TRUE GRIT

What Uber’s early investor says it takes for success in on-demand


This post is part of a series from the On-Demand Conference, organized by Pascal Levy-Garboua, Semil Shah, and Tradecraft. For a full list of posts, click here.

Shervin Pishevar grew up in a taxi. As the son of a taxi driver, Shervin’s childhood was shaped by the yellow cab that was his family’s car. It was this experience that drew him to recognize Uber’s potential early on. Perhaps it was also this experience that gave him an edge as a rookie VC to become one of Uber’s earliest investors and champions.

At the recent OnDemand Conference, Shervin had a lot to say — not just on Uber and how he came up with the 290 million dollar evaluation but on what it takes to found and thrive in the on-demand economy.

Shervin Pishevar (right) chats with Semil Shah (left)

Life Hacks

“Most of the greatest products are born out of frustration, not joy. They should create joy once the product is created.” -Tweet This

As a 25 year-old single dad, Shervin was forced to hack life to find more time. “I tried to find efficiencies and that became my own operating system of life because I personally needed these things.” The life hacks of today — Munchery for dinner, Instacart for groceries and so on — struck a familiar vein with Shervin. They’re composed of things that people need several times a day: food and transportation. This certainly has contributed to their success as becoming needful things in people’s lives. For Shervin, he recognized them as the things he to hack as a young dad. This familiarity has served him well, as he’s become a cheerleader of the on-demand space and its founders.

The Common Thread

“The commonality between on-demand founders? They have true grit.” -Tweet This

Shervin started investing in 2008 with TaskRabbit. “They [investors] didn’t get it but I made them take a step back.” he shared. Shervin credits TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque with seeing the potential in the on-demand economy long before it became Silicon Valley’s popular kid.

He argues that on-demand founders like Travis Kalanick (Uber), Leah Busque (TaskRabbit), Bastian Lehmann (PostMates) and Tri Tran (Munchery) have a similar trait that gives them an innate empathy with people and a sense of survival. “They all have the ability to be a street fighter.”

The Future Of On-Demand

“On-demand is one of the most human places to be as an investor.” -Tweet This

Everything seems to be on-demand now. But Shervin does caution that as the market matures, founders looking for the next Uber for X, should avoiding copy-pasting consumer on-demand. “It’s probably not a good idea to have an on-demand shoe shine business.” Instead, he advises to focus on an area where on-demand has yet to really sink in, like healthcare. “There’s no other place that has more pain and frustration than the healthcare space.” Shervin betting his VC firm, SherpaVentures, on the belief that healthcare will be on-demand’s next big revolution.

A Message To On-Demand Dreamers

“Are you doing something that’s self-sustaining or are you just chasing a fad?” -Tweet This

For those looking to found the next hot startup, Shervin shared a few words of caution.

  • Be wary if it looks too easy. Success isn’t going to be easy and painless.
  • The biggest check is not always the right way to go.
  • Struggle can teach you way more.
  • Do something that is unique to you and not because someone else’s journey is mirroring it.

It’s this last nugget that is perhaps the most important. Individuality can be scary, especially when the road ahead has not been paved. Especially when you’re the paver.

But that’s where true grit comes in.


This post was written by Paige Bennett. Paige is a former journalist turned UX Designer & User Researcher. You can find the full list of posts about the On-Demand Conference here.

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