Startup journals are often a distortion of reality. There are a few exceptions though. ‘The Upstarts’ by Brad Stone stands out to be one such special case. The New York Times best-selling journalist draws an intimate portrait of two of the most brilliant technology start-ups that manifested during the ‘shared economy’ revolution.

The paperback contains a solid story about the history of Uber and Airbnb. Stone has intertwined both the stories perfectly, flashing back and forth between the two in a subtle manner. From tedious journalism to a light-weighted drama, the book takes care of both, keeping the audience buoyant with inspiring success stories while still making it relatable with anecdotes of failure.

Both the companies had so much in common. The book starts with a dilemma people have about trusting any new idea. It talks about how Uber and Airbnb both rebelled against an immutable set of norms. It discusses in detail, the infamous clash between Uber and the San Francisco Black Cab union in 2009. It also delved into the aversion people had in their minds about renting out their personal residential spaces to complete strangers before Airbnb turned it mainstream. It further goes on to scrutinize their out-of-the-box marketing strategies which brought them into limelight.

The central theme of the book revolves around a business concept known as ‘shared economy’. Shared Economy is the new socioeconomic model in which collaboration gets things done at more competitive prices. Uber validated the hypothesis of trust in completely random people in very close proximity, across the world. Airbnb is directly disrupting the global space too by changing the way we have use lodging services. It gets idle capacity of accommodation and uses it with people who have a demand for it. Surprisingly, Airbnb gets around 1.8 million booking requests every night, has more listings on its website than the number of rooms operated by Marriott International (the largest hotel chain in the world), and has a net worth of around $30 billion, without owning a single room. That is the beauty of ‘shared economy’. That is how scalability works.

All in all, the book offers a more balanced picture of an otherwise over-sensationalized image of Uber. It does the same for Airbnb by highlighting an under-rated venture. In fact, Stone, very intelligently refrained from both demonizing the upstarts in the beginning and then treating them like celestial beings by the end.

Fast paced, engaging and informative; this is what describes the book best! A perfect recommend, for sure.


Moinak Das