JOSE, Calif. — Budding entrepreneurs hoping to cash in
on the wave of collaborative consumption breaking across
the nation are hitching their wagons to the King Kong of
the sharing economy, claiming to be the "Uber of
whatever" — food delivery, diaper service,
dog-walking, you name it.
other words, we have become the Uber of Uber-obsessed
run into this issue of consumers not quite understanding
what we do," says Jeryl Detmer, co-founder of what
he likes to think of as "the Uber of trailer
rentals," based in Ojai, about 60 miles northwest
of downtown Los Angeles. "Either they’re totally
into the peer-to-peer or sharing economy, or they give
you that deer-in-the-headlights look. But when we say,
‘We’re like Uber,’ they suddenly get it."
pioneer Uber, along with Airbnb, its kissing cousin in
the accommodations space, has sent the sharing economy
into overdrive. Valued at $50 billion and operating in
61 countries at last count, Uber has become a household
— if sometimes controversial — word. Defined as
"a superlative example of its kind or class,"
Uber has become a hip shorthand for efficient
transportation and seamless commerce, a digital darling
that turns your smartphone into a matchmaker between you
and your ride home.
has also become the marketing tool du jour.
are Ubers of party planners (GigSalad) and Ubers of real
estate (SQFT), Ubers of storage units (SpareFoot) and
Ubers of babysitting (The Babysitting Company). With
scores of startup founders and their marketing teams
Uberizing their sales pitch to investors, media and
customers, this metaphor-lobbing mob is using Uber as if
it’s some magical password to profits and fame.
Sometimes, it’s the end user who drops the U word.
the first thing we hear from customers is ‘Oh, so you’re
like the Uber of babysitting?’" said Cory
Charlupski, whose Miami Beach, Fla.-based Babysitting
Company hooks up child care for clients at home, in a
hotel or on the road. He says he wears the Uber badge
with honor: "If anyone says they don’t want to be
the Uber of something, they’re lying, because everyone
would love to eventually own a company worth $50
which declined to comment for this report, has
experienced a supersonic growth spurt since 2009 when it
was founded as "UberCab" by Travis Kalanick
and Garrett Camp. As it spread to more than 300 cities
around the world, here and overseas, the company has
raised more than $5 billion from investors, including a
$258 million investment by Google Ventures, even as its
service has been challenged at every turn by governments
and traditional taxi services.
the flattery goes on, with the Uber craze even spawning
hybrids. Take UpCounsel, which calls itself "a
cross between Uber and eHarmony — the on-demand
marketplace matching lawyers and small businesses to
curated legal counsel." Or consider Online Owls, a
peer-to-peer service based in Washington, D.C., that
pairs frustrated computer users with IT whizzes who’ll
race to their rescue in Uberesque fashion. "What
happens when you pair Uber and GeekSquad?" they ask
in their Facebook ad. "Click to find out!"
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Mike Townsend and a friend decided to build an app that
would match caregivers with elderly clients who want to
stay in their homes, Uber was an inspiration for
app locates home-care providers, very similar to Uber
locating a ride," he said. "We help facilitate
payments from the client to the caregiver, just like
Uber. And we email both sides a confirmation of each
transaction, just like Uber."
as a pitch tool, said Townsend, the word Uber speaks
volumes: "If I’m in a loud bar trying to explain
to someone what our company does, just saying ‘We’re
like Uber’ makes it easy."
are, however, possible pitfalls in over-Uberizing, said
longtime Silicon Valley marketing professor Buford Barr.
Despite Uber’s phenomenal popularity, its success has
been accompanied by legal obstacles and PR disasters as
the San Francisco-based firm tends to bully its way into
new markets. Or as Barr puts it, "Everything hasn’t
been a bed of roses for Uber."
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it battles on multiple fronts with established taxi
services and local regulators who resent Uber’s
chest-thumping style, the company also faces a swelling
controversy over the tax status of its drivers.
companies seeking benefits from the Uber brand risk
getting hurt by the Uber brand," said Richard
Lazar, co-founder of Techolicy, an Oregon-based
public-policy and new-economy consultancy. "If you’re
using Uber to describe your business model because you
can’t independently describe it on its own merits,
then you have a problem."
startups that used Uber as a marketing gimmick in the
past now run the other way.
me," said Corey Brundage, whose Los Angeles-based
Honk has been called by some "The Uber of roadside
assistance," an entrepreneur looking for venture
capital funding "better avoid that Uber comparison.
Because the minute you tell potential investors that you’re
‘the Uber of X,’ they immediately start worrying
about the negative connotations, like how are you
classifying your employees.
we did our Series A round," Brundage said, "I
tried to strike Uber from my vocabulary."
has Mark Steiner, whose Missouri-based GigSalad has been
called both the "Airbnb and the Uber of event
just as soon never have it said again," said
Steiner, who now believes non-Uber marketing can
adequately describe to clients what the company actually
does. But that’s not to say Steiner is completely
opposed to the concept of piggyback marketing.
hope someday to hear someone say, ‘We’re the
Gigsalad of whatever,’" he says, "because
that’ll mean I’ve arrived."
its sensational success, Uber has spawned a multitude of
wannabes, startups that either refer to themselves or
are referred to by others as the "Uber of
whatever." Here are a few examples:
— the Uber of roadside assistance
— the Uber of in-home care for seniors
for Pizza — the Uber of pizza
— the Uber of dog-walking
— the Uber of storage units
— the Uber of job search (also been called "the
Tinder for jobs")
— the Uber of event planning
— the Uber of real estate
Babysitting Company — the Uber of babysitting
— "a cross between the Uber and eHarmony of legal
Owls — the Uber of IT (refers to itself as a cross
between Uber and Geek Squad)
— the Uber of grocery delivery
— the Uber of laundry
— the Uber of alcohol
— the Uber of lawn care
— the Uber of mortgage lending
— the Uber of flower delivery
— the Uber of weed