All too often, people look at a startup and assume that the key to its success was coming up with the right idea to disrupt a market. Not true.

The truly groundbreaking startups all have something else in common: a willingness to keep rethinking what's made them successful.

Take Uber. Ride-hailing is a brilliant idea, sure. But the company has moved beyond its initial value prop, customized its product for different markets, and executed some truly original branding strategies to give it the kind of staying power most of us can only dream about.

Counterintuitive Decision 1: Surge Pricing

It's easy to rest your hat on ridesharing and say that this was the disruptive technology that made Uber so successful. But in reality the company's dynamic pricing may be just as important. In fact, Uber considers its surge pricing so important, it's been angling for a patent since 2013.

Surge pricing has drawn blowback. Major blowback. There have been truly painful PR moments (like this one and this one). Uber has held the line when appropriate and learned to eat a slice a humble pie and backtrack when appropriate. Most recently, the company capped its surge prices during the NYC blizzard.

While surge pricing is controversial, it's also essential to Uber's business model. During terrible weather, for example, it's harder and more dangerous to drive. A ride should be more expensive at those times.

And in other contexts, it's often lauded: dynamic pricing in energy markets rewards those who use less electricity during peak hours, making energy markets greener and more efficient. And now Disney is exploring a dynamic pricing system for Disneyland and Disney World. While dynamic pricing may be controversial now, it's likely coming for all kinds of markets in the future.

The takeaway: Uber's willingness to rethink pricing is a huge reason for its success.

Counterintuitive Decision 2: Puppies

Uber's marketing team scored big when it decided to run its "puppy bowl" promotion. Drivers delivered puppies to Uber users, allowing them to cuddle for 15 minutes.

Adorable, right? But it was also for a good cause: the dogs were up for adoption. Uber teamed up with local animal rescues and nonprofits to help the puppies find new homes.

But the real brilliance here lies in Uber's understanding of itself and its customers. The promotion ran during the workday, when most people are eager for distraction. Demand was huge. And it reinforced the coolness of Uber's original offering: get something instantaneously that you never thought would be available that way.

Plus, who cares about the ethics of surge pricing when Uber is helping shelter dogs find owners?

The takeaway: Uber came up with a unique marketing campaign that captured traditional and social media imagination.

Counterintuitive Decision 3: UberMOTO

You may not have even of heard of this one, so hold on tight.

Uber has found a way to adapt its app to work at even the most overcrowded, gridlocked cities in the world. In Bangkok, Uber rolled out UberMOTO, which lets you hail a ride on the back of a motorcycle.

What makes this decision so brilliant? Bangkok's got a population on par with New York and traffic that would make Los Angeles blush. Motorbikes are common there, in part because drivers can weave around the gridlock and travel faster.

The takeaway: If Uber tried to apply its winning formula abroad, it would have hit some major speed bumps. The company was willing to adjust its approach and try something different. That's how you become relevant in new markets.

 

What's set Uber apart from its competition isn't its initial ridesharing idea. It's the company's refusal to rest on its laurels. For similar sustainable success, be ready to rethink your strategies and adapt to what's coming down the road.

Published on: Mar 22, 2016