Uber and other startups starting to smell a lot like 1999 – again…

I was working in New York just prior to the first dot.con collapse. I still recall the chancers and opportunists standing on street corners with suitcases full of business cards. They were literally handing them out to any random passer-by, as the primary way to get traffic to their websites. An early form of geo-targeting by the first generation of digital marketers.

business card

The activity reeked of desperation, but hey, they were heady times. Rich veins of gold were just waiting to be tapped by the dot.con zealots.

I’ve been reminded of those times again recently. It seems the street hustlers who harass you to support a charity, are now competing for sidewalk space with the latest cyber-hustlers selling online retail and App-based services.

Hello Fresh promoters are everywhere. I mentioned them in my last post – they are major users of print distributed by mail, letterbox, inserts and face-to-face (or hand-to-hand as some now call it).


Interestingly, in a few short months Hello Fresh has moved from $30 off your first order to $50 off your first order. That’s not a good trend and indicates a very competitive market with too many suppliers. Watch this space for brand consolidation in the near future. Like 1999, the predictions are that some of these home delivered food brands won’t last.

hello fresh 2

Hello Fresh

And sometimes fate steps in. Just as I was finishing editing this post there was a knock at my door and a charming lady selling Hello Fresh appeared. She even agreed to a photo for my blog. I didn’t become a customer as we are well-stocked for food. But what an innovative channel – knocking on doors to sell things. Did anyone see that digital disruption coming? Well it certainly disrupted dinner.

Hello Fresh door knocker

Helpling also uses printed inserts, brochures in letterboxes and hand-to-hand via street walkers to grow its business. Like all online retailers, they use that amazing digi-breakthrough of giving away a discount with your first purchase. This is a disruptive technique used by marketers for, hmmm, since the beginning of time!

hello 2


And this week, outside a CBD train station in Sydney, an Uber street walker shoved this in my hand.

Uber 2

Uber 1

Now who in their right-digi-mind would have thought it possible?

The disruptive taxi booking service for the App generation, is resorting to handing out printed leaflets in the streets, with discount offers, to acquire new customers?

What’s really really really really old, is new again – again:)


And just to clarify other digital myths doing the rounds:

  • Uber is not the world’s biggest taxi service. It’s one of the world’s biggest taxi booking services.
  • Airbnb is not the world’s biggest hotel – it’s one of the biggest accommodation booking services.

But why let the truth get in the way of a good digi-story about the disruption industry? It seems to me, the old quote applies more and more these days – “the more things change, the more they stay the same…”

Though it is ironic that by using fashionable marketing jargon like “disruptive” and disruption” I sound sooo 2016, yet these alleged disruptive brands smell like, umm well, so 1999…


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