Daniel Graf, VP Product of Uber, believes we are in the early 90s of ride-sharing and have a long way to go
In a conversation with YourStory, Daniel talks about how the San Francisco-based cab aggregator is innovating on the product front.
“For someone who has started up earlier, I would define Uber as a crazy, yet positive startup experience. We are 15,000 employees globally. But if you look at the things we are working on an individual level, and in small teams, every nuance is like a startup in itself. Uber is a company that has grown faster than most other companies in the history. Dealing with that growth has no playbook. And you have to be prepared to deal with the unknown. That is exactly what happens in a startup,” says Daniel Graf, VP, Product Uber.
For over a week now, Daniel, along with his San Francisco teammates—Manik Gupta, Head of Product, Marketplace and Maps; and Peter Deng, Head of Uber Rider Experience—has been touring Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
Riding through a sea change
The trio launched Uber’s third and India’s second engineering base in Hyderabad. After announcing the different tech innovations that Uber is making for India, Daniel is now sitting in a quiet meeting room at The Ritz Carlton, Bengaluru. He wonders how he has managed to not to visit India all this while, and yearns to understand what makes the market tick.
In the past two years, Uber has seen a sea change. Valued currently at $68 billion, Uber is believed to be one of the fastest growing startups in the world. Started in 2011, Uber has, in the past six years, spread its reach to over 600 cities globally.
Having joined the company in December 2015, Daniel had initially headed the product for the marketplace at Uber. He then moved on to leading product across the company. When he joined Uber, tech news website Recode had said that the hire was a coup for Uber, because Daniel has been known for his work as a product engineer.
At his earlier stint at Google, he was responsible for the Google Maps rollout for iOS. Daniel then went on to be a part of microblogging site Twitter. Prior to all of the experience he piled up at global companies, he had founded the startup Kyte, an online mobile and social video platform for live and on-demand content. The company was acquired by Kit Digital in January 2011.
Curiosity takes you a long way
Having garnered such a varied experience, what made Daniel choose Uber? Speaking of his shift, he says,
“I think curiosity goes first, especially when you are venturing unchartered territory. But five years ago I didn’t imagine that I would in some way impact the lives of 450,000 driver partners through technology. That is a ground-level change. In that sense, Uber is different. Here we are writing the playbook from scratch and that is definitely exciting and has its moments.”
Mapping the world as it changes every single day is a unique challenge. But with a legion of loyalists Uber has become a mature product with a global presence. Daniel notes the challenge in keeping up with the rapid change that happens every five months, often in ways that cannot be predicted or even imagined.
Change is happening faster than you can imagine
A year ago, there was no upfront pricing, and your fare was sometimes an unpleasant surprise. Now the game has changed, with the commuters knowing the fare whilst booking. Globally and specifically in the US, Uber has shifted towards a stronger focus on the driver partners. Daniel adds that while they are experimenting with strategies, it is too early for the company to comment.
He adds the new rider app that was launched also changed the game for Uber. Daniel explains,
“Part of growing up is figuring what is right for our users – drivers and riders, and in case of uberEATS – eatery and consumers. What is the biggest impact now? We are thinking of a lot more strategy now. In hindsight, everything can be done better. But one thing we could have focussed more on is our driver partners. This year, that will be our prime focus.”
Importance of discipline
Uber is growing at a breakneck pace, and Daniel believes that as a product person, one is always anxious to do more. But it is also important to be disciplined and understand the top priorities for the company, Daniel says.
In India, Uber is present in 29 cities in India, and claims to do over 10 million trips a day across the globe. It is, however, still is far behind. Ola, Uber’s primary competitor in India, is present in 108 cities in the country, has over 10 categories, and has already claimed 60 percent of the competition. Ola also has an edge over Uber with Ola Play, the cab aggregator’s in-house entertainment offering.
Recently, Uber also piloted Uber ride pass in Bengaluru and parts of Hyderabad, with which it offers 30 rides within 30 days for Rs 99 per ride on UberGo for an upfront cost of Rs 299.
Apart from this, last week, Uber launched uberACCESS and uberASSIST, which provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles. While there has been enough turmoil within Uber the past year, globally it has been business as usual for the company. It also confirmed that the company is in serious talks with Softbank for an investment of $10 billion. SoftBank, which now has a stake in Uber, also has a stake in Bengaluru-based Ola.
We all have long way to go
Uber still looks at product with a global perspective and what would work from a global experience. So is it losing out on several segments of the Indian market, which Ola is capturing? According to Daniel, Uber takes its role as a global trendsetter seriously. ,
“We are in the early days of the ride-sharing experience. It is day one, and with all our competition globally we are in the low single digits of transforming how people move around. What is important is that we don’t miss out on a big global trend. I don’t think Uber has missed that trend. Sometimes, there are little local features to which we just have to acknowledge that it is not the right time now, and that’s okay. It is not about who does what anymore; it is about doing things that fit and doing them right. Everything else can just wait.”