Uber needs no introduction. In a short 5 years, the car dispatching platform has garnered its fair share of praise, scrutiny, and venture capital. With an impressive $258 million Series C round, the company has a significant war chest at its disposal. Before looking at why this capital is necessary to achieve Uber’s short term goals, let’s explore their long term ambitions.
When trying to understand what a company wants to do, it often makes sense to look at what its leaders have said in the past. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has stated that he wants “to build a technology company that changes transportation and logistics in urban centers around the world.” See how he doesn’t call Uber a car dispatch company or a transportation network company? Travis is laying out his plans much in the same way that Jeff Bezos has done for Amazon in the past several years. Jeff has reprinted his 1997 shareholder letter in every annual report, spelling out his vision for the company. We no longer think of Amazon as a bookstore, and soon we will no longer think of Uber as a taxi replacement.
Early experiments with Christmas tree and Valentine’s Day rose deliveries have provided us with an early look at what Uber is truly capable off. They have further revealed their hand with the announcement of UberRush, on-demand bike messengers in NYC.
With the advent of driverless cars, Uber may no longer need to contract with thousands of drivers. (Now you see why Google led their Series C.) This would allow Uber to become a “full stack startup” and thus control the entire customer experience. Uber will move from a taxi alternative to a company controlling a massive army of on demand self driving robots (cars) around the world. What if Uber incorporates something like Google Now that can predict what you need or where you need to go based on your calendar, email, search history, etc? Skynet?
In the above quote from Travis, he implies that the target market for Uber is anyone in an urban center. The WHO states that 50% of the world currently lives in an city and this figure will be 60% by 2030. The 2010 census puts 80.7% of Americans in a city. With America’s declining car ownership and the popularization of the sharing economy, Uber’s potential market is only going to grow.
That being said, it’s not all sunshine and roses. In cities across the world (Uber is in over 70), entrenched taxi lobbies and established black car companies are turning to lawmakers to keep out Uber. Being disrupted isn’t fun. Fighting the arcane fair minimums, fleet caps, and time requirements will eat up a substantial amount of this capital. Unfortunately for Uber, being successful in one city does not dictate success in another. Yes their experience and acquired expertise will help in future rollouts, but mindshare is very important. Every new city requires a push to recruit both drivers and riders. This too will eat up capital.
Another hurdle is the consumer backlash against surge pricing. As an economics major, I think surge pricing is a great idea, but it will take some explaining to customers. Nobody enjoys feeling like they were taken advantage of.
Right now Uber is a taxi replacement. Soon they will be able to use their drivers to move anything, including yourself, on command. Eventually Uber will have a fleet of driverless cars that will be able to predict when and where you need a car to take you around. The ever witty Box CEO Aaron Levie laid out Uber’s future quite plainly: “Now comes a steady march toward global domination.”