The Servant Economy
Ten years after Uber inaugurated a new era for Silicon Valley, we checked back in on 105 on-demand businesses.
In March 2009, Uber was born. Over the next few years, the company became not just a disruptive, controversial transportation company, but a model for dozens of venture-funded companies. Its name became a shorthand for this new kind of business: Uber for laundry; Uber for groceries; Uber for dog walking; Uber for (checks notes) cookies. Larger transformations swirled around—the gig economy, the on-demand economy—but the trend was most easily summed up by the way so many starry-eyed founders pitched their company: Uber for X.
This micro-generation of Silicon Valley start-ups did two basic things: It put together a labor pool to deliver food or clean toilets or assemble IKEA bookshelves, and it found people who needed those things done. Academics called this a “two-sided market,” but to a user, it meant tapping on a phone and watching the world rearrange itself to satisfy your desires. Convenience drove consumer demand. Economic need and work flexibility drove the labor supply. At least in theory.
Now, a decade since Uber blazed the trail, and half that since the craze faded, we built a spreadsheet of 105 Uber-for-X companies founded in the United States, representing $7.4 billion in venture-capital investment. We culled fromlists, dug in Crunchbase, and pulled from old news coverage. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it is a large sample of the hopes and dreams of the entrepreneurs of the time.