The Upstarts | Brad Stone

The Upstarts

The Upstarts by Brad Stone is an excellent account of the rise of two of the most prominent starts in the current age, AirBnB and Uber.

Stone manages to entwine the two startup stories, noting the friendship that has culminated between Travis Kalinick and Brian Chesky as a token to the similar nature of the two businesses. Both have strived under the formation of what is nowreferred to as the sharing economy. AirBnB has become the largest hospitality provider globally by rooms whereas Uber is easily the largest taxicab service in the same domain.

The AirBnB story provides a detailed look into the inner-workings of the AirBnB story, useful for any entrepreneur. Perhaps most resounding is their ability to never give up, at one point funding the business (and by funding, I mean allowing the Co-Founders to pay off their credit card debt) through the production of election-themed cereals (Obama O’s and Captain McCain’s). Such improvisation caught the eye of Paul Graham, when they pitched for Y Combinator, essentially earning themselves a place in the programme which fuelled the next chapter of their growth.

The Uber story usefully examines how they expanded into new cities and the battles they had not just with local transportation departments, but with rivals as well (Lyft being the most prominent, but also the DiDi story in China). It also helps you grasp how Uber’s expansion worked, through setting up small teams in new cities, most notably in their initial expansion toNew York.

What are the lessons you take away from the book? Perhaps most resounding is the way in which they both started out as niche providers of a service before tackling the wider problems. For AirBnB, their initial domain was providing airbed accommodation to conference go-ers before becoming the Goliath it is today across accommodation types. For Uber, its initial focus was black cabs, before expanding into the UberX market, capitulating them into a world where they were able to price users who would ordinarily  never pay for a cab, back into the market.

They both also started relatively manually. AirBnB had a basic website aimed at convention go-ers. Uber had a very basic app which barely worked at first. They didn’t go head-over-heels into tech development to provide a top-notch product, they built their services and product incrementally. They learnt through the process and that has helped them get to where they are today.

Aside from lesson-learning it provides you with the full story of both companies. This is  particularly relevant in a world they are continually in the news cycle for both their continued expansion but also the legality issues they continue to face. The Upstarts gives you a lens to see these unfinished stories through.