The Secret To Creating Your Own Sleeper Hit Like Uber

Cheap fares, convenience, and knowledgeable drivers have made Uber the hit it is today, but there’s one crucial aspect any startup can copy.

The Secret To Creating Your Own Sleeper Hit Like Uber
[Image: Flickr user Jason Kuffer]

Not owning a car isn’t a remarkable problem, but when thousands of people with open wallets start contemplating the same issue of how to get around, that’s when the market is primed for explosive growth.


Uber expertly positioned itself to capture the market of twenty- to fortysomethings craving a luxury taxi service by providing cheap fares, convenient service, and knowledgeable drivers, but that alone didn’t drive a 30% growth of its black car service in New York City over nine months.

The engine behind these developments was expert design.

How Uber Designed Its Service for Growth

Sleeper hits like Uber pop up when consumers aren’t even aware that there’s a cheaper or more effective solution until it’s presented. When that new challenger enters the market with an appropriate business model and starts to steal revenue from companies that previously had a monopoly, that’s when the industry starts to take notice.

Much like Tesla and its direct-to-market efforts, Uber is disrupting livery and taxi services within each new market it enters, proving that monopoly power can be broken by intentionally designing a superior product experience.

Uber’s user experience is so much better that taxi drivers have staged protests in London, Paris, Berlin, and Madrid. Unfortunately for cabbies, the taxi companies have responded in a way that has further shifted consumer support toward Uber.


Here are three examples of Uber’s dedication to design that you can repackage for your own industry:

1. Build Loyalty By Designing An Intentional Consumer Experience

Compared to its washed-out, old-fashioned competitors, Uber stands out with black car treatment and amenities such as water and candies during the ride.

These may seem like insignificant details, but it’s the small things that differentiate Uber from traditional cab companies. Uber uses all of these design elements to provide a sense of accessible luxury, which is just what its fashionable, successful customers want–especially when they’re looking for a fun night out with friends.

Even with UberX–the less luxurious arm of the brand–Uber provides a customer experience that is unique. For example, one driver in San Francisco drives a Hummer. People know about Uber Hummer, which gives it mystique that adds to the memorable experience.

To capture the imagination and loyalty of your target market, your company must strive to provide a better product or experience to your customers. If you hope to differentiate yourself by cost alone, you’ll just be another contender in a long line of companies that can be replaced and ignored.


2. Extend A Simplified Customer Experience Online

When Uber crafted its physical service experience, it knew that a simplified in-person and online experience would be a game changer in the transportation industry.

Instead of having a half-inaudible conversation with a phone operator to get a cab, users can simply track their ride on a map with their smartphone. The simple, intuitive app seamlessly bridges the online and offline experience.

Your company can reap the benefits of this approach by focusing on three key points for your company’s online experience: a simple installation and setup, intuitive and flexible settings, and a minimalist dashboard that focuses on what the customer needs and nothing else.

3. Drive Innovation By Using Constant Feedback As A Backdoor Business Model

Uber saw a gaping hole in the industry and took advantage of it: For those pursuing a car-less lifestyle, taxis are generally a low-end experience–particularly when someone wants to have a special or extravagant evening. It solved this problem with a clean, reputable, and luxurious experience, but it’s not stopping there.

Uber knows that no product or experience is ever perfect. That’s the core of its instant feedback system, which allows users to rate drivers. If a customer rates a ride as less than a five-star experience, the app automatically asks the customer what was wrong.


When you have a business in place that addresses a consumer issue, a really good business won’t stop there. It will use its unique access to its customers for good, rooting out problems and creating innovative new solutions.

To stay on top of your industry, you must stay on top of your market. Design a direct, frictionless line of communication between your customers and your company to position yourself for change and fast growth.

The end of innovation spells disaster for any company and ultimately stifles potential. If you don’t intentionally design every aspect of your company for growth–from the user experience to product differentiation to a seamless online extension of the experience–you’ll have a hard time designing that sleeper hit. Your job is to solve a problem consumers didn’t even know they had and continually strive to make it better.

James Monsees is the CEO and cofounder of Ploom. Founded by two Stanford Design Program master graduates, San Francisco-based Ploom is leading the reinvention of the smoking experience with its premium loose-leaf and pod-system vaporizers.