Uber is one of the most ubiquitous on-demand smartphone apps, and now forward-thinking entrepreneurs are in the process of trying to replicate their successes.
The ride-sharing service is widely acknowledged as having kicked off the on-demand phenomenon with its founding in 2009, and since then, things have sped forward. Truly no stone has been left unturned, as entrepreneurs look to develop the next great on-demand app which, undoubtedly, will be called “the Uber of X.”
Uber begat another ride-sharing service, Lyft. Couchsurfer, which offered exactly what it sounds like it might offer, begat Airbnb. And so on, and so forth.
Now it has reached the point where there are person-to-person, business-to-person and business-to-business apps. Where you can find on-demand apps for everything from package delivery to booze delivery to dog-walking to massages. Where businesses can address needs like video conferencing, payroll management, web design, and email marketing.
All of it available instantly, and at the push of a button — or, at least, the touch of an icon. Your every wish granted, your every desire satisfied, your every business problem solved.
Perhaps things were destined to turn out this way from the moment the first smartphone appeared, in 1992. Now no less than 77 percent of the U.S. population owns such a device, and there are 2.84 billion users worldwide — and through the end of 2017, the on-demand economy had brought in a whopping $57 billion.
That doesn’t seem likely to abate, either. Several outlets have attributed to serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk this quote (though it’s not exactly clear when he said it, nor where): “The on-demand hypergrowth is upon us. In the next five to 20 years most people will be able to get anything within a five- to 60-minute window.”
No matter the context, the idea seems spot-on: On-demand apps are likely to remain popular and proliferate, because of the convenience and speed they offer.
Again, look at Uber. According to one account, the idea was hatched by two friends, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, at the 2008 LeWeb technology conference in Paris. Both had founded startups that they had sold the year before — Red Swoosh in Kalanick’s case, StumbleUpon in Camp’s — and now stumbled upon a new idea. That same account suggests it was because they couldn’t find a cab one night during the conference, though another notes that Kalanick’s dislike of taxis could be traced back to an argument he had had with a driver years earlier.
At any rate, it began to take shape a year later; Kalanick has said that he knew he was onto something when he began cold-calling potential drivers in San Francisco.
“First 10 guys I called, three of them hung up, a few of them listened for 45 seconds and then hung up and three of them were like, ‘We are interested, let’s meet,’ ” he told those who gathered at the 2014 LAUNCH festival, also in San Francisco. “If you are cold-calling and got three out 10 those are interested means you got something.”
It officially launched as Ubercab in that same city in 2010, and despite pushback from traditional cab services quickly caught on. The ease and convenience of ordering a ride courtesy of an app proved to be uber-appealing, as it were.
Nowadays there are some 750,000 Uber drivers in the U.S., and it is estimated that there are as many as three million worldwide. And the company, the most valuable private enterprise in the world, is worth somewhere between $68 billion and $72 billion, according to various reports (though when it goes public in 2019, it may be valued as high as $120 billion).
Once Uber hit, others were seeking to become the Uber of … well, something. Doing so is a matter of identifying an everyday problem that needs a solution. Uber succeeded because Americans drive just 46 minutes a day, on average; why own a vehicle when you can access one by smartphone, at a small fraction of the cost?
Beyond that, it’s a matter of growing one’s user base and retaining customers, not to mention avoiding some of the potholes that have plagued Uber. Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO in 2017, for instance, in the wake of allegations that he bore at least some of the responsibility for what was described as the company’s sexist culture. There was also a lawsuit alleging that Uber stole driverless car technology secrets from Google.
Then there is the bottom line. The company lost $4.5 billion in 2017, another $1 billion in the third quarter of 2018.
All that notwithstanding, the demand for on-demand apps only figures to increase, as does the appetite for investors in such technologies. This is not just some bubble, it is the wave of the future. If it can be outsourced, and be acquired conveniently and efficiently, there will be an app for that!
This was originally published on Data Driven Investor on April 2nd, 2019.