In this roundup, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi celebrates one year as Uber’s CEO, plus Uber rolls out several new features to protect drivers. Senior RSG contributor John Ince covers all that and an interesting new feature being tested in Australia.
ONE YEAR IN, THE REAL WORK BEGINS FOR UBER’S CEO [Wired]
Sum and Substance: DARA KHOSROWSHAHI STANDS in the wings of an airy, modern corporate event space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. It’s the first anniversary of his taking the CEO reins at the iconic ride-sharing company, and he’s celebrating like a Silicon Valley suit—with a set of product announcements…. “I’m officially no longer a rookie CEO,” he declares, “and there’s no place I’d rather be!”
Khosrowshahi has been perfecting his brand of boring for 365 days, and adhering to brand, he’s using this anniversary to promote a new set of safety features… There’s the Ride Check feature, set to roll out in pilots later this year, which provides tools for Uber to check on riders and drivers when it detects an accident, and follow up afterward with a phone call, among other things. There’s a hands-free feature that lets drivers accept rides and communicate with passengers with voice messaging. Uber has also added two-step verification for accounts, and expanded its 9-1-1 integration to several new cities. And it’s taking steps to better protect passenger safety by concealing specific pickup and drop-off addresses, and providing approximations of locations to drivers.
They’re smart and necessary changes—changes, one Uber employee points out to me, “that Lyft hasn’t made”—but none seem exceptional. These are the types of features one should expect of a ride-sharing company valued at $72 billion that aims to vault itself into everyone’s subconscious as the definitive app for arranging all types of future transportation.
The event, like most corporate product launches, is just more than 30 minutes. No one mentions #BoycottDidi, the social media hashtag that took off in China last week as people deleted the Chinese ride-hailing app after one of its drivers raped and murdered a young female passenger. (Uber owns 17.7 percent of Didi Chuxing.) No one brings up concerns about women’s safety generally. Instead, they keep the conversation upbeat, focused on both accountability and privacy for riders and for drivers…
Uber is slowly starting to shed its image as a toxic company run by an impulsive bellicose bro—but now it has problems unrelated to image and branding. It’s trying to compete in a saturated market in the run-up to an initial public offering. Any misstep or failure to anticipate a market turn might spell disaster. In this context, the safety improvements are significant to Uber…
It’s clear Khosrowshahi has a vision for what Uber can be and a strategy for how he hopes to get there. But if the first year involved fixing the dramatic problems of Uber’s past, his second year must be dedicated to charting a course for its future.
My Take: I had the opportunity of see DK up close and in person at this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. He is unquestionably polished and presentable. He seems to be the right man for the right job at the right time. But I found his answers lacking in candor. When asked about what I consider to be the number one challenge facing the company – their unsustainable and astounding losses – he head faked with a mantra about investors having an appetite for growth in what he described as a $6 trillion dollar market. Okay, but as it stands now, Uber’s growth only translates into bigger losses.
Sooner or later he has to demonstrate that Uber has a viable business model. With quarterly losses, even in prosperous times, I’m getting impatient for results, and I suspect public investors will too, very soon.
Uber may ban Australian riders with ratings below 4 stars [CNET]
Sum and Substance: According to new guidelines being put in place Sept. 19, Uber riders in Australia and New Zealand who regularly receive low ratings risk being banned from using the service. “If your average rating is below the city minimum after multiple notifications, your Uber account may be deactivated,” state the guidelines. Uber will, however, “alert” users when they’re approaching that minimum.
So what is that minimum? Susan Anderson, Uber’s regional general manager for Australia and New Zealand, told Fairfax that the Australian minimum is four stars. CNET later confirmed this with Uber locally.
Which seems fairly intense, but most riders rate in the mid fours and above… Riders will be sent advice on how to increase their rating, but risk being banned if the situation doesn’t improve.
In a blog post explaining the changes, Uber said this was “a vital step in maintaining an enjoyable experience for both riders and driver-partners on the app, and fostering an environment of mutual respect.”
My Take: This is a very interesting development, especially if Uber expands it to other markets and regions. Until now, the passenger’s rating was fairly meaningless. The only possible use was for drivers to use when screening passengers.
But few drivers really pay attention to it. This essentially gives passengers a free pass on behavior – with little or no accountability. If they continue with this, it will definitely tilt the power balance between driver and passenger slightly back towards the driver.
Uber gives drivers voice control so they can keep their hands on the wheel [Mashable]
Sum and Substance: Uber keeps rolling out new safety features for drivers and passengers. Just a few months ago, Uber introduced a 911 button and a way to share your trips to trusted contacts. On Wednesday, the ride-sharing app added hands-free features for drivers picking up riders, better data privacy, and automated crash detection. As part of a laundry list of safety improvements, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi talked about making Uber trips safer for both passengers and drivers. A passenger killing in China on the ride-hailing app Didi last month has shaken up the ride-sharing community and revived conversations about driver background checks, customer support, and other safety issues.
Voice-activated commands will let drivers pick up passengers without clicking through the app, hopefully resulting in less distracted driving. They also have access to an emergency button and the in-app safety “toolkit,” just like passengers…
My Take: It’s good to see Uber taking concrete steps to improve the safety of the rideshare experience. Both Uber and Lyft have long talked about safety as their number one priority, but their actions often belied their words. With these steps, they’re at least moving in the right direction.
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?
-John @ RSG