UBER For X: Exploring the evolution of the in-demand model

You’ve probably heard of the app UBER but have you heard of ‘UBER for X‘?

Ever since the explosion of UBER, we have seen a bunch of startups appear that apply the on-demand model to a variety of industries. These have become collectively known as UBER for X, a broad term that can describe any application that offers an on-demand physical service.

For example:

You may have heard of the app Eaze, which recently announced it had raised $10 million in funding. The app applies the ‘UBER for X’ model to Medical Marijuana.

What makes UBER so good

The fact that UBER makes on-demand transport available to anyone with a smartphone and a credit card is great but what makes UBER truly great are the features. On-demand cars have been around for decades – they’re called Taxis. What makes UBER truly awesome are the features; real-time tracking, electronic payments, the bringing together of freelancers and users, ratings & feedback and fare splitting. I would argue that it’s these key technologies that UBER has brought together that has allowed it to dominate this industry and that the UBER for X movement is not just about creating a new on-demand application.

Real-Time Tracking

Real time bus data in Brisbane through Triptastic

At the core of UBER’s technology is how they are able to track each car on their platform. This is what allows passengers to be matched with drivers and the trip fare to be calculated. Inspired by this key technology, I decided to see what other live data could prove useful to a developer like myself and realised that local governments around the world are already opening up live data on buses and other public transport.

In Brisbane, I’ve recently downloaded an app on my phone called Triptastic which allows me to see where certain buses are on live map. In fact, there are a wave of transport apps coming out in Brisbane and the rest of Australia, charging a nominal fee (~$3.80 for Triptastic).

I wonder, can the UBER model now be applied to public transport?

Sharing of Resources

In 2015, Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin), The Battle Is For The Customer Interface

Two big trends that are happening in the startup world today are 1. the sharing of resources and 2. the bringing together of freelancers with businesses and consumers who need them. Part of UBER’s success is that the platform is across both of these trends. Not only does UBER share cars, it shares drivers.

For a growing tech company, it makes a lot of sense for the company to own less assets and hire less staff. In keeping with the Lean Startup methodology (which has become the standard in the startup world), it is no surprise that there are many ‘UBER for X’ startups that leverage freelancers and the sharing of resources.

Instacart is a great example of an UBER for X startup which exists in both the freelance and sharing (access) economies. Much like UBER connects passengers with drivers and cars, Instacart connects consumers with groceries and delivery people. In January this year, the company raised $220 million at an aproximate $2 billion valuation, so it would seem they are doing a good job of it as well.

While Instacart is one of the more notable startups in this space, there are countless others who are leveraging these two trends to be able to deliver a seemless on-demand service.

Seemless Electronic Payments

One thing that makes the UBER experience so enjoyable is that payments are taken care of. Being an UBER driver myself, I am constantly hearing stories from passengers about how they have been locked in taxis while they fumble with cash. Internet credit card transactions have been around for a long time but in 2015, more and more of these transactions are happening through mobile apps.

Take for example, Street Eats, a local app in my city, Brisbane, that allows users to order and pay for food provided by local food trucks. One of the cool features is that partner food trucks can be viewed on an map however, the real value is in the payment system. Instead of waiting in line and using a physical menu, the app allows users to browse, select and pay for items on their mobile device. When the food is ready, the user is notified via text message.

Apps like Street Eats demonstrate the power of convenience for electronic payments, an essential feature for popular on-demand apps.

What will be the new UBER for X app?

While UBER for X has inspired a generation of apps dedicated to the on-demand model. I think there much more to be learned from the UBER success than just tagging ‘on-demand’ on the front of a particular service. For me, UBER is a beautiful combination of recently available technologies that together help to solve a broken industry. I look forward to seeing how these available technologies, and others, can be used in creative ways to build new solutions and apps.

Until next time,

Christopher R Dodd
@ChrisRDodd