Inclusion & Arbitrage

I’m going to tell you the story of one of the greatest feats of entrepreneurship I ever encountered.

A few years ago, when my youngest kids were very young and every extra dollar was a blessing, I drove for Uber pretty frequently on the weekends. (Side note: I actually love driving for Uber/Lyft – I like driving, I like meeting new people, and I like independent tasks, so it’s a big win all around for me.)

One time during one of these Saturdays, I received a strange ride request. The name wasn’t a standard first name, it was from a company name, like “Grandparents-To-Go” or something (it wasn’t that, but something very similar). Upon accepting the request, I got a friendly text from the ride stating that it was from a third party, who the name of my actual passenger was, and to call with any concerns.

Upon talking with my actual fare, a very sweet senior lady, I discovered that she had booked her ride through this service, “Grandparents-To-Go,” and I was so curious I called the number after I had dropped her off and talked about his business. It was one of the cleverest business models I’d ever seen, and I considered the founder a genius.

Here was his business model: Services like Uber and Lyft are 100% app-based. You need a smartphone and a relative level of tech savvy to use them, two things that often senior citizens don’t have. But seniors also often don’t drive themselves, especially at night. So here was a demo that could be hugely helped by rideshare services, but often had difficulty. So this guy decides to bridge the gap by forming his own company where you could call a friendly 800 number, talk to a real live human, and tell that human over the phone where you wanted to be and when.

And get this – the guy just used Uber to request a ride for them! That’s it! That was his whole business model – he had an Uber account for his business, he took payments over the phone with a 10% markup, and let Uber do 100% of the actual work.

It was honestly one of the best things I’d ever seen. This guy had an outstanding racket going, but at the same time he was actually providing a useful service. He found a way to help people who needed help and make a cool living without doing anything more than posting some ads and picking up his phone.

What are the lessons here?

  1. Finding something awesome that a specific population has difficulty accessing and finding a way to bridge that gap is a great business model.
  2. Even if something is really simple for most people, you can still be a hero by handling it for the people who can’t.
  3. Connecting the dots is worth money.

I want to reiterate – it’s not as though this guy’s customers weren’t aware of his business model. It was all over his advertising: “Let me handle Uber for you!” was essentially his slogan. So the people knew that he was just a “broker” and there wasn’t anything shady going on. They were thrilled about it – the woman I picked up was coming home from her great-grandson’s baptism and since she lived fairly far away, told me that without this service she simply would have missed it.

The more people there are trying to make a buck by doing things like getting grandparents into Ubers, getting women into STEM education programs, or getting minority populations into tech jobs, then the more grandparents we’ll have in Ubers, the more women we’ll have in STEM education programs, and the more minority populations we’ll have in tech jobs. I hope I always live in a world where people can make a living by doing good.

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