Enough already with “the Uber of” whatever

Forget the billions, is looking up to a hugely polarizing company really that great a goal?

uber, taxi, app, smartphone

The Uber of blog posts

As 2014 winds down, one trend that hopefully goes with it is companies referring to themselves as “the Uber of” something or other.

Uber is, of course, the San Francisco-based “startup” that is disrupting the taxi business with its smartphone app, which matches prospective passengers with drivers.

The company, founded in 2009, was valued by investors this year at $18 billion largely because of its potential to change the industry. The service, which takes a cut of every ride, is available in 200 cities and users generally love it.

Given all that, who wouldn’t want to be Uber? Referencing the company and its business model is also an easy way for a company to summarize how its model works.

There’s Ottawa-based LocoTruck, which seeks to become the Uber of moving house by connecting drivers with home owners. There’s Palo Alto, Calif.-based Deliv, which pairs up retailers and shoppers into the Uber of delivery. There’s even San Francisco-based ManServants, the Uber of hooking women up with hot male butlers. The list goes on and on.

Basically, the formula goes much like this:

  • Step one: Make a smartphone app.
  • Step two: Make sure it’s disruptive and uses crowdsourcing.
  • Step three: Call it the Uber of something.
  • Step four: Profit.

The only problem with the strategy is that despite its multi-billion-dollar valuation, Uber isn’t exactly the best corporate role model.

There were the recent dust-ups where it was revealed that company employees accessed user records, accusations of misogyny, plus executive vice-president Emil Michael suggesting that Uber should dig up dirt on journalists to smear them.

But more importantly, the company is facing new bans and lawsuits from countries and municipalities on a seemingly daily basis because of its often flagrant flouting of taxi regulations. Authorities in many cities are concerned with the safety of passengers taking rides from drivers who haven’t been properly vetted or licensed.

Delhi and Portland are just the latest to take measures against Uber.

With luck, startups in 2015 will be a little more creative in describing their businesses – and a little more aspirational than trying to be such an incredibly polarizing company.

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