Uber is the Kanye West of Silicon Valley: bold and brilliant. Toxic and troubled. Disruptive and dangerous.
Uber’s willingness to play dirty and its dysfunctional culture are well documented, most recently in a New York Times piece, “Uber’s CEO Plays with Fire” that laid bare the controversial management style of CEO Travis Kalanick, including his “pattern of risk-taking that has at times put his ride-hailing company on the brink of implosion.” The company’s many scandals have given rise to the #DeleteUber movement, which has been an economic boon to rival Lyft.
And yet Uber remains as bold and disruptive as ever, as two recent news developments show.
On April 25, Uber announced that it will launch a network of flying taxis in Dallas and Dubai by 2020. The news places Uber front and center among the companies trying to define a market for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOLs), also known as flying cars (to the chagrin of purists). So-called flying cars could change the way people travel and the way transportation companies, delivery services, and even urgent care/on-demand health services operate, especially in urban markets hampered by congestion. Other prominent players trying to launch VTOLs include Airbus and Kitty Hawk, a company backed by Google cofounder Larry Page, which released a demonstration video of a prototype on April 24.
The development and rollout of VTOLs faces some major hurdles ranging from regulatory barriers to constraints in battery life for the craft themselves. But if Uber has taught us anything, its the company’s ability to disrupt. This is the company that ushered in the era of the on-demand economy and disrupted the transportation and delivery industries. It’s also a business that knows how to scale an idea. As Alex Davies of WIRED reported, the company has formed partnerships with companies that are developing VTOLs as well as relationships with the businesses necessary to build out a flying car infrastructure. As he wrote:
And here’s the crazy part: Uber could make it happen. “I think 2020 is realistic for a vehicle that is not replacing an airplane but replacing a car,” says Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A purely electric aircraft might remain elusive, but a serial hybrid setup—where the aircraft carries a fuel-burning turbine to keep the juice flowing, much like the Chevrolet Volt—could work.
Meanwhile, as flying driving cars and Uber’s scandals were making headlines, McDonald’s announced that the fast-food giant has teamed with Uber to deliver McDonald’s to your door. As McDonald’s pointed out, nearly 75 percent of the population in its five largest markets live within three miles of a McDonald’s, and McDonald’s has been testing the Uber delivery service since December (through UberEATS, Uber’s food delivery unit).
As Peter Frost of Crain’s Chicago Business reported, “Delivery is a natural sales channel for McDonald’s to pursue since much of its food already is consumed outside its restaurants. Some 70 percent of McDonald’s U.S. business goes through the drive-thru, and in urban areas, far more consumers take its food to-go versus eating inside.”
The McDonald’s relationship is an example of how Uber can partner with brands that have the muscle and reach to help Uber deliver on its vision, in this case, services that cater to the on-demand consumer. Uber does the same with hospitals to deliver on-demand healthcare as well.
Uber doesn’t need to play nice to be disruptive and dangerous. Uber does not even have to be a long-term success. Ideas are the fuel of disruption, and Uber knows how to scale an idea even as the company’s brand implodes.
Note: check out Uber’s 2016 white paper on VTOLs here.