Uber to focus on learning before launching new services in India
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.