East Africa boss Loic Amado opens up on Uber's journey and lessons picked along the way
Within a span of five years, Uber has grown to become the biggest taxi hailing company in the world and currently operates in over 600 cities across the globe.
However, the journey to the top has not been smooth, Uber has encountered several bumps, potholes and breakdowns in its quest to make moving from point A to B not a cumbersome activity but a fun thing to actually look forward to.
Go slows, internals shakeups to violent threats name it, the company has seen it all and hopefully picked some lessons.
Business Insider SSA recently sat down with Uber’s general manager - East Africa, Loic Amado in a bid to understand how the ride has been so far for the the San -Franscisco based company.
Describe you daily schedule as Uber’s general manager - East Africa?
Well my day to day work schedule includes looking after our three markets in East Africa that is Dar es salaam, Kampala, Mombasa and Nairobi, so we have got teams in Tanzania, Uganda and also locally here in Kenya and my task is to manage the business and get us to the next level where we can launch new products across the region and even new regions we can expand to.
What do you love most about your work?
What I really love about working at Uber is the kind of impact that we are making in these communities and across the world, seven years ago it was unthinkable that you could just push button and get a ride and today we are available in almost 80 countries and more than 600 cities across the world, where you just have you land in to that city and push a button and you get a ride.
What I am personally super passionate about is the kind of impact Uber is making by creating economic opportunities and changing people lives, first of all riders and clients can get around in a safe reliable and affordable way. Some drivers-partners had never seen a smartphone before, had never had a banking account or let alone own their own car and that is changing since we are going into partnerships with third parties where driver-partners are given finance by banks, microfinance institutions etc. and can now be able to own their cars.
One of the markets which you operate in is Kenya which is the second biggest after South Africa, since you entered this market what are some of the milestones you have achieved that you are really proud of?
Kenya was actually the first market globally at Uber that launched cash as a pilot. More than two years ago we only had one payment option which was paying with credit and debit cards, and then we saw there was a very much in need for an add in payments options like cash and so we tested it out here in Kenya and it proofed to be such a success that we decided to roll it out across the globe, so that is one of the milestones that we are super proud of.
Secondly, it is the fastest growing market in sub Saharan Africa, yeah we are now the second biggest after South Africa but South Africa has been around for much longer around four years so that is our second milestone, we are the fastest growing.
And then thirdly, the kind of impact we are making again in terms of economic opportunities and the stories we are able to tell from the market is inspiring. For example here in Kenya more than 5000 economic opportunities have been created and that is within just a spectrum of two and half years only.
Drivers-partners now get free financial literacy training by Oldmutual for example they can also get 100 per cent finance without down payment by Stanbik bank because they have made their credit history on Uber so that is also something that is super revolutionary, Banks rethinking the way they structure their lending and driver now have a 4.6 out of 5 star ratings which access you to 100% financing, where else can you hear about these stories?
Would you say then there are unique elements in the Kenyan market which are favorable to Uber and which are not necessarily found in other markets?
One of the main challenges that we have seen here which was also an opportunity, is the traffic congestion, Kenyans spend 40 days a year in traffic, the second most congested city in the world is Nairobi, so that posed a big challenge but is also an opportunity for us. We have a product called Uber pool that we have rolled out globally in all the major cities in the world like Los Angeles , San Francisco London etc and this is something that would work extremely well here as well.
Uber pool is a product where you match two or three people that are going in the same directions which mean that you can now split the fare by three or even four and you are reducing congestion by putting more people into fewer cars.
The road has however not been smooth for Uber in Kenya and African market at large where Uber drivers have gone on strike on several occasions; one of their main grievances has been the commission which they term as high, what have you done to address this?
I think what is the most important thing for us is Uber succeeds when drivers-partners succeeds and we do have open dialogues with drivers around their economics. We also have a brand new service center downstairs called our green line hub to address all the concerns drivers have at any time so I think is a first, having that positive and open dialogue at any time possible.
And secondly if you look at how we price a specific city or a specific market we have a pricing model that has been tried and tested in over 600 cities and based on that model and the different assumptions that we make the fuel price and maintainance costs we came to an optimum price that makes sense. But if there is a fuel price or inflation then we have a look again at that same pricing model and we adjust accordingly.
Since June this year we have run a 20 per cent off promotion for riders and at the same time we have put our guarantees in place to make sure drivers lives are not the same as before and that has been running for the last four months now, so we strive to make sure that our drivers-partners lives are made whole and we always look at their economics to ensure they are unchanged.
So have you picked any lessons from the labour strikes that you can confidently say today that Uber is a better and stronger company than before?
Yes! Definitely, I think that feedback would be super important from drivers going forward, we have also done multiple products adjustments and added extra features like drivers destinations where a driver maybe at the end of the day put in his home destination which can then be matched with a rider going in the same direction so that to ensure that the driver makes more money and also doesn’t go say to the airport or somewhere else when actually he was to end his day.
So there is a lot of different features that we are constantly rolling out and have already been rolled out and that is super important.
We keep that feedback line open because we learn a lot from drivers-partners as well right, they are constantly on the streets engaging and interacting with riders and that enables us to always improve our product at any time.
Critiques and Trade unions have accused Uber of not remitting taxes to the government in several markets where they operate what is your response?
First of all it is very important to note that Uber has complied with all tax laws in every single country across the globe in every market we operate in.
What I would say is most important piece here is, drivers-partners are independent operators and are responsible for their own tax filling and what we do is help them as much as possible with all the information to know what they have to do to report those taxes.
Uber is a net contributor to the market as I said before here in Kenya more than 5000 economic opportunities have been created and all those people are on a platform, it is very transparent where every single transactions is tracked, so i think that can’t be underestimated in terms of impact Uber has had onto new markets and all our markets across the world.
Do you foresee any changes in your business model?
No no we feel very comfortable with this business model; it is the same business model all across the world.
What is the future of Uber?
The future of Uber lies in logistics not just transportation, we have got a product called Uber rush which is delivery and also Uber eats which is food delivery and that is doing super well across the world and now in 100 cities in just under two years.
Then we are also working on shared autonomous vehicles which is definitely the future because if you add scale have a network of shared autonomous vehicles it reduces the amount of vehicles needed by more than 90 %
We have had a very interesting 2017 of course but we are stronger than ever today and we are growing at an extremely fast rate. We are very excited about the future we now have a new CEO as well who has a tremendous vision and experience and it gonna be a very interesting ride for him as well but overall we are strong and extremely optimistic about the future.
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