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How Uber is Going Viral

I almost choked on my food this weekend when my friend told me he had become an Uber driver.

We were sitting at The Brigantine, the best fish taco place in Del Mar having yet another rambling conversation about life. He’s a well-off, former trader (another sign of the times, no?) caught between professions. But what was even more shocking about the switch from trader to Uber driver was his comment about a prevalent behavior of Uber customers:

“Brian, every other person that gets into my car immediately grabs their phone and calls someone special in their life: a colleague, friend, or boyfriend/girlfriend and says something to the effect of ‘I’m in an Uber right now.’ People are personally endorsing the product at such a rate that I can barely keep up with the demand even my territory which is relatively new. In all my years in business, I’ve never seen a product spread quite like this.”

Tim Draper is arguably the founding father of “viral marketing” through a combination of intelligence and shrewd timing. His creative concept to use “viral marketing” in Hotmail (appending a small note to invite friends helped spread the product geometrically) dramatically changed the trajectory of the business. This one small marketing tweak eventually created enough value to drive an estimated $400 million acquisition to Microsoft. Fast forward some 15 years later and we’re seeing a similar behavior—this time in the real world.

Uber is the analog Hotmail.

I can’t recall at a company at Uber’s stage that has ever seen more positive word-of-mouth. And it’s happening on a global scale (e.g. Tokyo, London, Sydney).

What’s so special about the product?

  1. The application is simply beautiful and functional. Car arrival visualizations release just enough dopamine to keep you engaged and interested—almost like a game—as you wait.
  2. Not carrying cash or a credit card is extremely convenient. The absence of these elements triangulate into an apex experience that simply makes each customer feel special. Even the common man or woman can feel like royalty with Uber.
  3. As my friend (the Uber driver) mentioned, corporations love Uber because taxi receipts are an endless source of fraud. But not with Uber because the card is already on file.
  4. The coordination of the entire experience is what blows me away. Tap. Wait. Delight. Spread the word. Rinse and repeat.
  5. The entire experience is personalized right down to the ratings of the driver (did you know you the customer is also rated?). Don’t underestimate this human value.

It will be fascinating to see where the customers of Uber take this company. Congrats, Travis, Ryan and the rest of the team.

Special thanks to Nivi for talking through this post with me and Scott Hurff for editing help. Get his new book on product development here.

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10 thoughts on “How Uber is Going Viral

    • Your argument is sound. My hope was to simplify things down a bit however it true that WOM and virality are slightly different conceptually (or at least how they are often framed in the media).

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