The timing of Uber’s launch may be another (less talked about) important element to its eventual success. According to Crunchbase, it was founded in 2009, superficially not the best year to start building a business, right after the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression.
But for Uber’s business model the crisis may have in fact been beneficial. Uber relied on the assumption they could make it an attractive option for the ‘non-taxi driver’ public to start driving and earn a bit or money on the side (Uber even had a whole marketing campaign later centered around promoting the “side hustle.”) At a time when the unemployment rate was 8.5%, having an ‘easy’ way to earn more money probably attracted many people to join Uber as a driver, and if their model is sticky which I think it is, they were able to create a stable, large network or ‘contractor’ drivers for the Uber network. Indeed there are similarities with Airbnb, founded in 2008, enabling people to list their spare space and earn a bit of “side hustle” income at a time when it was needed by most.
This then begs the question, how important are exogenous factors (stock market value, unemployment, social unrest, political climate, pop culture) in successful early stage technology company building? This isn't an altogether new question: in the wonderfully prophetic philosophical exploration of the potential of the Internet, published in 1997, Internet Dreams (only $7.00!), Mark Steifik provides a passage on the '"Gutenburg Myth" form Scott D. N. Cook:
"At the very least, this account of the printing revolution suggests that the traditional, one dimensional model of new technologies (or a single new material gadget) causing broad social change must be regarded with deep suspicion."
Cook introduces the beautiful phrase: 'political and moral myopia' in revisionist history that weights too heavily the technological innovation in a whirlpool of social, political and economic upheaval (the revolutionary period in the France and United States created a social climate of equality leading to increased education, literacy and therefore demand for printing - which the printing press could accommodate.)
So what are the exogenous political, moral, economic factors most important today?
- All time high on the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P500 (despite Govt. shutdown, political turmoil, NK etc.)
- Unemployment at 4.1% ('full employment') with interest rates rising
- Potential social and political backlash against monopolist technology
- General lack of appetite for going public, with SoftBank Vision Fund elephant in the room
- Increasing polarization of social and political beliefs?
- Breakdown of the Section 230 safe harbor provision for 'non-publisher' online platforms?
- Ageing population as Baby Boomers retire?
- Millennial generation adopting network based, rental (house, furniture, clothes, experiences) economy versus ownership (car, house etc.) economy?
- Stagnating wages, rising inequality?
The benefit of this exploration is in the brainstorm and not the answer (even if there is one.) Many ways to explore the above.
This website could be helpful in exogenous factor exploration: https://ourworldindata.org/