There is a decent one chances are you’ve heard of a small company called Uber. It was a Crunchies finalist in 2011 (for Best Location Application, alongside Runkeeper, Foursquare, Airbnb, and Grindr), and it’s been doing pretty well ever since.
As I write this, Uber has a market cap of $69 billion (Nice) and it’s a global superstar startup.
But it wasn’t always like that. Fifteen years ago, the company started raising a $200,000 round of funding with a different name (UberCab) and a different business model (limousines you get from your smartphone via text message). It launched in San Francisco in 2011, followed by a number of other cities soon after.
A lot has changed in the past 15 years. First, the original iPhone had just launched (without the ability to install apps!), and fundraising has gotten a lot more sophisticated.
The Uber deck has been floating around the internet for a while now; we shared it as a gallery in 2017, and nowadays it’s not really seen as a good example of how to make a pitch deck. Still, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see what Uber got right in its original pitch — and where it made some spectacularly silly mistakes.
We’re looking for more unique pitch decks to break down, so if you’d like to submit your own pitch decks here’s how to do it.
Slides into this deck
- Cover slide
- Problem slide (“Cabins in 2008”)
- Solution Slide (“Digital Hail Could Now Make Street Hail Obsolete”)
- Solution Slide (“UberCab Concept”)
- Product Slide 1 (“1-Click Car Service”)
- Value Proposition Slide 1 (“Key Differentiators”)
- Mission (“Operational Principles”)
- How it works slide 1 (“UberCab Apps”)
- How It Works Slide 2 (“UberCab.com”)
- Positioning slider (“Use Cases”)
- Value Proposition Slide 2 (“User Benefits”)
- Value Proposition Slide 3 (“Environmental Benefits”)
- Product Slide 2 (“UberCab Fleet”)
- Go-to-market slide 1 (“Initial Service Area”)
- Technology Overview Slide (“Technology”)
- Competitive advantage slide (“Demand Forecasting”)
- Market Size Slide (“General Market”)
- Market Segmentation Slide (“Composition of the Market”)
- Go-to-Market Slide 2 (“Target Cities”)
- Scenario Planning (“Potential Outcomes”)
- “Why now?” slide (“SmartPhones Aug 2008”)
- Roadmap Slide 1 (“Future Optimizations”)
- Marketing Slide (“Marketing Ideas”)
- Road map slide 2 (“Location-Based Service”)
- Traction slide (“Progress to date”)
Three things to love
There are some wonderful historical gems in this diadeck, some of which are simply delightful quirks of a bygone era. Others are justifiably insightful glimpses of where Uber would grow, visible even in this very early deck.
Uber knew location-based services were going to be huge
Today it’s hard to imagine a world without Uber, but even in this slide deck it’s clear that Uber probably didn’t know how big of an impact it would be, but it knew it was in the space of “location- based services.”
The hailing-a-ride-from-a-random-stranger model pioneered by Lyft came later, but Uber knew delivery would become a major source of growth. The company predicted this would be a $3.5 billion industry by 2010. Considering that Uber Eats raked in about $8 billion in 2021 and nearly $11 billion last year, it’s pretty safe to say that Uber’s projections turned out to be correct.
That was a particularly fascinating thought in 2008, because Uber had yet to launch and had no clear vision of how it was going to launch UberX.
Powered by smartphones
In hindsight, of course, this is fantastically obvious, but…
In 2008, smartphones started to become a thing. According to Uber’s deck, BlackBerry led the pack with a 32% market share, followed by Windows Mobile (30%), Palm OS (19%), iPhone (10%), Hiptop (6%) and Symbian (3%). It’s kind of wild to think that most of those operating systems don’t even exist these days. Apple’s iOS has a 60% market share in the US, while Android has the rest. And then there are some also-rans.
The interesting — and crucial — was that the smartphone (and the ubiquitous availability of data on cell phone plans) was ultimately the technology that unlocked Uber’s current business model: drivers can drive, passengers can hail, etc. The company doesn’t care much prediction of where the market is going, but it knew one thing: smartphones [sic] were an important part of the way forward.
As a startup, Uber shows that it’s basically building a business on two emerging technologies: location-based technologies and smartphones. That’s pretty genius, all things considered. And there’s one important thing to learn from this when building your own pitch deck: Tying your company to major macroeconomic or technology shifts is a great way to get a great tailwind.
What is the (best/worst) thing that could happen?
As a founder, you really shouldn’t have an “exit” slide on your pitch deck. It is unknowable and foolish. I include it here because of how wonderfully, painfully wrong it is.
The founders of Uber imagined in their wildest dreams that the best-case scenario would be $1 billion in annual revenue. To be fair, the $8.6 billion it brought in in 2022 is over $1 billion, so the company was indeed right. But it also hoped for a “realistic” scenario of $20 million to $30 million in profit per year. That’s an interesting one, because for so many years Uber has suffered a significant loss as it optimized for aggressive growth over profit. I love this slide so much.
The lesson here? Get rid of any predictions about your outputs or results. Measure the market and call it a day.
In the rest of this teardown, we take a look at three things Uber could have improved or done differently.