Thoughts on Uber

11/06/2011

Uber is a service that’s halfway between a personal driver and a taxi.

It’s more expensive than a cab, but it’s magic when it works. You start by registering for an account and putting your credit card on file (the brilliance of this comes to light in a moment). You then download the Uber app onto your iOS or Android device and sign in.

Once launched, the app gives you a realtime view of the cars available in the area. Once you position the marker on your location (it does its best to locate you with GPS, and gives you the option to place the marker manually or type in the address), you select “Set Pickup Location” and then “Request pickup here” to call for a vehicle.

Depending on a few factors such as time of day, your location, and how busy they are, your vehicle generally arrives in 5 to 30 minutes. I’ve been picked up in luxury sedans, SUVs, and coupes. The driver verifies who you are, asks you where you’re headed, and then you’re off to the races.

The experience

Uber doesn’t own vehicles itself, just the software powering the app, so they contract with companies that provide the drivers. Some drivers are more enjoyable to ride with and are more familiar with Uber “culture” than others of course, depending on how long they’ve been working with the company.

Some vehicles are equipped with wifi, computers, iPads that control the stereo, and all manner of madness. Others are just regular Town Cars.

When you reach your destination — and here’s what seals the deal for me — there’s no friction. The distance has been logged via GPS, and your credit card is on file, so you just hop out and get charged automatically.

Here’s what I would do if I ran Uber

  • I would have a special vehicle in the lineup on Saturday nights only. Maybe a Bentley, a Ferrari, or a Hummer. The excitement, scarcity, and marketing are baked in.
  • There would be some data analysis around what people are saying, and figure out how to delight them in the event that they are disappointed. It could be with a free ride, a service credit, or simply a tweet expressing sympathy. Something.
  • An algorithm for identifying customer experiences that fall below an excellence threshold: if a certain number of failed requests (Uber can’t always locate you a vehicle) take place by a single user, someone’s internally needs to be notified.
  • For customers who spend over $1,000 per month or more on Uber, I would offer a greater level of personalization: what car they like, what driver they prefer, and even what they like playing on the radio. There’s no rule against that.

And then I would update the homepage. It does the service no justice.