We’re Finally Learning More About Uber’s Platform Strategy

UberEATS

In the SF/Valley bubble we live in, we are finally learning more about Uber. For years, we have debated: Will the on-demand industry consolidate? As part of that eventual consolidation, what will Uber’s role be? And, if and when they expand the platform from rides to X, Y, and Z, will those services be branded as Uber’s or a sub-brand? Will they be housed inside Uber’s core app, or as a separate app in a constellation of interrelated apps? (Read this old post on these questions vis a vis Uber.)

Of course, Uber could change in the future, but just in the last few days, we have learned a few things: That Uber may elect to build things themselves (because they can execute) versus paying higher prices and going through the trouble of integrating; that Uber will likely place more buttons on the top nav bar in the app (see picture), perhaps even an integration with mega-popular dating app Tinder (which makes sense); and that those experiences will be managed inside the main Uber app container, controlling the brand experience (and checkout, payment) for the user.

As I wrote a few days ago re: UberEATS launching in San Francisco — which is noteworthy given this is also the epicenter of (too?) many food-delivery startups, many of them richly backed by venture capital. Not since Facebook have we seen a company execute at the level Uber has. They react to market opportunities and PR crises with incredible speed and precision. Now, they’re bringing the Uber brand to you in more ways than one.

Many people by now have heard the line that “Uber wants to have a second business line by the time it IPOs.” It remains to be seen if food will move the needle for them, as this is more of a lead-gen model in the likes of Postmates, DoorDash, and Caviar (powered by Square) versus the full operational costs of an integrated model like Sprig or Munchery. Beyond the “food button” on their app, it’s fun to imagine what other buttons we might envision. Beyond food and transport, it’s hard to imagine what is needed on a daily basis and in the moment — though the suggestion of Tinder is appealing, and one can see the connection from early Uber backer Benchmark Capital, which recently became an investor in Tinder (with Matt Cohler joining the BoD). Maybe after that, they open a store, or provide sundries, or anything you’d order from Amazon, or Target, or Whole Foods?

Facebook scooped up Instagram prior to their public offering during a time when pre-IPO concerns included the company’s mobile exposure. For Uber, which should now go public in 2016, the question to ask is: What is their Instagram? What is the move or market needed to show long-term public investors the promise of the underlying platform beyond transportation? And, will it be acquired or built from within? I don’t know what the answers are, but I do believe these are the questions to ask.

[As a post-script, you may tell I’m back talking about Uber more. For years, I’ve been fascinated by how this company intersects with our physical world. I was going to write a book about this, and then canned the idea, but I’m going to pick up the idea again in some form — maybe not a book, but just more posts about it. I hope you don’t mind.]

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

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