A Sprawling Network Of Startups Pops Up In Uber’s Wake

By Patrick May
San Jose Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  Just like Apple has done with all the third-party apps created for its iPhone, Uber is creating an ecosystem of smaller companies surrounding it. Uber has inspired several entrepreneurs to figure out ways to make money through the ride-hailing app. For example, one entrepreneur came up with the idea to put tablets into all the hands of uber drivers. The driver downloads The Vugo app, puts the tablet in the back of the car, and earns additional income from targeted ads that are playing on the tablet (of course Vugo gets its cut).  So women in business, what is your next uber-related idea?

San Jose Mercury News

While Uber to most of its users is a convenient way to get across town, the ride-hailing behemoth is more like a blank canvas to young entrepreneur James Bellefeuille. And on that canvas, right there on the tablet he wants to put within reach of every Uber passenger, are revenue-generating advertisements for bars, restaurants and even dental offices.

“The driver downloads our app, puts the tablet in the back of the car, and earns additional income from work they’re already doing,” said the 29-year-old Bellefeuille, who got the idea to put targeted ads inside Uber vehicles when he was driving one himself through the streets of Chicago.

The driver gets a cut of the ad revenue, his company Vugo gets its piece, and the Uber keeps rolling along. “We’re still in our adolescence, but we see a lot of room for growth.”

As it plows forward in its industry-busting zeal, and prepares to make a big move into downtown Oakland in 2017 where it could add as many as 3,000 employees, Uber has inspired a host of dreamers like Bellefeuille. He is just a part of a burgeoning cottage industry of small and medium-sized businesses whose founders see gaps in Uber’s business model and then figure out ways to make money by filling them.

Just as the Detroit automakers in the 1930s fueled ancillary businesses making everything from steel frames to seat upholstery, today’s sharing economy’s biggest rock star is not simply a company valued at more than $60 billion — it’s the life-giving sun at the center of a brand-new solar system of commerce.

“One of the most interesting things about Uber is that it’s consolidating a sector of the economy that had been characterized for so long by hundreds of different taxi companies,” said Brishen Rogers, a Temple University law professor who has written about the Uber-led transformation of the car-hire sector. “And just like Apple has done with all the third-party apps created for its iPhone, it’s no surprise that Uber is creating an ecosystem of smaller companies surrounding it.”

There are startups focused on helping contract drivers for both Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, track their mileage. There are apps for consumers that let them quickly compare Uber’s fare with a rival’s. There are new tools that let a customer cherry-pick their favorite drivers and “reserve” them for a future date. And there are countless more firms that will train Uber drivers, educate them on tax deductions that could boost their take-home pay, and even front them money each morning for a small fee so they don’t have to wait until payday. With 400,000 partner-drivers, that’s a big market for even small ideas.

Take Mike Tomlinson’s Rideshare Timer, a $1.99 Android app that drivers can use to make sure they don’t waste even a few seconds waiting around for a no-show. “With yet another round of nationwide rate cuts” by Uber, says the app’s pitch, “you can’t afford to wait longer than you should” for a ride. Time, after all, is money.

And like many Uber-spawned ideas, this one was inspired by Tomlinson’s own experience as an Uber chauffeur: he learned that after a few minutes waiting for a fare, a driver can cancel the ride and collect a small no-show fee and be on their way. Tomlinson said, “every time I’d arrive to pick someone up I was going back and forth between different screens on my phone, from the Uber app to text-messaging the passenger to see where they were. It was a waste of my time and money and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a timer that floated on my screen and told me when I could cancel the ride?”

And — voil…! — another Uber startup was born. He figures his app can mean as much as $25 extra dollars a day in cancellation fees for a driver who uses the tool to manage his time more efficiently. Will he strike it rich with his idea? Probably not, Tomlinson admits.

“It’s been downloaded 500 times, but I’m still in the hole on it,” he said, but then added that thanks to the huge number of Uber drivers and the fact that there’s little competition for his idea, the sky’s the limit for his budding startup.

Sell the timer to even a quarter of that market and Tomlinson could strike it rich — although he’s keeping his day job as a product manager for now.

Harry Campbell, founder of the Rideshare Guy: A Blog and Podcast for Rideshare Drivers” in Los Angeles, was able to quit his full-time job as an aerospace engineer by turning his Uber-inspired forum into a thriving enterprise. “Once I had enough drivers following me,” he said, “the monetization opportunities started to happen. Now we make money through finder fees from driver referrals we make to Uber and others.”

Campbell also sells training videos for drivers and he’s created an insurance marketplace that pairs up 20 agents with drivers seeking coverage for those miles driven when they haven’t yet accepted a ride offer and don’t have an actual passenger in the car.

“One of the coolest parts about a new industry exploding is all of the fringe or third-party companies that tend to pop up,” he writes on his site. ” I consider my blog and podcast one of those third parties.”

While the exact number of new jobs created indirectly by Uber is hard if not impossible to know, the nine employees now working for the Rideshare Guy would be among them. And as Campbell points out, “these jobs didn’t exist two years ago. And it’s crazy to think that my business would not exist if it weren’t for Uber.”

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