All the news about a potential ban on cab sharing in Bangalore made me think about my experience of using Uber Pool daily. Of course it is a better way to travel in terms of the impact on the environment and your pocket, if you don't mind the average 10-15 minutes its adds to your commute.
Both me and my cofounder have been product managers for a significant time before we started VoyageUp. But our decision to use Uber Pool was not guided by concerns for the environment or our budget - maybe a little bit by the latter as we are still bootstrapping :) . The primary reason was that we wanted to find a medium to have conversations with our customers (current / potential). In our earlier life we worked for big corporations and getting customer feedback was easy - A/B tests, focus groups, customer visit days. But this was a different ball game as you are an unknown brand with a nascent product. We were not in Kansas anymore !
After a lot of brainstorming a shared cab ride with others turned out to be a great option to talk to customers. One of the main target demographic for our product is urban working professionals in the 25-35 age group. And almost 90% of the time we end up pooling with someone from this demographic. If you have ever commuted in Bangalore then you know that every cab ride gives you an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your fellow riders - not because everyone is super friendly but it just takes so long to get anywhere that people eventually do start talking.
So now >10% of our day is spent talking to customers - apart from some rare days you end up pooling with people who don't want to talk !
While technically taking Uber Pool may not be a growth hack but it has helped us get some real insights from current and prospective users. Some of the most useful feedback we have got from fellow riders includes
1> A UX researcher who explained to us how one of our core features was not very discoverable and we eventually revamped it
2> Privacy concerns from many female users which culminated in us launching a Do Not Disturb feature this week
3> A customer who had used and deleted the app due to a battery drain issue. While we thought we had optimized battery usage but this led us to take a look at it feverishly. We reached out to founders of some apps trending on Product Hunt (that also used background location services) and a couple of them gave us feedback that helped us further optimize the battery usage
4> We got a ton of feedback from Android users. Both of us have been iPhone users for many years and while we do lot of testing on Android but with the number of devices and OS variants Android is a different beast. It finally convinced us to carry an Android phone too and now we use VoyageUp exclusively on our Android phones to understand how the experience is for majority of our users
One interesting aspect of these pool rides has been the high number of product managers I have met. It's as if the pool matching also gives some weightage to user profile. These have been interesting conversations on all things product and most of them are connected with me on LinkedIn now and we have had further conversations. I was once matched with someone who wanted to move from engineering to product management at their startup and I helped them prepare for their product interview - during the 45 minute ride and later sending some notes via email. It's time LinkedIn added an option "met in Uber pool" when it asks how you know someone.
There have been other benefits of these shared cab rides. We hired 1 intern and 1 full time engineer after meeting them in Uber Pool. Probably this was even better/faster than the rest of the hiring we do via AngelList. We met a relationship psychologist and since our core premise is helping people make some real meaningful connections so her insights were very helpful. A few meetings later she is now working as a consultant for us and may take a bigger role very soon.
At a very basic level VoyageUp is like a transient social network for the brief period you are at one place and Uber Pool is also almost like one. You can connect for sometime and then move on. Your choice if you want it to become a longer term connection. And as I read the recent Uber guidelines for riders it did bring a smile to my face. Have you ever taken a ride in a Tata Indica with 3 people in the back seat ? There is no way you can avoid physical contact with fellow passengers. Unfortunately the day there are 4 riders in your cab it's the day your cab is a Indica. It's time Uber and Ola made the max capacity of passengers in an Indica and other hatchbacks as 3.
You know you have pooled too often when you end up pooling with the same two people again. There is only so many times you can take feedback from the same customer or ask them to download your app :)
But the best part of this ride sharing - I usually meet 2 people in every Uber Pool ride. The average cost of my pool ride from home to office is $2. Our Customer Acquisition Cost < $0.5 on average but slightly higher for the urban millennials. If both of them download the app then my Uber ride becomes free. And if they get 1-2 friends to download the app then it's as if I earn money + help the environment + have some good conversations every day just by not taking my car out :)