At the start of this decade, the idea of sharing a car with strangers as a way of getting around would have seemed completely alien to most of us, but Uber has changed that perception entirely and become a digital giant at the same time. So how has this revolution happened, how has it changed the marketplace and what does the future hold for Uber? This month, we’re placing our spotlight on Uber and here’s why:
How Uber Got Started
Uber started out in 2009, founded by Garrett Camp (also known for starting StumbleUpon) and Travis Kalanick, who set up a small team to build the beta version of the app they hoped people would use to book and pay for transportation.
When it launched the beta in 2010 and at the full live launch in 2011, Uber was only based in the San Francisco area, but quickly spread to other American cities like New York, Chicago and Washington DC as its fame and notoriety started to spread even more rapidly. By 2012 and 2013 it was available in cities across the world, including London, Paris, Toronto, Cape Town and Sydney, before making the all-important leap to China with a Beijing launch in 2014.
How Has It Become So Successful?
As with many successful companies, just having a simple idea is a big step towards becoming huge, and the way that users of all generations have taken to using their smartphones to book transport shows how infectious that idea was. As Kalanick explained: “In the beginning, it was a lifestyle company. You push a button and a black car comes up. Who’s the baller? It was a baller move to get a black car to arrive in 8 minutes.”
Taking that simple idea and making it into one that has revolutionised the way people travel around cities all over the world as well as the way many businesses work with their customers required a lot of planning and constant analysis of data to optimise its operations as it continued to expand. Some of it was simply looking at the many problems within the existing taxi market, and not just the way it failed to make people feel like ‘ballers’.
Uber offers convenience in its cashless model, through booking and paying via the app, and in raising the standards that people can expect from a taxi service (albeit not without some problems) it has been able to tap into a market of early-adopters who have helped it spread through word-of-mouth on social media. Launching in San Francisco certainly helped capture that market’s attention and created the demand for it to move to other cities, giving it a ready-made audience around the world and boosting its astronomical sprint to the top without almost any traditional marketing.
In terms of initially winning attention from those Californian tech types, Uber sponsored local tech and venture capital events, offered free rides and won favour from key influencers in exactly the right kind of way. Kalanick told Source: “I’m talking old school word of mouth, you know at the water cooler in the office, at a restaurant when you’re paying the bill, at a party with friends. 95% of all our riders have heard about Uber from other Uber riders.”
Where is Uber Headed?
Since that initial launch and spread across the globe, Uber has worked hard to move away from the ‘baller’ image to grow up into the kind of business with longevity, and this was shown particularly earlier this year when it rebranded everything, with Kalanick admitting in Wired that the aim was to distance itself from the look and feel it had started out with: “The early app was an attempt at something luxury. That’s where we came from, but it’s not where we are today.”
Relatively recent developments like UberX (the more cost-effective version of Uber for non-ballers) , UberCommute (carpooling for commuters), and UberPool (sharing rides with people going the same way) have attempted to broaden Uber’s appeal and market-share, which is essential if it is to stay ahead of the many local competitors out there.
In terms of where Uber will be going next, there’s sci-fi stuff like driverless cars that have been suggested, as well as more grounded plans like moving into logistics and more ambitious ones like basically ending car ownership as something we all aspire to.
Even in the world of tech start-ups, Uber’s rise has been remarkable. From a concept in 2009 to a way of life for millions a few years later, there’s not many companies out there that have achieved as much in as little time. It hasn’t come without problems and controversies, but more recent developments have shown that Uber is intending to be here to stay and to become a major part of all of our lives.
Take a look at some of our previous spotlight articles including Amazon, voice search, Whatsapp and Twitter, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog.