If you live in London, you’ve probably heard of Uber. It’s an app that lets city dwellers hail a private car with the tap of a smartphone – a car that Uber describes as faster, cheaper and just all-round better than a taxi. The iOS and Android app allows you to track the car in real time and even pay the fare - another example of mobile technology and app development transforming our everyday lives.
The man behind the company is CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick, the American entrepreneur who created Uber in 2009. The app was officially launched in San Francisco – from there the company grew from city to city and now operates in 38 countries. Financial support from Google has made Uber one of the fastest growing companies in the world, but not everyone is happy to see its rise in popularity.
Uber is potentially cheaper than a taxi because it relies on “surge pricing” (when demand is high, prices go up and vice versa). However, by doing this they are undercutting taxis. Earlier this month, London black cab drivers took to the streets to protest against Uber, bringing central London to a standstill. The basis of their argument is that the app acts like an unlicensed taximeter, which is against Transport for London rules.
On the day of the strike Uber saw its largest day of downloads since it started in London two years ago, increasing by 850%. The app has a social feature giving every user a code to sign up new customers, which also rewards both users with £10 free credit. The company relies almost exclusively on word of mouth, and according to Kalanick the company has spent virtually nothing on marketing. He has said that for every seven Uber rides, word of mouth generates one new user. This viral marketing model has helped Kalanick get where he is today.
Although black cabs have been an iconic symbol for London for many decades, this strike proves that they cannot stand in the way of innovation. As digital technology presents new opportunities, old markets will be disrupted. Uber is an example of the positive disruption that new technology can bring, in this case offering customers new choices on how to travel.
Companies that embrace these advances in technology will be creating new jobs, advancing their industries, making companies run efficiently - and most importantly, making our day-to-day lives easier.