Uber to fo­cus on learn­ing be­fore launch­ing new ser­vices in In­dia

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Taxi ag­gre­ga­tion wars are about to get more in­tense. San Fran­cis­cobased ride hail­ing com­pany Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc. is look­ing to turn up the heat on ri­vals. And rather than just fo­cus on the num­ber of rides and the size of the fleet, Uber is fo­cus­ing on un­der-the-hood im­prove­ments to make the en­tire chain more ef­fi­cient and stream­lined.

The un­veil­ing of the en­gi­neer­ing cen­tre in Ben­galuru ear­lier this week is just one step in that di­rec­tion. "We are com­mit­ted to build­ing an en­gi­neer­ing team in this mar­ket. There are only a few places in the world where we can set up an en­gi­neer­ing team, and Ben­galuru is one of them," said Thuan Pham, chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer (CTO), Uber. While the com­pany doesn't di­vulge the de­tails of the fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment, "this has the po­ten­tial to be one of the three big­gest en­gi­neer­ing cen­tres we have, af­ter San Fran­cisco," said Pham.

The team here will look at mak­ing the ser­vices smoother, ad­dress­ing con­nec­tiv­ity is­sues and fo­cus­ing on rout­ing op­ti­miza­tion, map plan­ning and sup­port for mul­ti­ple pay­ment types, among other things.

At present, Uber is start­ing with a 10-mem­ber team at the en­gi­neer­ing cen­tre, but has plans to ex­pand that rapidly in the com­ing months. Pham said that this team will be lead­ing the global ef­fort with an In­dia-first fo­cus. "Peo­ple with re­ally high qual­ity (skills) and the growth that comes with it is far more sus­tain­able for us than jump­ing in with 100 peo­ple," he added. While the en­gi­neer­ing team in Ben­galuru will work on a dif­fer­ent set of projects, the Cen­tre for Ex­cel­lence in Hyderabad, which started op­er­a­tions in Fe­bru­ary, will fo­cus on cus­tomer sup­port for global op­er­a­tions, to en­sure a seam­less user ex­pe­ri­ence while book­ing a ride, dur­ing the jour­ney and af­ter the trip.

One of the big­gest chal­lenges Uber faces in In­dia is poor mo­bile net­work con­nec­tiv­ity. "It is some­thing that is pre­vent­ing our ex­pe­ri­ence from be­ing ideal," said Pham. He ad­mits that Uber didn't face th­ese chal­lenges and con­straints in other mar­kets far, and this is pos­ing a steep learn­ing curve for the en­gi­neer­ing teams. It is ac­tively work­ing on this, and will have some so­lu­tions in place very soon.

Lo­cal­iza­tion of ser­vices is crit­i­cal in a coun­try such as In­dia, and the learn­ings here can have global ap­pli­ca­tion. Uber started the op­tion of cash pay­ments at the time of com­plet­ing the ride for the first time in In­dia, based on user feed­back. It has now ex­panded this fea­ture to coun­tries such as Pak­istan, and it will also be on of­fer when Uber launches in cer­tain African coun­tries. The UberMOTO bike-taxi ser­vices are an­other re­cent ex­am­ple. Pham said the teams have a "navy seal type mis­sion, where a team leads the ef­fort and ev­ery­one else fol­lows in sup­port".

Uber faces a lot of crit­i­cism about surge pric­ing, par­tic­u­larly on so­cial me­dia. Pham said the sim­ple arith­metic for that is the track­ing of de­mand and sup­ply. "We can­not have a re­li­able mar­ket with­out surge pric­ing," he said while giv­ing the ex­am­ples of the avi­a­tion and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­tries that have fol­lowed the con­cept of surge pric­ing for decades. But do the lev­els of surge vary? The surge lim­its are capped in dif­fer­ent cities, for what Pham calls "so­cial rea­sons" so that ev­ery­one doesn't get priced out dur­ing th­ese pe­ri­ods. He gave the ex­am­ple of New Year's eve, when the surge pric­ing in San Fran­cisco went up to 8x, while in other cities, it re­mained around 5.5x.

Ri­val Ola an­nounced ear­lier this week it is shut­ting down its food and gro­cery de­liv­ery ser­vices, which were de­signed not very dif­fer­ently from Uber's own Eats value- add ser­vice cur­rently avail­able in cer­tain cities in the US, Canada and Europe, and has been in in­cu­ba­tion for over a year.

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