It’s 9:30PM on a beautiful October Sunday in Austin and I am sitting in my car with Uber’s partner app lighting up my iPhone.
The last six months have been crazy. In May, I graduated from The University of Texas with a pair of master’s degrees, and two days later I joined the Seed Sumo startup accelerator. Last month my company, reQwip, raised a small seed round and launched at demo day. This past week, we pushed our iPhone and Android apps into their respective stores.
Tonight, I’m driving for Uber.
Some people, including many of my MBA peers, probably think that moonlighting as an Uber driver is a step down for me. A few have implied as much while riding in my car as passengers. But I firmly disagree. I’m stepping up.
Like many in my MBA class, I had the choice to accept one of a handful of six-figure opportunities offered by top tech and consulting companies. But I chose to pursue my dream of building a company, which brings me to why I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of an Uber car.
As of September, my wife is a grad student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We no longer enjoy the financial cushion of her consultant’s salary. We are paying rent on her apartment in addition to the mortgage on our condo in Austin. And her tuition bills don’t come cheap, either.
It’s hard not to notice that my monthly salary is less than what those aforementioned job opportunities paid in one week — not to mention the lack of health benefits and the myriad expenses that we startup founders incur (from coffee shop tabs to gas costs to cross-country flights for meetings with investors).
With my wife living 2,000 miles away, I was coming home to an empty house, and frankly, I was a bit bored. I needed something to get me out of the house but that wouldn’t negatively impact my bank account.
“Why not drive for Uber?” suggested a friend.
So I signed up, and in the first weekend of sharing my car with strangers — roughly three to five hours a night over three nights — I earned $800 net. Which is, for someone scrapping through the startup life, seriously awesome.
This dramatically reduced the pinch I expected to feel when my wife’s income went from very comfortable as a consultant to very negative as a grad student.
In my startup, every dollar not spent on salaries is a dollar invested in marketing and advertising. And that means we are maximizing the likelihood that the great work of our incredible product team will be recognized and greeted warmly by a large user base in Austin and (fingers crossed) in the cities where we plan to expand.
I pick when I drive based on personal whims. Sometimes I am driving from north Austin to downtown and I just provide a quick ride to an Uber passenger on my way. Sometimes I am just tired of working on my laptop for 10+ hours and need to get out of my house (which doubles as my office for half the week).
Mostly, I just drive starting around 9PM and go until around 2AM a few days each week. Whatever the reason, I’m beholden to no shift schedule. There is no conflict between the demanding schedule of my startup career and my moonlighting as an Uber driver. It is truly a symbiotic relationship.
An unexpected side benefit is that I meet an amazingly diverse range of people. I’ve had riders email me afterward and ask for my pitch deck; turns out they are angel investors. I’ve been offered jobs (no thanks). I’ve even had total strangers blurt out: “Wait, are you on the reQwip team? I just downloaded your app!” It goes without saying that those chance meetings with new users are truly the most uplifting rides.
This may not be the posh post-MBA lifestyle that many seek. Sure, I do get to spend a lot of time at the W Hotel, but it’s mostly just in the valet area shouting out my car’s window: “Hey, are you Jessica? Did you call for an Uber?”
But honestly, I’m loving it. I’m a nerd. More specifically, I’m a startup nerd. I love the hustle. I love chasing the dream. And I love interacting with an eclectic range of interesting people.
Simply put, I love the fact that I’m a startup CEO and I drive for Uber.
Dan Driscoll is the co-founder and CEO of reQwip.com, an online marketplace for local buying and selling of cycling, triathlon, and outdoor adventure sports gear. Based in Austin, Texas, reQwip launched out of The University of Texas’ Longhorn Startup program and Seed Sumo startup accelerator.