Uber was conceived as a way to ‘push a button and get a ride,’ in the words of its founder, Travis Kalanick. The company provides an iPhone app that allows customers to summon the closest available town car or cab wherever they are, and pay for it without exchanging cash or credit card. The cars have been evaluated by Uber for standards of service and cleanliness, and have to continue to meet those standards to remain in the Uber system. Convenience and consistency made the company very successful, very quickly. How successful?
Four months after the company launched in San Francisco in June 2010, Uber was served with a ‘cease and desist’ order from the California Public Utility Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. After checking with their lawyers to determine that what they were doing was legal, the company took its case to the people using Twitter and email. Both the Commission and the Agency backed away.
They had similar troubles in New York City, Chicago and Boston, but their biggest test took place in the land of red tape – Washington, D.C. A month after they launched there the D.C. taxi commissioner said Uber was violating the law. This time Uber launched what they called Operation Rolling Thunder. They put out a news release, alerted Uber customers by email and created a Twitter hashtag #UberDCLove. As a result, supporters sent 50,000 emails and 37,000 tweets. The company is now doing business in Washington, D.C., but based on a recent Forbes article, their fight continues.
I am a raving fan of capitalism, because I believe it creates innovation that allows our entire society to benefit. When people are allowed to financially benefit from their ideas, they are motivated to be creative – to find solutions for problems that make life easier for everyone. Most improvements in our day-to-day lives have not come from government initiatives, they’ve come from small companies that created disruption to the ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ way of thinking.
While Washington debates the role of big government and budgets, people like Travis Kalanick will continue to brainstorm new ideas and solutions in the tradition of America’s entrepreneurs – despite the roadblocks that are put in front of them. That’s the American Way – fighting city hall!