Is UberRush going to change the world, or ultimately make it more depressing?

Uber — which may have been on a path towards world domination anyway — just launched this thing called UberRush (trial version is in Manhattan), which essentially works like this:

You want to send your air mattress to your friend downtown. You request a delivery person on your Uber app. He arrives and picks up the air mattress. You can track him on the phone as he bikes or walks (runs, skates, etc.) downtown. He drops it off at your friend’s place and snaps a picture to make sure it’s the right location. You pay $15.

Cool. So the broad idea is — if you take a few steps forward — the job market kind of stinks for full-time, traditional employment, so maybe Uber can be at the forefront of creating this sub-traditional job market, whereby people use their resources (i.e. their bike, or their car, or even their time) when they’re not otherwise being used. As someone rolling off grad school and looking for a job, I can tell you first-hand that it does often seem that the easiest way to get a job is to go part-time somewhere and hope it flips to full-time eventually; people seem more excited about hiring in that way. Problem is, the idea of a “part-time economy” has been proven to be somewhat of a myth as well.

You can see UberRush as the next step in Uber trying to do what Amazon did (or what Google did, or what any good SF-based company needs to do): go way beyond the scope of their initial project. So some are bullish:

Some are less bullish:

An Uber messenger showed up at my office within about 10 minutes; within 90 minutes the courier reported the package had been delivered to the messenger center at my friend’s office building. (I was glad to hear it because the carrier wasn’t wearing a helmet, and I would have felt like a real jerk if he’d gotten himself killed in traffic in the service of my writing a Bloomberg Businessweek story.) It took 30 minutes of negotiations before my friend could wrest the package from the mailroom at his office. So the experience closely resembled using a typical Manhattan courier service.

This business model is clearly going to evolve 10 more times over — you would guess that eventually it approaches an eBay/Amazon idea where merchants can connect with customers and couriers for same-day (same-hour?) delivery. There’s definitely a concern that as new generations roll off of college and find a tough job market, they’ll become $15 pickup Uber couriers, which probably won’t drastically stimulate the economy (or themselves). It’s amazing to think about how the somewhat-skewed priorities of higher education align with the job market and see it directly play out in terms of how you can easily deliver a mattress from the Upper East Side to the West Village. Weird world we’re living in these days.

If you’re wondering broadly where Uber might be headed — their version of Facebook trying to link 3 billion people online, or Google trying to do, well, everything they try to do — here’s a basic snapshot of their end-game:

Uber has long held ambitions beyond rides, with chief executive, Travis Kalanick, saying publicly that he thinks of his business as an urban logistics service.


Ted Bauer