The American automotive industry has given us many examples of entrepreneurial excellence. Henry Ford’s assembly line introduced worker specialization that manufacturers would soon adopt worldwide. Uber’s crowdsourcing technology has revolutionized the automotive industry and begun disrupting established modes of transportation. Both companies are great examples of how entrepreneurship has evolved in the automotive industry.
The Beginnings of the Automotive Age: Henry Ford
Industrialist Henry Ford was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history. He was famous for making the automobile available to everyday people and for perfecting the assembly line. Born in 1863 on a farm in what is now Dearborn, Michigan, Ford had a reputation as a tinkerer from an early age. As a child, he was known to take mechanical watches apart before putting them back together again.
It was clear that Ford was destined to work with machines. As a teenager, his life trajectory was further cemented when he first saw a steam engine. He left his family farm when he was 16 to work on engines in Detroit. By the time he reached his 30s, Ford had started building his own engines.
Ford’s first foray into engine-powered vehicles was his Quadracycle, which he invented in 1896. His take on the horselesss carriage was comprised of two bikes joined together, powered by a motor, with an attached steering column that allowed drivers to control the vehicle.
The initial Quadracyle invention failed to take off. Unable to make a profit, Ford had to walk away from his fledgling business. Instead of giving up on his dream, however, Ford found a new way to market his ideas.
He would eventually construct a race car, known as the Ford 999, and although he had no professional racing experience, Ford was able to beat better-trained drivers while racing his new invention. He used these races to promote the Ford name, even breaking the land speed record while racing the Ford 999.
His racing fame brought in enough money to start the Ford Motor Company in 1903. The company’s first car, the Model A, was a big hit with the public. In 1908, Ford introduced the even more popular Model T. At the same time, Ford was revolutionizing how cars were built. The use of an assembly line allowed his cars to be constructed by workers at a rapid pace. This streamlined manufacturing process gave workers conscribed tasks that they were to perform over and over again. By 1927, the Ford Motor Co. accounted for about half of all the cars on the road.
The King of Disruption: Uber
In 2009, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp founded what may ultimately be known as one of the all-time greatest examples of a disruptive business. Uber started with what’s now known as UberBlack, those black BMWs and Audi A8s that gave riders a sense of prestige when being picked up. Uber’s central value proposition was allowing consumers to use its ride-hailing technology from their smartphones. This was a much-needed improvement over waiting on the street corner for a cab to pass you on the streets.
Uber first tests all of their various ideas in different cities. They give each of their concepts limited deployment to see if they gain any traction. This allows them to limit the cost of failing while also making it easy to scale successful experiments to other cities. Using their ride-hailing technology as a starting point, Uber continued to expand their reach with new and novel applications of their platform.
UberX is a great example of Uber’s continued testing in existing markets. This lower-cost service offering gives passengers reliable rides in non-luxury vehicles. UberX’s primary selling point is that it’s an affordable service for getting passengers from point A to B.
UberVAN is a popular service for air travelers with too much luggage for a conventional Uber vehicle. Businesses that need help with on-demand deliveries are also a target market of UberVAN.
UberCHOPPER gives people the option of riding in a helicopter if their location is better serviced by local air travel.
UberPOOL allows riders to split their fare while sharing an Uber ride. Customers appreciate a company that uses its technology to pinpoint similar travelers while passing on the cost savings to the consumer.
UberHEALTH is especially popular in cold cities during the winter months. UberHEALTH drives a nurse with a flu vaccine to a sick person’s location when hailed. The afflicted is given a shot at their residence, which is much more convenient than having to visit a clinic.
UberRUSH is Uber’s parcel delivery service. Described as an “Uber for things,” UberRUSH allows drivers to become couriers and drop off parcels. It underscores how Uber sees itself as a logistics company that delivers more than just people. Their existing base of drivers gives them a built-in advantage versus other on-demand delivery startups like Shyp and Shutl.
To the consumer, one benefit of using Uber is that it’s a cashless business. Since transactions are done through the app, ordering needed services becomes seamless. This is similar to how Amazon is handling its role out of its grocery stores. Customers don’t have to pay a cashier, as one would at a traditional grocery store; shoppers just pick out the items they need and walk out the door. The number of groceries that’s been taken out of the store is charged automatically to the customer’s Amazon account. Touches of convenience like this help win customers over.
The success of Ford’s cars was a testament to the quality produced by his innovative assembly lines. Ford became one of the richest American businessmen of all time, and his Ford Motor Co. continues to produce cars to this day. The continued success of Uber relies as much on its technology as on its ability to lobby governments in taking on the taxi cartel. Henry Ford never wanted to be a race car driver, any more than Uber’s founders necessarily intended to be involved in politics, but in the automotive industry, success sometimes demands taking alternate roads.