Chicago – Uber’s biggest Launch to date?


What a week!  After spending the last week in Chicago – culminating in a phenomenal launch event – I think this vibrant city could turn out to be our biggest launch yet.  You might be asking what makes Chicago so special.  Why is Uber Chicago going to grow faster than SF and even New York? Because Chicago has Uber in its blood. Let me explain.  Uber spends virtually zero dollars on marketing, spreading almost exclusively via word of mouth.  I’m talking old school word of mouth, you know at the water cooler in the office, at a restaurant when you’re paying the bill, at a party with friends – “Who’s Ubering home?”  95% of all our riders have heard about Uber from other Uber riders.  Our virality is almost unprecedented.  For every 7 rides we do, our users’ big mouths generate a new rider.  Imagine if twitter got a new user every 7 tweets? Wait, maybe they do… 😉

So what does any of this have to do with Chicago?

Well, the 1 new rider for every 7 rides holds during normal times.  But there are certain activities – let’s call them Uber “accelerants” that dramatically boost our growth, in some cases DOUBLING our virality – (e.g. 10,000 rides results in 2,800 new riders instead of 1,400).   It just so happens that Chicago’s core DNA revolves around those “accelerants”.

Restaurants and nightlife
One of the most intriguing characteristics of Chicago is its electric restaurant and nightlife scene.  Big experience, high-end dining and gastronomy is how this city rolls.  And when you’re done with dinner, the bar scene ranges from classy to raucous.  This city definitely knows how to have a good time.  Well, we’ve learned with all of our other cities that our launch growth starts with nightlife.  We even like to say that “the weekend nights are the sizzle for the weekday steak.”  The aha moment when a friend “hits the Uber button” when paying the bill or clearing out the tab is a hyper-viral moment that repeats itself thousands of times across the city every night.  Chicago does nightlife ALL WEEK LONG.  God bless ’em 🙂

There is no time, day or night, weekday or weekend that can bring the Uber viral thunder like a good ol’ fashioned weather event.  How do we define “weather event”?  Details here, but the simple explanation is essentially when you really don’t want to be outside.  Don’t make me walk to the El… you wouldn’t even think about standing outside trying to hail a cab.  Weather elements have a death-spiral effect on availability of traditional transportation systems.  Because I don’t want to be outside, there is a huge shift from public transit or walking to car-based systems – which then means hailing a car outside gets even more difficult, forcing people from hailing to dispatch-based systems (i.e. pushing the Uber button from inside the office).  Well, I’ll tell you what every Chicagoan already knows… Chicago has about 5 months straight of a “weather event”.  Talking to many Chicagoans about the pain of transportation, I’ve been enthralled and shocked by the stories of what can happen when wind, precipitation and cold all conspire against you.  One friend told me about a dog that got frozen to a fence!  With a heavy rain, virality can get to as intense as 1 new rider for every 3 rides completed.  I’ll be totally honest here.. I’m a little giddy about the intensity of our viral loop when Chicago sees -20 degree wind chill.

Chicago is a premiere sports city, with die-hard fans that show up early to pre-game and stay late to celebrate, though not always by choice… Getting out of Wrigleyville right after a Cubs game is pretty much impossible.  Getting to and from United Center or Soldier Field can be a test of fortitude.  But when the weather gets involved, then you have to tap into your inner Chicago hardiness.  In San Francisco, a far tamer sports town, we see dramatic swings in demand during SF Giants home games, and because of the availability crunch with other transportation systems, virality swings up with it.  (Sidenote: there’s an #uberdata math post coming that will show what we know about the outcomes of games before they start…).  Spending last weekend in Chicago, and last Sunday watching the Bears in a standing room only sports bar gave me a huge appreciation for a town that takes sports seriously, and how much Uber can do for Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs and Sox fans alike.

The Triple Threat
Whenever we go into a city, I do a mini modern-day anthropology study, and my dive into Chicago prior to launch did not disappoint.  The city is hardy, beautiful, modern, cultured, knows how to have a good time, and needs some serious Uber in its diet.  But stepping back as I was getting ready for the launch event at RIA last night, I realized how totally Uber that Chicago is!  Given the Triple Threat of nightlife, weather and sports, along with the need and virality that Chicago brings, I’m going to put my money on major adoption in this city *really* quick.  Go out there and give Uber Chicago a roll!

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