I got up early, checked out of the hotel and nervously pulled out my iPhone. As I was searching for the App I wondered: was this really going to work or would I be disappointed and end up hiring an orange cab for my trip to the airport? A colleague the night before urged me to sign up to Uber and give it a try. He had been using it for over a year and had nothing but praise for this $60 billion service provider. After hearing several of his Uber experiences, I pulled out my phone and started downloading the app, right there at the restaurant.
I clicked on the app and saw 4 or 5 little cars on my phone’s screen, two of them moving, the others stationary. At the bottom of the screen I saw the options: “uberX”, “uberXL”, “Black Car” and “SUV”. I left it on “uberX” thinking this was the smallest vehicle available and clicked on the “Set Pickup Location”. It told me that “Kenneth” would pick me up in 1 minute and sent me a photo with the make and color of his car. As I watched my screen I saw his car being tracked as it moved closer to the hotel. It reminded me of the ant farm I had as a boy, glass on both sides and sand in the middle. You could see the ants as they wandered thru the tunnels they had built.
It was only 6:30 am but Kenneth, an immigrant from Kenya, had already made three runs to the airport. He told me that he moved from NYC to Indianapolis a few years ago and made his living driving for Uber. As we drove to the airport he explained how Uber works and why he embraced this business model. I asked him if he had received any grief from any taxi drivers, noting that some Uber cars had been set on fire in Paris, and he said that he hadn’t had any issues thus far. He then asked me if I had heard that Yellow Taxi in San Francisco had just filed for bankruptcy? I think I noticed a bit of a smirk on his face. I told him I did and that it was bad timing considering the upcoming Super Bowl. By the way, Uber Technologies, Inc. is headquartered, of all places, in San Francisco.
As we arrived at the airport, way ahead of schedule, I asked Kenneth if he received tips from his clients. He told me that some of them tipped, but it wasn’t necessary or expected. Most people don’t carry cash and with Uber all payments run electronically through the app. He was, however, happy that I did have some cash in my pocket and was able to give him a tip. He told me that I would be receiving my invoice electronically in a minute or two. Sure enough, it arrived even before I entered the terminal.
Having time to kill, I found a place to get breakfast. As I sat there I reflected on my first Uber experience and why this business model seemed to work so well:
- Motivated employees: Kenneth was an entrepreneur. He managed his own schedule, worked hard and carried the risk for being on his own. Within a few minutes of meeting Kenneth, I knew that he enjoyed his profession.
- Customer focused: Shortly after completing your ride, Uber sends you an email and asks you to rate your driver. Kenneth told me that drivers also rate their customers. You can see the average rating of your driver and decide if you want to hire him/her. Likewise, the Uber driver sees your average customer rating and then decides if he wants to pick you up.
- Choice of car: I believe Kenneth told me that Uber requires that cars be a 2005 model or newer. The car was very clean and well kept. I assume that a poorly maintained car would get the driver a lower customer rating. And before ordering your ride you can decide what size of vehicle you need.
- Technology that works: Uber’s technology is easy to use, very intuitive and it works. They’ve really got everything figured out, from connecting the driver to the customer, to easy and secure payment and great documentation.
- Great marketing: Uber drivers are the company’s best source of marketing. They take pride in their work, their company and like to share this with their customers. As a satisfied customer, I will continue using Uber and telling my friends to sign up. I believe I even receive a coupon for each person that signs up with Uber.
What business today couldn’t learn from the Uber model?
Before turning off my iPhone and buckling my seatbelt I texted my wife a note:
“No need to pick me up at the airport, I’ll catch an Uber.”