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. 

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