Saturday, January 31, 2015

My Private Driver - Uber

Anyone who knows me or has interacted with me would know that I am not someone who is pleased easily. Consequently, it takes a lot for something to take my breath away. Over the last few years, one product that has taken my breath away is Uber- everybody's private driver. It definitely has been my private driver.

I love Uber as it has solved a very important problem that people the world over face. It has solved it in a manner which makes it sustainable and elegant. It has organized a sector which was considered organized, but which we didn't know was actually unorganized. While doing all these, it has also solved an important problem of cutting per-capita fuel consumption.

What's the Product? 

For the uninitiated (which I am sure you are not if you are reading this blog), Uber is a simple app which connects riders to drivers. The drivers consist of people who want to work either full-time or just want to earn a supplemental income. The riders consist of people like yours truly who prefer to get things done without much human interaction and with little hassles.

Competitive Edge

The competitors for Uber are 1) Existing taxi services (both off the road and call based) and 2) Upcoming technology companies with similar products to Uber such as Lyft.

To measure the performance of Uber against its competitors, I developed a simple 3-scale grading framework as shown above. It clearly indicated that Uber outperforms all the taxi based services comfortably. Notably, Uber also beats the performance of its competitors who cropped up in the market following its spectacular rise. A large part of this superior performance can also be credited to the operations of Uber(discussed later). 

User Experience

The app has a very easy set up which is very intuitive and well guided. Once your account is set up with personal information, credit card details, etc. , you can easily start using the app.

The welcome screen on the app is very intuitive where the app identifies my location (using GPS) and estimates the arrival time for a nearest ride. Based on this, I end up making a decision on whether I want to request a ride immediately or wait a while.

Once I decide to book a ride, I request UberX (which is one of the levels of cars available) and click on the request uberX. Now, the request goes to nearby drivers. Once my ride is accepted, I am able to monitor the route that my car is on as well as the ETA of the car. 

At the completion of the ride, a bill with details is delivered over email to me and my credit card charged. There are plenty of payment options such as credit card, PayPal, Google Wallet and Apple Pay. You are required to rate your drive and provide comments if any after the ride. The whole process is very seamless.

Another feature of the app is the promotions app. Adding promotions might take a couple of times to understand, but it is not too difficult to use as well.

There are two ways in which I can measure how effective this experience is:

1. Is it easy/intuitive to use? - Over years, I have seen that the best way to measure the user interface of any application is to give it to someone who is not used to working with a lot of technical products and check how comfortable they are in using these apps. I have seen that many such people are able to use the Uber App very comfortably. Therefore, I believe it is very easy and intuitive to use.

2. Does it solve the problems of the product it is replacing? - One of the problems with taxi services is that a lot of times, they are not available when you need them. Once I book, there is no way, I can track or monitor the progress of my ride. Also, a lot of logistical problems exist in taxi services like payments, communicating with drivers, etc. These problems are all solved in Uber.

Supporting Operations/ Sustainability of operations

I believe that a product is as good as the operations that support it. Uber identified that long back. It always had a circle of requirement to keep enough drivers/riders on the Uber ecosystems.

In this regard, I think the rise of Uber is akin to the rise of Walmart where it preempted the identified markets by offering services and prices people wanted and didn't get before. 

Uber's operations are beyond ensuring numbers. It has multiple regulatory challenges & safety challenges which it is handling with a rapidly growing global team of people working on these issues. 

Challenges/ Scope for improvement

With massive amounts of innovation going into building Uber, I still think it has scope for improvement.

The biggest challenge that Uber has faced in the recent days and might continue to face in the upcoming days is with respect to regulation and bad press, but that is something that is outside of the product and I will leave that discussion to some other day.

Another area of improvement for Uber is real-time feedback/issue resolution. Anytime I have faced an issue with Uber, the feedback loop is time consuming. This can cause heartburn and a few unsatisfied customers. Bringing in real time feedback also brings in increased cost concerns, but Uber can ensure the current low cost model of operations by carefully choosing the channels through which they provide real time issue resolution.

The current feedback seeking mechanism is solely based on user typing comments which is cumbersome for many customers. However, making the feedback based on a questionnaire would make it easier to give more pointed feedback. At the same, it will also be easier for Uber to analyze the feedback as the process can easily be automated.

Another improvement that Uber needs to come up with to push the limits is to make sure that they come up with a low battery consumption version of the app. Currently, due to its GPS requirements and high on visuals nature, the app drains a lot of battery and can be challenging for people with lower battery to book rides. Having a low battery consuming version of the app would certainly help in those circumstances and also ensures that more people use Uber all the time.

Concluding Statements

Overall, I think Uber is a disruptive product which has taken the breath away of multiple people. The way Uber did it was to identify a pain point and built a scalable and robust solution around it.

Also, a good product is a job half done. What completes it is how it gets the customer mind-space. "Let's get a cab" is slowly being replaced by "Let's Uber it", and that's when you know Uber's winning it. 

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The essays

Its been a couple of weeks since I am writing essays, and the process is interesting, and I wouldn't be sad whatever the result be, as I went through this process of self-evaluation. There have been times in the process when I felt depressed(no exaggeration) and there have been times when I realised I had done something that I had never thought of earlier. The process of self-discovery has been very satisfying so far.

I also gave my TOEFL, absolutely no idea how it went. TOEFL is not half as well organised as GMAT, with a person sitting within 5 meters of me, and people all speaking at the same time.

The Pakistan cricket incident has saddened me, though not surprised me. I somehow do not understand why does Pakistan cricket always get stuck in controversies such as these. And needless to say, thousands of who's it Aussies have come up with allegations of being approached by Indian bookies and fixers. My only suggestion to Aussies is do not come to India, we are corrupt, please stay in Australia, we aren't looking forward to you in IPL.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tentative list

The app process in its starting stages, and it is already taking its toll on me. I never thought that finalizing a list would be this difficult for me, given that I am normally pretty sure about my decisions. However, I have an almost final list of schools which I will be apping to.

The list is:

1) Kellogg, Northwestern University- Absolute dream(of course, I am not apping to my absolute dream now which is Stanford). I am very impressed by the culture of this school and the focus of school which is general management. I have tried to keep schools which focus on general management and have good placements for people in tech for this. With Northwestern University's prestigious tech school next to it, this is going to be a top choice for me.
2) Ross, University of Michigan- A high app again, with focus on Action based learning and it being in a college town adds to the experience. Again a high ranked school.
3) Darden, University of Virginia - A decently high app, very impressed by their school focus. Read a lot about the school making it interesting enough for me to app.
4) Duke, FUQUA - A good school and a high app, with hopefully decent chances.
5) HAAS- Berkeley. I hopefully will app to this. My consultant is of the opinion that this might have financial constraints. Hopefully this is false, because this is one of my favorite apps.
6) Indiana - I hope this is my safe app, and where I can be reasonably sure of a favorable result.
7) UNC - I hope this is a safe app as well.

Will keep detailing about the process every now and then

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Telecom prices in India

India boasts of very low telecom prices, and it is often wondered if these prices can be maintained in the long run, and if any company can make profits with these numbers. Without having concrete numbers, we can still make an attempt to study this.

First, we must realise that prices are not as low as they seem to be on paper. People talk of schemes which make the call rates much cheaper than they are. Think of it, to send 15000 text messages free of cost in a month, I pay a rental of Rs. 80 per month. Now, the question is do I send those 15000 text messages per month. Or do I even send say 300 text messages a month. I probably send closer to 300 text messages a month, and that too to people whose calls I cant take at work, etc. I end up paying around 25 paise per message. People might argue this is still 'n' times cheaper than in western countries, but the point I am trying to make is that call rates are not 'as cheap' as they are claimed to be. In a basic vanilla plan, a call would be charged 1.5 per minute, or 1 paisa per second and a message would cost around 1 Re.

Secondly, we must realise that most of the people in India are pre-paid subscribers who use their phone only to receive calls. People just recharge their phone to keep the number active. Which is like paying some amount of money for just receiving calls. Its a different argument that they find it more economical just to keep the number active and not make any calls.

Thirdly, Indians especially in rural and semi-urban places use a lot of VAS features like call-back tunes, Mobile Radio(which is chargeable), etc. These are features which make a lot of money, and being feature-rich, it is easy to lure people with different products.

Indian mobile penetration has increased a lot over the last few years, but there is scope for further penetration. There are large territories in India with no network, or with no competition for the government organization, BSNL. These are areas which need to be targetted for development. A large customer base is waiting to be tapped in these areas. It will help these people as well as help boost profits for the Operators.

India has a large number of users for above mentioned VAS, but there is a very small population which uses internet over the mobile, or accesses official mail over mobile(invariably this is limited to people who get this facility funded from work). This is an area which can be targetted for development as well.

What I have tried to list and emphasise is that Indian call rates are not as cheap as they are claimed to be, and the profit levels for operators is sustainable as of now, despite the competition in the market, because of a large market potential which needs to be tapped into.

Will keep updating this blog more often now!


I had been to Tirupathi, it was supposed to be a Kalyanotsavam today. But since we were there the previous night, we also decided to make it to the morning 4 o' clock sheeghra darshanam. Good decision!

The morning darshan was too good. One thing I have noticed about Tirupathi is immaterial of whether they have a crowd or not, their scout and guide team, dives for people and pushes them out. Had to shout at two of them for touching me. What a waste of energy!

I am amazed at the business model. Like LTTE ran a parallel government in Jaffna, TTD runs a parallel government in Tirupathi and Tirumala. This place is very clean for a Hindu holy place. When I entered for Kalyanotsavam, I was struck by the familiarity of the place, when I realised that this was the route by which I entered for the Sheegra Darshanam 10 years back. They make the lines to enter the Sheegra Darshanam , the sarvadarshanam, and sudarshan longer and longer, without loss of any business and reserve shorter routes for the more 'esteemed' customers/devotees. Can elucidate more on this, will do that in a separate post, as am very sleepy now. Shall write about the WC final as well.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Gave my GMAT today. The experience was a new one for me. As an Indian, I am not used to exams being conducted so professionally and without any problems.

Checked in at 8:30 am for my 9:00 am appointment. I was the last to check in, the rest had checked in by 8:15 am. As I moved in and started reading my question for the AWA section, was irritated by the loud sound of keystrokes. I didn't know if people were working on a computer or on a weaving machine. In any case, closed both my ears, which the administrator misunderstood as a call for some assistance.

I had not taken a single full length test before the actual CAT, which meant I was taking a big 'risk'. Still, I didn't think so. I had my strategy thought out in my mind. I decided to take breaks without actually taking them. For example, the first AWA has 30 minutes allotted to it, I finished it in 20 minutes, but slowed down in between ensuring I dont get tired and pressed enter only when 29 minutes were done. Once the two AWA sections were completed, I started the Quant section. I went slow in quant, but finished it in 30 minutes. I was afraid I was overconfident. However, I went further slow in VA, and that took me 65 minutes to finish, still 10 minutes ahead of time.

Once done with it, it asked for confirmation of my personal information. The administrator asked me to skip it, and I caught a glimpse of my score, I thought it was 740.

Finally, as I moved out, I was given a print out which confirmed the score. So GMAT is out of the way. I hopefully do not have to take it again. So, this input in my applications is confirmed.
[Quick update: Got a 5.5/6 in AWA, so oficially not taking GMAT again]

Monday, June 07, 2010

Random updates

The very first essay in my application process has been submitted. Now it is Reliance's turn to evaluate how I have done. I am not particularly happy with what I wrote though. The topic is 'How do you aspire to shape India's future?'. And the world limit was a mere 250 words which was criminal.

Have realised a couple of things:
1) My work has made me a very bad writer. I write so bad that I can't get ideas across effectively any more.
2) Come what may, sometimes it becomes very difficult to get your actual point through in a B-School essay. They want to see a lot of things due to which a lot of your own points sound very made up, though it might not be.

Getting my essay read by Octa has been very helpful, as he comes up with the exact opposite view to mine. And that gives a new perspective.

BTW, my GMAT date is 6th July, not many days left, and am not very happy with my preparation. Along with this, have an interview(hopefully) on 12th June, 2010.

Working with CRY, we conducted a survey on the problems faced by parents and consequently the children around Madiwala(this is the area I work in). The problems faced are as expected, the teacher doesn't come to school, she decides to visit once in a while. The children aren't taught anything apart from the letters of the Kannada alphabet, and numbers upto 100. The doctor who is supposed to make a monthly visit hasn't done that in the past 8 months, but the register monitoring this is signed every month. I am finding it very difficult to think of something that needs to be done with respect to all this.

Having a very busy time these days, when thinking about the app process takes most of my time when not working. How about you guys?(The two or three guys who read this blog)

Monday, May 03, 2010


There has been quite a bit of moving over the last two weeks. One, I moved my house. Two, I moved my GMAT date due to lack of preparation. The new date is July 8th.

Have made a list of schools to apply to. Have a scholarship essay to write as well. June 1st is the deadline and have not started yet. But have a rough idea in mind, guys interested in helping out editing etc., please do ping me.

Office is nearer now, hopefull that is incentive enough.