The Uber of Poland
A few years ago I visited a friend in Gdańsk, Poland. As we explored the city, one thing I noticed was that cabs were relatively expensive and there was no Uber. Instead, most (young) people used a community-organized service called Night Riders.
I couldn't find anything about that service on the web, so I decided to write about it to preserve its history.
What fascinated me about Night Riders was the way the service operated — completely via WhatsApp: you post a message in a group chat and one of the free riders would reply with a 👍 emoji. With that, your ride was scheduled. You'd pay through PayPal or cash.
In these days of venture-backed startups that need millions in capital before they turn a profit, this approach is decidedly antagonistic. Basically, Night Riders built on top of existing infrastructure instead of maintaining their own ride-hailing platform, sign-up process, or even website.
The service would grow solely by word of mouth. Using existing infrastructure meant that it was extremely cheap to run and there were almost zero upfront costs without a single line of code to write.
It simply solved the customer's problem in the most straightforward way possible. Of course, there are legal issues regarding data protection, labor law or payment processing, but the important bit is that they had paying customers from day one. The rest is easier to solve than a lack of product market fit.
In Defense of Clones
Uber and Lyft can't be everywhere from the start. While they expand their businesses, others have the ability to outpace them. There's an Uber clone in China (DiDi), one in Africa and the Middle East (Careem) and basically one for every country in the world. The tech industry rarely talks about these Ubers of X, but they serve millions of customers. While they start as exact copies of their well-known counterparts, some of them end up offering better service thanks to their understanding of the local market.
People always find a way
With creativity, you can provide great service even without a big budget. The important part is to know which corners you can cut while staying true to your mission. If there's a market, there's a way. The Cubans have a word for it: resolver, which means "we'll figure it out".
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