SAN FRANCISCO (TheStreet) -- Scanning the San Francisco streets for the quickest route, Steven spoke of how the fares he earns for driving for Uber will mostly go toward his teenage son's college fund.
Steven -- he and many other Uber drivers preferred to only give their first names to protect their jobs -- wakes in his Berkeley, Calif., home most days just as the sun is rising. He's at his computer at 6:30 a.m. for the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. A securities trader for his personal account, he trades by day and drives for Uber in the afternoons, after the exchange has closed. Around sundown, he heads home to his family.
Being an Uber driver, he said, has taken off some of the financial pressure that come with the fluctuating tides of being a day-trader. "It's made the trading go a lot easier because I know I'll have at least some income," he said.
Steven is one of a small army of contracted drivers for Uber, which started in 2009 in San Francisco. Since then, the company has grown into a behemoth, having recently raised money at a $40 billion valuation. Not stopping there, Uber is in talks for another funding round which would value the company at $50 billion.
By contrast, Lyft, a competitor to Uber, was valued in March at $2.5 billion after a new Carl Icahn-led funding round, according to a report from Bloomberg. As of September, smaller competitor Sidecar had raised $35 million, according to Re/Code.
Uber now has more than 160,000 drivers in the U.S., a massive increase from a year ago, when the company reported to have about 75,000 drivers, according to an Uber study covering its driver demographics and earnings released in January.
That success hasn't come without trouble, however. The company has had to contend with pushback from unions that represent taxi drivers, U.S. municipalities and international officials, all of whom argue that Uber is sidestepping the rules of the regulated taxi industry.
Uber's model is simple: A personal driver anywhere, anytime. The fares are generally cheaper than a taxi would charge.
Some drivers said working for Uber has been perfect for them. Flexible hours, the ability to drive for fares anywhere, and high rider demand have given some drivers "freedom," said Fassil, a 43-year-old Oakland photographer.
Fassil said his days are much more flexible than when he towed broken-down cars for a living. Now, he can take a fare down to South San Francisco, take an hour off to take pictures of the Pacific waves rolling onto the beach, and then hop back in his car to catch another fare.