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What Can Uber’s Original Pitch Deck Tell Us about Innovation?

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Way back in 2008, Garret Camp pitched a little idea called UberCab, which eventually became Uber and went on to almost single-handedly create the so-called Sharing Economy. To say that Uber was a disruptive innovation might be one of the biggest understatements of the last 20 years. It’s disrupted the taxi business, put the auto manufacturers on notice, and even had a hand in creating the on-demand delivery business. In fact, “We’re the Uber of…” is now a startup pitch cliché.
To mark the ninth anniversary of his idea, Garret though it would be interesting to share a copy of the original pitch deck. I’m so glad he did for so many reasons. Nostalgia, of course, but as a digital practitioner and a regular Uber rider, it’s just a great historical artifact for us to unpack, deconstruct, and learn from. Here’s my take:
The Idea Will (and Should) Change
One of the most fascinating things I discovered in this deck was the idea that they would somehow own and deploy a fleet of their own, instead of relying on independent drivers. The value proposition would be using technology to make that more efficient by optimizing the locations of the fleet and making it easier for riders to hail a car than to hail a cab. At some point they learned this wasn’t enough and they replaced the owned-and-operated fleet with independent drivers. That’s a massive change in the model and it must have taken some creative willpower to change course.  Sometimes good ideas are just born, but great ideas come from adaptation and change.
They Did Some Customer Homework
The pitch deck is not drenched in extensive, data-driven research with beautifully drawn journey maps and personas, but there is a definite focus on what’s in it for the customer (or at least a treatise on why cabs are a pain.) Understanding that the core value proposition was around optimization and efficiency of the fleet helps me understand why the user experience was not front-and-center in the pitch deck. But it also helps to remember that in 2008, the mobile app world was just emerging and the Customer Experience age hadn’t really started in earnest. Today, customer empathy is the starting point to understand the real problem we are trying to solve.
It’s Not Just Downloads and Views. It Will Actually Make Money
The promise of innovation can be intoxicating, but at the end of the day if it doesn’t meet the business fundamentals, you’re left with a tough hangover. I don’t see a hard return on investment calculation, but there is some market and competitive analysis showing (in my opinion) a modest, conservative gain of market share and a rough sales target. My favorite line was “profitable by design” which makes it sound as if UberCab was actually a money-printing technology, but, hey, it was a pitch deck.
Think Big. Start Small.
I love the idea that the initial concept seems to be intentionally left smaller, teasing more features and operational improvements later. I’d like to think this was an intentional, build/measure/learn cycle that weeded out what didn’t work and inspired new ideas. I was especially intrigued by “‘get here now’ costs more than ‘tomorrow at 5pm. ’” Was that the origin of surge pricing?
There Were No Marketers
Sorry, Garret, but “Cabs 2.0” and “The NetJets of Limos” were terrible taglines. But, nice job keeping the business model and customer first so that you could understand the problem, sort out the technology and the product, and figure out the packaging and marketing later. (I wasn’t going to go here, but good luck working out the culture and PR issues.)
Bulleted Lists for the Win!
There is a lot to be said for the classic elevator pitch, the TED talk, the next Disrupt event, Prezi, Don Draper, and all of the psychology of pitch theater. But, judging from the theme-less PowerPoint array of text, bar charts, and copied-and-pasted Google image search results, Garrett was far more concerned about the Big Idea, the problems-solved, and the experiences made. UberCab was solving the unmet needs of its future customers and that’s ultimately what all great innovations have in common.
I’m going to look for more origin stories and innovation relics, and would love to hear some of your pitch stories.

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Jim Hertzfeld, Principal and Chief Strategist

Jim Hertzfeld is Principal and Chief Strategist for Perficient, and works with clients to make their customers and shareholders happy through insanely great digital experiences.

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