YapStone Blog

The Fascinating Social Impact of Uber” written by YapStone.

Not a week goes by that I don’t find myself ordering an UberX…like hundreds of thousands of other people in my city do each day. Sometimes I think about how strange it is that this app has become such a part of my everyday life; just like a family member or an old friend, you can’t remember what life was like before they showed up.

And as for my smartphone? Well, that’s just unimaginable. But the two seem to go together these days like peas and carrots. If 90 percent of all browsing time on mobile takes place within apps, then a healthy portion of that for me is in my Uber account. This irreplaceable service that gets us where we want to be faster, cheaper and better has a wide reaching social impact. But, do you remember the first time you even heard about the company?

I thought about it recently and I can actually pinpoint the first time I heard about “Uber.” I was working in my office and some coworkers and I were headed to a fashion event in downtown Los Angeles. We were politely arguing over whose car to drive and complaining that there was literally no parking downtown, how easy it was to get lost, and, oh, “you make a wrong turn, you’ll find yourself in dark alley with a knife wound.” And so the conversation went on.

Then someone in the group suggested we take an Uber, drawing several blank looks. “It’s a new app that you can order a car and someone (a regular person with a relatively nice car) picks you up and drops you off,” she explained. “The app pays them and you just get out of the car.”

Getting into a stranger’s car and paying for the privilege? I didn’t like that idea. You mean to tell me that I am going to call upon an unvalidated driver in their private car and trust him or her to drive me downtown without stabbing me? Again with the stabbing.

We didn’t end up taking an Uber that night, in the end. We were all too worked up about the potential dangers of the situation. But about a month later, my car broke down and I needed to get to work. Taxis were expensive. None of my friends or coworkers lived near me. And my boyfriend was out of town. So, I threw caution to the wind, downloaded the app and soon, a human being was on his way to my house. I was nervous with anticipation.

Becoming More Human

My Uber driver pulled up to the curb outside my house and waited outside my door as if I was a celebrity who had ordered a Lincoln town car. He didn’t even honk the horn or look impatient and surly like a regular cab driver. In fact, he was a friendly, professional man with a soothing voice – who opened my door, as if I was the Queen of England! I smiled at him and thought to myself, “Lord, how much is this going to cost?”

It’s curious that my immediate reaction was suspicion. But as a fast-paced society, used to being abruptly treated and brushed off, day to day manners seem like a thing of grandma’s era. The simple act of politeness has become a forgotten virtue. It’s such a rare beast in fact, that sometimes we often don’t even recognize it when we see it. But underneath any gesture of politeness is a fundamental respect for other people that makes us a little bit more human. And makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside as well.

As we drove to my office, the driver asked all the right questions – “How are you?” “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”, along with other niceties. But since my journalistic nature has never allowed me to be particularly apt at small talk, I got a little more personal. You could say, I cut to the chase.

“Do you like working for Uber?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “You know, it’s caused me to fall in love with Los Angeles again.”

Of course I asked “why.”

Then he told me about how he picks up people from all walks of life and hears their stories. He never knows what kind of person he’s going to get and he finds them all fascinating. I then learned that this man used to be an agoraphobic – he was obese and became afraid to leave his house for years. He finally underwent weight-loss surgery, lost over 100 pounds, and got his life back. Uber was his portal back into the real world.

From that day on, I was hooked on Uber. That man’s personal story moved me and caused me to become a little more human in a city that thrives on isolation. Perhaps that human element is one of the reasons that drove Uber to critical success.

Uber doesn’t just bring about tangible benefits for customers, in terms of cost-saving, convenient ways to pay and a clean ride with a courteous driver when you need it. The company actually benefits their drivers as well, allowing people who are having difficulty finding work in the city, like my first driver, to earn an income and change their lives.

Driven by Purpose

If you read the news, you’ll find endless articles about how Uber changed the business landscape, its valuation, the net-worth of its founders and even its recent scandals – and those are all very compelling stories. Possibly more compelling though, is the way it’s impacted the millions of lives it has touched.

Simon Sinek famously advocates for the notion that, in order for entrepreneurs to be successful, they must always lead from their “why.” Meaning that, in order to create a business that has a significant impact, you must have a strong idea about WHY you’re getting out of bed every day to make it happen. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” he says. “And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

While money is certainly nice and having the esteem of building a unicorn company for sure has its ego points, neither of those elements are strong enough to create a disruptive company.

Sharing economy business owners, in particular, must have a strong why and a drive to change the status quo. Their businesses are incredibly complicated and come with a significant amount of risk (facilitating a transaction between an individual buyer and seller). Why go through all that for money? There are certainly easier ways.

The American public’s hearty embracement of Uber has significantly impacted entrepreneurship and changed the way we view the “day job.” More and more, the public has adopted the ideals of a healthy work-life balance and aren’t demoralizing themselves on a nine to five. At least one in five American adults (we’re talking more than 45 million people) have worked in the sharing economy, with at least two in five using sharing economy services at some point. These numbers are steadily on the rise.

The sharing economy and companies like Uber have given opportunities for people to choose their own hours, set their own limits and become their own bosses. They can work as much or as little as they want to and take time off to go to their kids’ soccer games or a doctor’s appointment, without repercussions. They are no longer tied to a system that makes them sick, in which some 65 percent of workers suffer from workplace stress.

Having a Positive Impact on Society

Another positive side effect is that we’re starting to value experiences, rather than possessions. The New York Times reported that millennials are no longer buying houses or cars. When you think about how many people go through mid-life crisis because they are hung up on the fact that they don’t own anything – you have to wonder how this new gypsy-feeling will impact our overall happiness and eliminate the need for material goods.

But in our Ubertopian society, millennials have no need of buying a car. Not when they can replace costly reparations, upkeep, insurance, gas and parking fees with a convenient and simple Uber. This new way of addressing our priorities has a positive impact not only on our happiness, but also on the environment. With less cars on the road, we can reduce pollution from vehicles and engines and make our communities healthier and safer to live in.

And for those millennials thinking about investing in wheels, many are now doing so to join the Uber community. In fact, according to the Washington Post, one in six millennial car buyers intend to work for the ride sharing service, extending its positive impact on society.

Almost 9 in 10 millennials believe that the success of a business should be measured in greater terms than just its financial performance. The generation that will make up the majority of the workforce by 2025, are more socially responsible and inclined towards causes rather than profit.

Most millennials will pay a premium for a product if it’s made through socially responsible means, and a study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that 90 percent of all MBAs wanted to work for organizations with strong social ethics and integrity. We’re seeing a change in our value systems overall and companies like Uber are leading the charge.

Forcing the Taxi Industry to Be Better

Uber, Netflix, Airbnb, Skype all have something in common. They’re among some of the world’s most disruptive companies. Which sounds like something negative. After all, no one likes a screaming toddler being disruptive at a wedding, or construction workers noisily drilling through a meeting. But in a society that’s come to expect more and subsequently, demand more, being disruptive isn’t only welcomed with open arms; it’s practically a prerequisite of success.

Disruptors work so well because they examine an industry or conventional way of doing things from the outside and offer solutions to make it better. They challenge the status quo. Just because we’ve gotten used to expensive communications, standard hotels and networks deciding what we view, doesn’t mean it has to continue.

Uber took the broken taxi system, with its high prices, poor service, lengthy wait times and monopolistic tendencies, and forced it to be better. The simple fact that people had come to expect to wait in line, stand under the rain for 40 minutes trying to hail a cab, and feel so grateful when they finally bagged one that they’d put up with a filthy interior and a driver as sulky as a teenager with a confiscated iPhone–did not mean things had to stay that way. Not according to Uber.

“Uber has changed my life and God is my witness,” stated Jim Edwards in his column for Business Insider. And he’s not alone. I certainly share his sentiment and I’m sure that many of the 72 percent of Americans that take part in the sharing economy on a regular basis do as well.

Uber has disrupted the market for taxi cabs and the transportation industry in general, for the better. They are challenging the need for car ownership, having a positive impact on the environment and making transportation cheaper, faster and more pleasant. They’re making it easier to get around not only major cities like L.A. (without getting stabbed), but parts of the country that never experienced this type of convenience in transportation before. And their reach is growing continually wider.

It’s a company driven by purpose with an undeniable social footprint that has allowed us to review the way we look at work, possessions, and even other human beings. It has given many unemployed people the chance to get back in the labor market, while bringing back virtues like politeness, fairness and professionalism. The sharing economy may not be about a ubiquitous community of people holding hands around the world singing kumbaya. But Uber has certainly had a fascinating social impact on the lives of millions.