Uber left an indelible mark on the history of business. Being a wet dream of aspiring startuppers, Uber magically attracts venture capitalists. The shining symbol of disruption, the flagman of the gig economy, the cruel destroyer of the traditional state regulations as well as many other positive and negative definitions make Uber an outstanding phenomenon of the post-industrial era. Uber as such along with its “Uber-for” business model is unthinkable in the modern paradigm which ended in the 1990s.
The global business had to accept the sharing economy as a full-fledged model against the background of the IT technologies’ development. Whatever-sharing business along with the notorious digital transformation erodes the old-fashioned economies like an incurable virus. Uber is not the primordial strain of the virus historically remaining the most die-hard and pervasive one, however.
Shouting scandals, unprecedented capitalization, and enormous media publicity make Uber extremely interesting for a dissection in order to comprehend both the reasons of success and the feasibility of emulating the Uber-for models.
Uber as a call to action
Mobile development and social media engendered the so-called sharing economy (gig economy, on-demand economy, peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption etc) where the so-called digitally matched firms occupied a niche between laborers, asset owners, and consumers.
Hundreds and thousands of startups rushed to follow the intermediary leaders such as Uber and Airbnb offering their digital solutions to a wide audience. The formula of success seems pretty simple – just find some underutilized assets that can be shared, create an app, and get your profit either from the asset’s owner or from the customer (better from both). No property, no assets, no employees, no regulation, i.e. nothing imposing responsibility is required from a startupper.
A new “Uber-for” idea, appropriate APIs, sufficient cloud space, and a bank account are enough to drum up investors seducible for innovations. “What investors ultimately care about is innovation”, as Uber’s consultant, Bradley Tusk claims. Represent your innovative approach to cars, apartments, bikes, laundry washers, consumer electronics, tools, shopping, delivery, cleaning, riding, babysitting, training (go on, the sky is limit!) and who knows, maybe your startup will progress towards the Uber’s valuation of about $70 billion (even one 100th of the investment is worth any efforts, you bet).
Uber as a weapon
The real challenge for Uber-like startups appears after a project is launched, actually. The point is that contemporary investors are literally obsessed with growth. The obsession is hardly a post-industrial novelty being rooted in the old marry liberal economy where the stagnation meant death.
Travis Kalanick is smart and experienced enough for utilizing cash to buy growth. Growth at all costs leads to occupying the top lines in the segment. All the talk about growth as a byproduct of a perfect user experience sounds insincere against the Uber’s six-year practice of pumping investment into the genocide of its rivals. Uber uses money as a weapon.
Only competitors with equal pockets could withstand a nuclear strike of the multi-billion dollar attack. Forget about a ride-sharing startup if you unable to saturate markets with the continuous cash infusions to subsidize up to 60% of the cost of rides while buying growth. Unless your can offer either an irresistible user experience or a different business model.
Uber as a post-state pioneer
It seems Uber is living in tomorrow, and even in the day after tomorrow with regard to many today’s businesses, cities and countries. The disruption of the current municipal regulations has already entered the digital era.
After digesting the achievements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Uber can afford more delicious meals in the form of social conventions and state legislation. The “Greyball” software using a fleet of ghost cars is just a tool of Uber’s domination in the areas where it is either banned or resisted by law enforcement. Identifying city officials in Boston, Paris, and Las Vegas by the Greyball app, Uber evades solid reality by mixing it with the ethereal virtuality.
Uber as a simulacrum
Consumers will barely refuse fast and cheap transportation service easily accessible with their gadgets in favor of the conservative regulations of their cities. They will rather press the municipal officials to adjust the regulation in accordance with the ride-sharing model. The post-liberal paradigm emphasizes the individual rights, supranational entities, and entrepreneurial domination.
It smells like liberty and sounds like future. Leaving its present-day business avatar to gossips of the contemporary economists and officials, Uber shifted its actual existence to the next stage of social disruption, to the post-post-liberal paradigm where economics dominates politics and states become purely hypothetical. Where is Uber now? What is proof of the existence of Uber apart from its app and media publicity? Uber is not just a business anymore. Like any other symbol, Uber is a simulacrum.
Uber as a counter-revolution
Due to its post-industrial nature, Uber makes affordable not only the alteration of competition rules. It has a pretty good potential to turn the most progressive trends upside down. While the vast majority of organizations are struggling to find their ways to digital transformation, Uber defiantly does the opposite.
Acquiring self-driving cars Uber performs the digital transformation backward. The pure digital startup is turning to a classical transportation company. No matter if the cars are not too self-driving being able to go without a driver’s control only 0.8 miles on average. The point is that material assets and traditional employees appear together with the independent contractors and the online service. Is it the fourth industrial counter-revolution or a flexible approach of Uber to its own business model?
Or maybe it’s what investors insist on after realizing the danger of #DeleateUber campaign incurring much bigger losses to the company which burns cash year after year owning almost nothing. It is not about the corporate greed because, despite seemingly obvious 100% cost reduction possible after refusing independent drivers with their cars, Uber can expect only 5% of extra profits from the completely driverless cars, as some experts calculated. Most likely, the basic “growth & innovation” mantra of investors keeps incentivizing Uber’s board to reinvent the ride-sharing business model to make even the “archaic” material assets fit.
Uber as a paradigm shifter
With no regard for its controversial and oftentimes reprehensible behavior, Uber remains the most influential and iconic promoter of the sharing economy. While economists and scholars are still conceptualizing over the clear and general definitions of the phenomenon, Uber uses everything relevant for building its global ride-sharing empire. While Tesla and Google are hesitating to call their driverless solutions “self-driving cars”, Uber vociferously introduces “the world’s first self-driving” practice despite much worse functionality of its autopilot. Doing it, Uber breaks barriers of the pre-digital stereotypes requiring a compulsory human driver in a taxi.
Being banned in many cities and countries worldwide, Uber ignores regulations using either the semi-legal “Greyball” software or corrupted officials along with the well-donated gig-economy lobbyists.
Uber doesn’t care about ROI, economic theories, state borders, and restrictions. Like a huge bulldozer, Uber moves ahead taking over new markets. Keeping one foot in the hyper-digital future with another foot standing on the present business ground, Travis Kalanick performs unimaginable tricks destroying mental patterns of the venture capitalists who keep getting in the queue to give Uber even more money. Uber has been able to do what liberal politicians and scientists were only talking about. Uber has stepped outside the modern paradigm showing how “digital things” should be done beyond the old business templates and models.
But more importantly, Uber has demonstrated the actual digital opportunities of a mobile app capable of giving jobs to tens of thousands of drivers while millions of customers had an access to a cheap taxi service with a couple of taps on their gadgets.