fee. Every other email she received from The Skimm was a coupon for laser hair removal in Queens.


Jewel needed to calm herself down; she would binge-watch something mindless. But as she scrolled through the streaming apps on her Roku, she found herself locked out of all the premium video services she did not pay for and never had. She shuddered: had Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime Video all eliminated password-sharing?

"Tinder should add a field," she thought, rubbing her temples. "Parents Maintain Unused Subscription to HBO Go."


Jewel laid down on her mattress, delivered gratis via white-glove courier service, and stared at the ceiling. Her phone rumbled beside her. Would she like to glimpse into the kitchen of a Long John Silver’s on Facebook Live, presented by JP Morgan Chase?

She didn’t see why not. Her video would begin in 17 minutes, after a brief advertisement from Uber.