Uber’s story started in 2008 when Travis & Garret met at the LeWeb tech conference. They were both successful entrepreneurs who had sold separate startups. Travis had sold Red Swoosh, and Garrett sold StumbleUpon.
One evening they couldn’t catch a cab back from the conference, and they came up with the idea of simply requesting a ride from the phone.
When Garrett returned to San Fransisco, he immediately bought the domain UberCab.com and started thinking about the idea. He asked Travis to join, and by 2010, Uber was launched with only three cars.
First, they offered a solution to a real problem. Many people found themself stuck, unable to catch a ride. They understood the pain point and knew how to solve it. Uber team understood that people have two options. They could own and drive their own car, which comes with added costs (maintenance, fuel, parking, etc.), or they can take public transport and miss out on the comfort and speed of a car.
Now they had to find early adopters to use their product and key drivers for supply-side.
Uber also read the map correctly and identified the potential of the growing gig economy that allowed people to earn a side income. This was a growing need and a real pain point for many people losing their job. So now Uber has a solution for both sides. For those who need a ride and those looking for a job, solving the demand-side – drivers.
But the question remained — how to get users?
As with any startup, the big question is how to get users, especially the early adopters.
The Growth Hack
Uber quickly realized that the tech community in San Fransisco are great early adopters who were always looking to make their lives more convenient. In response, Uber began sponsoring tech events and providing free rides to attendees. Participants loved the product, and it became a hit. This led to media coverage, blog posts, and increased demand, which enabled Uber to become what it is today.
This method led to impressive initial growth. Within six months of launch, they had 5,000 users and had completed over 15,000 rides.
Uber kept using growth hacking for rapid growth, but they also had to expand geographically before other players became prominent. As a result, they grew rapidly but still missed some markets, such as China and parts of Asia, as other players had already taken over the market.
They continued to use free rides as a growth strategy by offering them to first-time app users. As part of the registration, you had to enter your credit card details, even if it’s just to get the free ride. That made it extremely easy for users to book future rides with minimal barriers. The free ride is a valuable gift and a strategy used by many companies. Just make sure it’s worthwhile to your users.
Another strategy Uber uses is to take advantage of critical moments when they identify high demand for transportation. For example, one story is about when there was a taxi strike in Mexico. That’s when Uber offered users free rides.
During the taxi strike in Mexico, the specific hack increased its download volume by 800%.
Since 2014, Uber’s growth has exploded. In 2015 they had over 150,000 active drivers every month.