Uber marks it tenth anniversary this month. Since birth, it has come a long way. The business is present in 65 countries and over 600 cities worldwide, with over 15m trips completed daily. In the past decade, well over 5bn Uber trips have been completed worldwide. Press reports suggest that the business is preparing for a public listing later this year, with a valuation worth up to $120bn.
What is more notable than the success of Uber is the number of lookalikes that it has spawned. Across Silicon Valley, the mantra ‘Uber for X’ can be heard with alarming regularity. When it comes to filling in the ‘X’, take your pick: there is the obvious – laundry, grocery, dog walking – and also the more obscure – consider cannabis delivery or tractor hire.
The power of mobile broadband, cheap data storage and clever algorithms means that disparate people who need a service and those who can provide it are now seamlessly matched via a trusted intermediary. In the US alone, over $7.4bn of venture capital has been committed to at least 100 Uber wannabees in the last decade (per Crunchbase).
Market forces, digitalisation and consumer preferences are likely to continue to drive the sharing economy forward. While an early-mover and corresponding scale advantage may matter, by definition, businesses operating within this sphere are inherently disruptive. Of the 100 or so Uber-for-X businesses that have emerged since 2009, around a quarter have gone bankrupt and some 18% have been acquired, implying that more than 50% of these start-ups remain alive and kicking. How many go on to achieve so-called unicorn status (i.e. worth more than $1bn), of course, remains open to debate. Even if the potential IPO of Uber (and perhaps also Lyft and Airbnb) may mark a peak in the equity market, it seems clear that the sharing economy remains here to stay.
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