After an incident happened with me and my friends some days ago I got a chance to interact with the Uber Bhubaneswar’s city head Mr. Varun Mundkur. Though it was a formal interaction about the incident, we also discussed about various things about Uber, specifically in the Temple City, on the topics like its business model, expansion strategy, user acquisition practices etc.
It was really a good experience to sit and discuss with a person who was responsible for the launch of Uber in India and worked hard to gain a strong foothold in 18 cities.
Varun was generous enough to say a yes when I asked to put the conversation on TSJ.
Our readers would like to know something about you.
I am a graduate from the Indian School of Business (ISB) and joined Uber immediately after B-School. I am a part of the International Expansion team at Uber. I joined Uber in August 2013 as the 2nd employee in India. I was a part of the launches in multiple Uber markets and I am currently leading the expansion efforts in Bhubaneswar and Visakhapatnam
How is your experience in Bhubaneswar till now?
It’s being really great. I mean, the people here are very much fun loving and helpful. I’m in love with the food and culture here. I have heard a lot about Bhubaneswar and its ancient cultures, temples, caves. Still exploring the city.
This might be a common question but still; What is Uber? A tech company or a taxi service?
Uber is a technology company that is revolutionizing the way people connect with their cities around the world – and creating tremendous economic opportunity for transportation providers. By connecting users with a safe, reliable and seamless ride, and with unprecedented accountability and transparency built into the system, Uber has transformed the way users think about their transportation options. Today Uber is available in over 323 cities in 58 countries around the world.
It is important to understand that Uber is not a taxi or transportation company. We do not own or operate any cars or employ drivers. We partner exclusively with licensed drivers employed by transportation companies.
Uber is all about giving riders an amazing and unique experience, so much so that in a few markets we have even pushed this frontier by having on-demand ideas to enable users to order quick ready-to-eat meals with uberEATS or experience a ride in a supercar, or watch a movie a day before it is released, all of it using the technology we provide, with the push of a button.
The city already has other cab hailing services, so what made you believe in Uber?
We believe in the power of technology. Our technology allows us to deliver the best pre-ride, in-ride and post-ride experience to riders. Let me explain:
- Uber provides a photograph of the driver en-route to pick you up
- All our partner drivers go through a third party background verification
- Our technology enables riders to pin-point the driver’s location and track their movement down to a few meters
- Our technology allows our partner drivers to position themselves correctly in times of high demand, to ensure the fastest pickup time that’s possible
- Using the Fare Split feature, riders can seamlessly divide the total fare of their trip with co-riders
- Using the Send Status feature, riders can share their location with close friends and family while on a trip
- All trip details are closely tracked via GPS
- In some of our larger markets we have also initiated efforts to integrate with the local police control rooms whereby an emergency unit can be dispatched to the rider’s location at the push of a button
- We provide riders with multiple payment options. Riders can choose to link a Paytm wallet to their account and pay through that, or even add a credit card to their account.
- We have a feedback mechanism that allows both the rider and driver to rate each other after the trip. This feeds itself into our systems and enables us to provide the best experience to both riders and drivers
- We pride ourselves in the support we provide. Every feedback given by the rider is acted upon by our teams.
How you see Uber is changing the transportation segment in Bhubaneswar?
Uber is bringing something fresh and new to a sector that is characterized by stagnation. For decades, there has been no change in the process for getting a ride and the way and amount you pay for it. It was commonplace to wait for a long time to get a safe ride in most Indian cities while drivers’ time and fuel was used inefficiently.
With Uber, riders typically get a car in under 10 minutes and drivers have less dead kilometers and earn more money. We’re bringing change and competition to the market that benefits riders, drivers and cities.
Now people in Bhubaneswar can get a safe, reliable ride at the tap of a button on their smartphone. Bhubaneswar is a burgeoning market with a growing corporate population and a large student population. We believe that Uber fits perfectly into their lifestyles. On the driver partner side, we create hundreds of thousands of jobs empowering individuals and spreading entrepreneurship in the markets we work in.
How is the response from people till now?
We have launched on 2nd July and have seen a tremendous response both from riders who use our platform and partner drivers who wish to associate with us. On the rider side specifically, it is great to see Uber helping all kinds of riders move: students, young professionals, entrepreneurs, expats, business travellers and local corporates alike.
The response has truly been overwhelming and surpassed our expectations.
After allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Uber drivers, is it safe to ride on Uber?
Safety and accountability is built into the Uber experience, before, during and after a ride, including dedicated customer support teams who can quickly look into any issue, from riders or drivers. An overview of our safety features can be found here and details on our Send Status and SOS feature here.
We take every measure possible to ensure the highest safety standards on every single of of the millions of Uber rides we facilitate every day, in the unlikely event an incident occurs, and a rider reaches out to us, we guarantee that there is recourse and we will take immediate and appropriate action to resolve the situation swiftly.
What are your promotional practices to get more riders on the platform?
Keep a lookout! There is a lot of stuff that’s already initiated, like our tie-ups with student associations, colleges and corporates. There’s a lot more you will see in the days to come. Stay tuned.
As of we are talking, the team is very small. How you plan to expand the team?
Uber believes in hiring the best people and scales cities with technology. Our teams start off very lean. We literally start with 3 people in a city and grow from there. That’s the power of our technology. Anyone interested in Uber should reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org. You can always look me up on Twitter @varunmundkur and I’m always up for a conversation. We look for passionate individuals wanting to make an impact to the cities they are in. Uber gives them that opportunity.
The riders hate Uber’s Surge Pricing; how you justify it?
The dynamic pricing model we use has been developed after years of research. Complex algorithms work at the back end to ensure reliability for riders during times of peak demand. There is one, and only one purpose for dynamic pricing: i.e. To ensure riders get enough cars on the road when demand spikes. It adjusts automatically as more drivers are incentivized to come onto the road, and prices reset to their original state as supply increases.
What makes working at Uber different from other startups?
I think working at Uber is unique because it is like a bunch of individual startups all under one big global umbrella. The challenges a new city faces have already been dealt with by a more mature city. Cities thus keep speaking to each other and the business is truly global in nature. Furthermore, Uber is the same yet so unique to every market. While we have 1 app across the world, the operations teams work independently to make it hyper-local and relevant to the market they are in.
As you said earlier, you have a good news for TSJ readers. What is that?
We are happy to announce our partnership with a promo code TSJBHUB that gives new signups 3 free rides worth Rs. 150 each in Bhubaneswar. These rides are valid till August 9, 2015. To avail this, new users need to download the Uber app from uber.com/app, sign up with their credentials and add the code to the PROMOTIONS section of the app. Happy Ubering!