Interview of Uber India by SwapMyApp

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“We see ourselves as a technology company connecting riders with drivers through an app. We are not a taxi company”

If you have recently been active on social media, it has perhaps been hard to miss the buzz around Uber – who ran a campaign in India letting you order a chopper-ride from the convenience of your smartphone or who sends its drivers to Rio for the world-cup! Everybody around the world seems to be talking about Google-funded Uber, a company which has fundamentally shaken up cab-hire markets around the world through its unique technology platform which we have reviewed before (read the review here to get promo codes for two free rides from Uber worth Rs. 500 each). We then caught up with Saad Ahmed, Marketing and Partnerships Manager, Uber India to talk about Uber’s future plans and many other interesting topics. Read on for more.

How has the journey of Uber India been so far?

It has been great – we have seen really fast adoption and grown superfast. We are getting a lot of word-of-mouth referrals – our GIVE 300 GET 300 (This is a scheme where users can enjoy credit of 300 rupees if another user they have referred to uses Uber and the other user also enjoys 300 rupees credit) has been quite popular. People are getting used to the technology fast and we get e-mails all the time telling us they love Uber.

There are a few features which are really useful. For example, you can split fare with co-riders. Another very important feature is sharing your ETA with friends. With women this is extremely popular for safety reasons. Earlier, women used to take photographs of the number-plate for safety reasons. Now if you share your ETA, your friends can track your car real-time.

Currently Uber India serves Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad – what is the further rollout plan in India?

We do not discuss this due to privacy reasons

(However, SwapMyApp looked at job advertisements on Uber’s site and it seems Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Surat, Jaipur and Chandigarh could be next in line. Uber prefers not to comment on this.)

Smartphone penetration in Urban India is perhaps around 25-30% (Basis : Deloitte estimate of ~100 mn urban smartphone users in India and estimated ~400 mn. urban population in India). Assuming you are targeting only the top cities and perhaps the upper income quartiles – still smartphone penetration of your target clientele might be around 50-60%, much lower than that in the West, Middle East etc. – How far is this a challenge?

We have not found this to be a challenge due to the sheer scale of Indian cities. Compared to our biggest and oldest market San Francisco which has a population of around 1 million, Delhi has 10 million and Mumbai 12 million. The scale simply trumps it. Also smartphone penetration in our cities is growing really fast due to the lower-end smartphones which come feature-loaded. Actually, a greater challenge is credit-card penetration and we are looking at offering alternative payment channels to increase reach further.

Sometimes back we interviewed the people behind Hike, who created a smartphone chat messenger app which can communicate with non-smartphones as well, keeping in mind India. Can we expect something similar from Uber, perhaps a SMS based car ordering system?

We actually had this earlier globally but we are able to offer much better user experience and reliability through the app. Reliability is our key. Subsequently this was rolled back. Actually the app adoption in India is also quite great.

Are there any updates / improvements likely in the app in near future?

Oh absolutely. Our development team in San Francisco is always working on improving the experience. We are going to add a bunch of features on the drivers’ side so that they are able to process your requests better and reach the customer faster. On the rider’s side also, we will add a ton of features.

How do you beta-test the app improvements?

Our 1000+ team across 128 cities all use the beta-version of the app and uses Uber for all our rides. So the beta-features get rich feedback from the employees. Also we tap feedback from our customers and we have regional summits where we discuss customer feedback and development is taken up.

How do you take feedback from users in updating your app?

There are four ways actually. One, customers can reply to the ride receipts. Unlike in other cases, this email will be processed by an actual Uber employee and replied to. Often, as Head of Marketing, I reply to the emails. Two, there are tons of support features within the app itself. Three, customers can access our portal And four, they can tweet to us! Every city has an active tweeter handle to keep in touch with customers.

Do you provide any support through a contact centre? Or is the entire operation only through the app?

We see ourselves as a technology company connecting riders with drivers through an app. We are not a taxi company. We have created a technology to connect the riders with the drivers. As of now, the technology is robust enough to not need contact-centre support. This is true for all Uber markets.

Was it a challenge to train the Indian drivers on using the app?

Not too much actually. Yes, the drivers had mainly used feature-phones before and were using a smartphone for the first time. Having said that, the app is really simple to use and they got pretty well conversant after the first few times. Also, our Driver Operations Support person is available 24X7 to help them

In several countries, Uber has a ‘Surge Pricing’ model – increased fares for high demand situations – it can be argued to be an efficient price discrimination mechanism. Do we have this in India?

Yes, this is a great way to make sure cars are available when they are wanted. Imagine a New Year’s Eve, when everyone is out for dinner and everyone wants a car at the same time. At the same time, the drivers also want to perhaps spend time with their family. Thus with demand surging and supply in short, the market naturally raises prices. We reflect this to ensure people do get the rides they want. When the demand goes down again, the prices are lowered.

This has happened in India also in Bengaluru and Delhi. On New Year’s Eve there was surge – we wanted to incentivize the drivers to provide the rides. This normally happens only on big days and on normal days we are able to meet demand anyway.

That was indeed an interesting conversation. We sincerely thank Saad for sharing his thoughts with us. Please stay tuned with us as we bring up more inside stories from appmakers by subscribing to our newsletter.

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Abhirup is our guest blogger on education apps and thought partner. He harbors certain thoroughly misguided self-impressions like he has a refined aesthetic sense (our website’s visuals are NOT inspired by his ideas) or that he has a deep baritone. However, we choose to ignore these as he sometimes comes up with good ideas notwithstanding the fact that they are articulated in confusing managerial jargon; perhaps explained by the fact that he is an MBA from IIM Bangalore.

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