There’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of a small company called Uber. It was a Crunchies finalist in 2011 (for Best Location Application, along with Runkeeper, Foursquare, Airbnb, and Grindr) and has done pretty well since then.
As of this writing, Uber has a market cap of $69 billion (nice) and is a global superstar startup.
But it wasn’t always like that. Fifteen years ago, the company set out to raise a $200,000 funding round with a different name (UberCab) and a different business model (limousines that text you from your smartphone). It launched in San Francisco in 2011 and followed shortly thereafter in a number of other cities.
A lot has changed in the last 15 years. For one, the original iPhone had just launched (with no ability to install apps!), and fundraising has gotten a lot more sophisticated.
The Uber deck has been floating around the internet for a while; We shared it as a gallery back in 2017, and these days it’s not really considered a good example of how to make a pitch deck. Still, let’s take a walk down memory lane and see what Uber got right in its original pitch — and where it made some spectacularly stupid mistakes.
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Slides in This Deck Title Slide Problem Slide (“Cabs in 2008”) Solution Slide (“Digital Hail Can Now Eliminate Street Calls”) Solution Slide (“UberCab Concept”) Product Slide 1 (“1-Click Car Service”) Value Suggestion Slide 1 (“Important Differentiators”) Mission (“Operating Principles”) How It Works Slide 1 (“UberCab Apps”) How It Works Slide 2 (“UberCab.com”) Positioning Slide (“Use Cases”) Value Proposition Slide 2 (“User Benefits”) Value Proposition Slide 3 (“Environmental Benefits”) Product Slide 2 (“UberCab Fleet”) Go-to-Market Slide 1 (“First Line of Service”) Technology Overview Slide (“Technology”) Competitive Advantage Slide (“Demand Forecasting”) Slide “Market Size” (“Total Market”) Slide “Market Segmentation” (“Market Composition”) Go-to-Market Slide 2 (“Target Cities”) Scenario Planning (“Potential Outcomes”) “Why Now? ” Slide (“SmartPhones Aug 2008”) Roadmap Slide 1 (“Future Improvements”) Marketing Slide (“Marketing Ideas”) Roadmap Slide 2 (“Location-based Service”) Traction Slide (“Achievements to Date”) Three things to love
There are some beautiful historical gems in this slide deck, some of which are just delightful quirks of a bygone era. Others are justifiably insightful glimpses into Uber’s development, visible even in this very early deck.
Uber knew location-based services would be huge
It’s hard today to imagine a world without Uber, but even in this slide deck it’s clear that Uber probably didn’t know how big of an impact it would be, but it did know it would make a difference in the “location-based services” space.
Lyft’s pioneering hail-a-ride-from-a-random-stranger model came later, but Uber knew delivery would be a key source of growth. The company projected that by 2010 this would be a $3.5 billion industry. Considering that Uber Eats made around $8 billion in 2021 and almost $11 billion last year, it’s safe to say that Uber’s forecasts turned out to be correct.
That was a particularly intriguing thought in 2008 because Uber was yet to come to market and had no clear idea of how UberX would bring it to market.
Enabled by smartphones
In hindsight, of course, that’s fantastically obvious, but…
In 2008 smartphones started to be a thing. According to Uber’s Deck, BlackBerry led the field with a 32% market share, followed by Windows Mobile (30%), Palm OS (19%), iPhone (10%), Hiptop (6%) and Symbian (3%). It’s pretty wild to consider that of all these operating systems these days, most don’t even exist. Apple’s iOS has about 60% market share in the US, while Android holds the rest. And then there are some also-rans.
What was interesting — and crucial — was that the smartphone (and the ubiquitous availability of data on cell phone plans) was ultimately the technology that unlocked Uber’s current business model: drivers can drive, passengers can call, etc. The company doesn’t make much of a prediction of where the market developed, but it knew one thing: SmartPhones [sic] were an important part of the way forward.
As a startup, Uber shows that it is actually building a company on two new technologies: location-based technologies and smartphones. That’s pretty awesome, all things considered. And there’s one important thing you can learn from building your own pitch deck: tying your company to major macroeconomic or technological changes is a great way to get tremendous tailwinds.
What is the (best/worst) thing that could happen?
As a founder, you really shouldn’t have an “exit” slide on your pitch deck. It’s incomprehensible and silly. I am including it here because it is so wonderfully and painfully wrong.
The founders of Uber imagined in their wildest dreams that the best-case scenario would be $1 billion in annual revenue. To be fair, the $8.6 billion it made in 2022 is more than $1 billion, so the company was indeed right. But it was also hoping for a “realistic” scenario of $20 to $30 million in profits per year. That’s interesting — because Uber has suffered significant losses for many years as it has optimized for aggressive growth rather than profits. I love this slide so much.
The lesson here? Free yourself from any predictions about your outcomes or outcomes. Assess the market and call it a day.
In the rest of this teardown, we take a look at three things Uber could have improved or done differently.