There’s a new phrase that seems to be popping up to describe startups – particularly new startups. Every new company is the Uber for something. For example, Nimbl is the Uber for cash, Yplan for last minute events, Postmates for couriers, Boxed for buying in bulk and so on. It’s a slightly baffling phrase for someone who has not been deep into the tech market but it’s starting to be used even by people who do not understand its context.
A little history. Uber is an American company that depending on who you listen to is either a ridesharing app (they say) or a taxi organiser that ignores the rules (taxi drivers say). They run an app that lets people with smartphones request trips and drivers with their own cars collect. They launched in San Francisco in 2010 and the five years since have gone from a single city to over 300 cities worldwide and a company value of around 50 billion dollars.
In those five years they’ve been protested, sued, banned, unbanned, had executives arrested, had their executives get into fights, been accused of exploiting drivers but have been very aggressive and expansionist. In some ways they’ve done everything wrong but on the most important things – fast expansion into a dominant position and making money they’ve excelled. They took an old industry – taxis – and shook it, inserted themselves as middlemen and try and provide a better if somewhat more expensive service for customers.
So this takes us back to the Uber for X. An Uber for X company is one that is hard charging, usually trying to insert itself as a middleman, possibly controversial and probably expensive.