The Upstarts Book: The Rise of Uber and Airbnb

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What is The Upstarts book about? How did Uber and Airbnb grow from seedlings to internet juggernauts? 

The Upstarts is a 2017 book by Brad Stone, a New York Times best-selling author and a senior executive editor for global technology at Bloomberg News. It chronicles the history of Uber and Airbnb, from their founding in 2008 to present day 2016.

Keep reading for more about The Upstarts book by Brad Stone.

The Upstarts: Book by Brad Stone

Brad Stone’s book The Upstarts chronicles the history of Uber and Airbnb, covering the period from 2008 to 2016. Learn how each company started as just a side project, gathered momentum, and grew exponentially throughout the world. Read the full timelines of Uber and Airbnb. Here we’ll discuss the high-level commonalities between the two companies.

Both Started as Side Projects

At Uber, Camp and Kalanick had both recently had their companies acquired. Camp was still busy at StumbleUpon, while Kalanick was enjoying his time away. From incorporation, over a year passed before they hired a CEO and invested real time.

At Airbnb, Chesky and Gebbia started it as a way to pay rent. It’s months before they really pick it as their main idea.

Both Were Rejected by Investors

Uber’s potential investors often questioned the size of the black car market, not predicting how it could actually grow to the taxi market and even bigger. Others knew Uber was going to run into hostile local transportation laws.

Airbnb investors were concerned about the size of the market, designer founders who didn’t fit the Silicon Valley engineer-founder mold, the legal liability of injured guests or destroyed homes, and concerns about whether anyone really wanted to sleep in strangers’ homes. 

  • Instead, with a more ambitious imagination, Airbnb can be defined as the larger “eBay, but for spaces,” or “the largest hotel chain in the world, without actually owning inventory” or “transforming a massive illiquid asset – space – into a peer-to-peer marketplace.”

Both Enjoyed Viral Growth

Uber had natural local virality – back then if you stepped out of a black car in front of your friends, they’d wonder what you were doing.

  • More drivers caused less wait time and cheaper fares, which caused more riders to join and more rides to be taken, which stimulated more drivers.

Airbnb had natural international virality built in. Travelers who used the service would consider listing their own places.

  • More users encouraged more inventory which encouraged lower prices which attracted more users.

Both Used Hacky Growth Tactics

Both companies leaned on aggressive marketing tactics to gain market share and deal with competitors.

Uber called competitor cars en masse, sent them invitations to join Uber, then canceled rides.

In 2009, Airbnb used Craigslist, one of its main implicit rivals: 1) email anyone who posts a rental property on Craigslist asking them to join Airbnb; 2) in the reverse, allow Airbnb users to cross-post their listing to Craigslist frictionlessly. Craigslist eventually sent a cease-and-desist in 2012.

The Upstarts Book: The Rise of Uber and Airbnb

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Brad Stone's "The Upstarts" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Upstarts summary:

  • How Airbnb and Uber started as side projects before becoming the giants they are now
  • How virality helped both Uber and Airbnb grow
  • Why circumventing local laws was essential to growth

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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