Ioanna is a writer at TNW. She covers the full spectrum of the European tech ecosystem, with a particular interest in startups, sustainabili Ioanna is a writer at TNW. She covers the full spectrum of the European tech ecosystem, with a particular interest in startups, sustainability, green tech, AI, and EU policy. With a background in the humanities, she has a soft spot for social impact-enabling technologies.
One day, you may be able to pay for your Uber with Bitcoin. Or, at least, that’s what Dara Khosrowshahi, the company’s CEO, told Bloomberg.
This sounds good, but if you ask me? It’s nothing but a marketing stunt.
Before you call me biased, let’s take a closer look at what Khosrowshahi said:
Is Uber going to accept crypto in the future? Absolutely, at some point. This isn’t the right point, but we will.
I love the wording here. The certainty of “absolutely” paired with an indefinite future time is the perfect way to make a promise without really making one.
It also reminds me of my own recurring statement to my friends: I’ll definitely enroll at a gym at some point.
No, I haven’t done so yet — and it’s been two years since I said it. And, between you and me, it’s probably not happening any time soon.
Coming back to Uber, why isn’t now “the right point” to start accepting crypto?
Khosrowshahi cited cost and environmental impact as the two main reasons:
As the exchange mechanism becomes less expensive and becomes more environmentally friendly, I think you will see us leaning into crypto a little bit more.
Indeed, these are solid reasons.
According to Bitinfocharts, the average Bitcoin transaction fee was $1.9 in January (which isn’t bad), but it’s been fluctuating significantly during the last year, from $0.8 to $62.7.
And yes, Bitcoin mining has raised concerns over its tremendous energy consumption, greenhouse emissions, water use, and e-waste issues.
Let’s not forget the cryptocurrency’s volatility either. On Friday afternoon, a single Bitcoin was worth $42,628. In November 2021, it hit an all-time high of $69,000. This fluctuation doesn’t make it an ideal payment tool.
Here’s the kicker: Khosrowshahi’s reasons not to accept Bitcoin are unpredictable. This means it’s impossible to say when — and if — the cost and environmental impact will change to meet Uber’s (totally unspecified) standards.
All this leads me to believe that the company’s courting of Bitcoin is more a marketing strategy than a real commitment.
Copy from the best
We have another player within the automotive space using a similar approach: you guessed it, Tesla.
Tesla’s on and off relationship with Bitcoin has attracted a shedload of media attention — and has even affected the crypto’s value as well.
It dived when the EV maker paused Bitcoin payments back in May, and rallied when Musk announced they’re going to re-accept it one month later.
Elon explained users can pay with the cryptocurrency only when around 50% of Bitcoin’s energy use is supplied by renewable sources. Well, at least he gave some specifics — unlike Uber.
In the meantime, Musk thought of another way to use crypto to attract media coverage: Dogecoin. It’s now accepted for some merch in Tesla’s online store.
Resourceful as ever, Elon even nudged McDonald’s to accept the joke coin:
I will eat a happy meal on tv if @McDonalds accepts Dogecoin
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2022
I doubt we’ll see Uber’s CEO embarking on similar stunts — after all, not everyone has Musk’s desperate need for attention. Despite this, it appears the company is adopting some of Tesla’s crypto marketing tactics to gain some column inches and shift its public narrative.
And it has many reasons to do so.
Uber has been hit by the pandemic and travel restrictions, it’s been fighting legal battles with EU countries and taxi associations, it’s suffering from driver shortages, and its stock has been dropping. For reference, Uber’s market value is now down 21.3% over the last year.
Under this light, bringing out the big marketing guns and splashing words like “blockchain” and “Bitcoin” around seems like a good way to grab some much needed press.
Yes, I know. I’m actually helping Uber by writing these words. But what can you do? I simply couldn’t resist.
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.