At the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester at Penn State, I came across an article that said that Uber was considering expanding to State College, PA. I instantly knew that it would be an excellent opportunity to rack up some serious Uber credit. Somewhat inspired by Blake Jareds, who collected $50,000 worth of Uber credit, my dreams came true when Onward State announced in November that Uber was granted an experimental license to expand to State College.
I started brainstorming possible ways to earn Uber credit. I started by changing my Uber referral code to “UBERHappyValley” to attract my fellow Penn Staters. I knew a simple Facebook text post wouldn’t be enough to grab peoples’ attention. I needed a flashy Uber-esque picture that would look like it actually came from Uber. I started by taking some design cues from Uber ads and photos I found online. I also used a creative commons photo of downtown State College to add to that Penn State connection. Below is what I designed:
Every time a new user signed up and took their first ride, Uber would cover their fare up to $30. In addition, I would also receive $30 worth of Uber credit. The week before Uber was turned on, I started sharing my Uber photo on my Facebook wall and Twitter account. I also posted it on our Penn State class Facebook Pages, some of which have over 8000 people in them.
The last part of my plan came into place when I received $50 in the mail for my birthday. I decided to use it for my Uber project and see how much I could make from it. I took my Uber photo and put 6 to a page and got 73 sheets printed up on thick card stock for exactly $49.52. Penn State Copy Central was kind enough to cut all of them out for me so I had a stack of 438 Uber cards.
The Friday of Uber’s launch, I stood at the top the stairs in our HUB/student union building as students were heading back home and handed out all 438 of the cards. I explained the concept of Uber to some people that didn’t quite understand it and even answered peoples’ questions about the service.
Every time someone signed up for Uber and took their first ride using my code, I would get an email notification alerting me that someone used it. With this and some Excel/Google Sheets magic, I was able to carefully track day after day how many people signed up using the code, total return on investment, and total value of the rides. Here’s a screenshot of my Excel dashboard, but if you want a live version, I’ve put together the same dashboard using Google Sheets.
(Note that on February 18th, Uber reduced their referral value from $30 to $20. My spreadsheet formulas had to be adjusted accordingly.)
To date, Uber has 72 new customers because of me and I’ve collected a bit over $1,700 dollars worth of Uber credit. Over the month that I’ve been tracking my referrals, most rides were taken on the weekends. There was also a considerable amount of rides taken the day before spring break.
While this wasn’t a perfect marketing experiment, it was still interesting to track the amount of free rides earned over time. Ideally, it would’ve been better if Uber allowed for multiple referral codes so I could track the success of the Facebook posts, Twitter posts, and the Uber cards individually. For now, it’s nice to watch the Uber credit roll in, but I doubt I’ll be able to match the success of Blake Jareds. I’ll be sure to update this post again in about a month.
Update April 2, 2015: An operations coordinator at Uber has since reached out to me to build Uber’s State College presence and launch a Brand Ambassador team! Of course I took the job.
Update April 28, 2015: It’s been a while since any uber credit has flowed in. This leads me to believe that despite posting the referral code picture on many Facebook groups, even during peak weekends, all of my credit earned was from handing out the printed copies. Flyers/handouts really do work!