Uber's newly appointed Chief Product Officer (CPO) Manik Gupta talks about how the company is building products out of their India R&D centre to deploy globally, and about their plans for Uber Eats.
Manik Gupta started his career in logistics and transportation, as an entrepreneur delivering Palm Pilots around Singapore for his startup, BuyItTogether. An ISB Hyderabad alumnus, Manik's first venture was acquired by a Norwegian firm, after which he worked with HP and then with Google's Maps division for seven years. Manik believes that the company is going to have a great year when it comes to product development and growth in 2o19. This could also be a year of reckoning for Uber, given that it has filed for an IPO. While it continues to grow at a breakneck speed, it did report an overall loss of $1 billion in the last quarter.
YourStory caught up with the San Francisco-based executive during his visit to Bengaluru recently. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.
YourStory: What are Uber’s core focus areas for 2019?
Manik Gupta: I took on the role of Chief Product Office at Uber in November last year. This year, the core focus is how to build Uber as a broad platform. As a product person, I am excited about building a product infrastructure and more features that bring the power of our platform to every user and consumer.
We want to see that as a mobility platform, what are the different options we can give consumers between point A and point B. There are different options at different price points. We also realise that different users have different price points at different times. There needs to be a fine balance between price points, time and convenience.
The mobility is one side, and then there is the food platform. The same customer who is a rider can also order food. So how do we leverage the two and give the customer benefits like loyalty, rewards and other benefits?
We also have a freight business, which we launched in the US. It is currently in early stages, but we are focussed on that part of the business this year. Apart from that, there are also long-term bets like Uber Elevate.
YS: What are your India plans for the year?
MG: This year, we are super excited and bullish about India. India contributes to 11 percent of all our global rides and is the fastest growing Uber Eats business.
So, we will continue to focus strongly on this market. We started this centre in 2016, and now have two development centres in Hyderabad and in Bengaluru. We are seeing a lot of ideas from here, and have decided to double our headcount to over 500 people this year in each of the Indian offices. It is a significant investment that we are making in India.
We have seen great talents, who are now building products from India that are being deployed on a global scale, like Uber Lite. This year, we are focussing on building more products and features from India, which we will announce soon.
I am here to tell the team of our 2019 plans, what is at the top of our minds, and also get a sense of the market so that I can build a context and connect with San Francisco.
YS: How do you see the Indian market evolve and grow?
MG: Today in India, the number of people coming online is growing at a significant pace. Data is becoming cheaper and consumer behaviour is changing, which wasn’t visible a year or two ago. For us, when we see ourselves as a company that is building products in India, we realise we have to significantly invest in the country and also learn what patterns work with users and what do not.
There is a lot of similarity between users here and countries around the world. It is like our testing and building ground. We have the biggest footprint globally and we want to leverage that, learn and grow more. The fact that we launched cash payments from India before opened it to a global audience is significant for us.
YS: Can you share a few product features and categories you have in mind?
MG: We ended 2018 with a lot of new initiatives both in the US and globally. This year, the focus will be to expand and grow globally. We launched the rider and driver loyalty programmes in the US in December, and it has been doing well there. We want to see how we can extend that globally.
We launched high-capacity transport buses in Egypt in December, so it is another area we are investing in as a new mode of transport. We are also seeing how we can bring it to different markets. The e-bikes and scooters efforts will continue to be strong in the US and Europe at the moment, but we will look at a global launch towards the later part of the year.
The other things in our pipeline are working around customer support, marketplace and other innovations.
YS: Uber is a giant in terms of ride-hailing. What else is there in terms of focus areas and product development?
MG: We believe mobility is a sector in its early stages. If we just look at India, we realise that it has a million different pain points that the consumer faces when it comes to transport and commute. Starting this year, we are focussing on solving those with the existing base of categories we have or a newer base. At the moment, these are work in progress and the plan is to focus and work on solving commute, in general.
YS: What are your plans for Uber Eats?
MG: Online food delivery business in India is still in very early stages. Despite the different players in the space, we have only started scratching the surface. India is one of the fastest growing markets, and apart from high growth, we are learning as well. When you are in a market that is fast growing and super early, the ability to understand, work and experiment with customer patterns is massive. We are in learning mode, and this also applies to rides. In rides, we haven’t even touched one percent of the overall market, and I am not just talking about Uber.
As a product person, I want to focus on how customers are reacting to my product, how they are interacting with it, and how do we create features they resonate with and kill the ones they don’t.