Ride-hailing services like Uber can play a key role in decongesting the streets in India, says Uber Chief Product Officer Manik Gupta.
Uber on Tuesday launched a 'Public Transport' feature on the Uber app in Delhi to allow commuters plan their trips using Delhi metro. The ride-hailing major announced that it has won a competitive bid to expand its operations across 210 Delhi Metro stations. Under the partnership to improve first and last-mile connectivity for users, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation will provide Uber dedicated pick-up and drop points.
“First and foremost, Delhi Metro has done an incredible job. One of the staggering statistics is that they power a billion trips a year in Delhi alone and it is one of the largest metro networks that is out there. So what we aim to achieve is, we always start with the user first, if we are able to provide a new set of options for a user to go from point A to point B and public transport is a very convenient and affordable option in many cases, we want to be able to do that within the Uber App,” Gupta told CNBC-TV18 in an exclusive interview.
Gupta, as the chief product officer, is responsible for product management, data science, data analysis, design and program management functions at Uber.
“Starting today in Delhi when you open the Uber App and enter your destination you will start seeing options for public transportation as well and it will give you real time schedules, it will give you fares. It will also give you information about what is the nearest stop that you can go to. With all that information you can make a better decision whether to take public transport or you can take all the other options that we have in Uber -- Uber Go, Uber Premier so on and so forth,” he said.
According to Gupta, it is difficult to say whether there is a structural shift away from car ownership. “If you look at India, the car ownership is about 22 per 1000 and that is probably one-sixth of developed markets. Even with such low car ownership on a per capita basis, our streets in India are very congested. So how does this evolve and I think we can play a very important part in partnerships like the one we announced with Delhi Metro. We can play an important part in decongesting the streets. If we can have carpooling take off, if we can have people use public transport, if we can have people user micro mobility options, I think that is the future,” he pointed out.
Edited excerpts from the interview. I want to ask you about the kind of pressure that you face as the product officer as Uber tries to get its house in order on the road to profitability?
My job as the chief product officer is to deliver on the long term vision of Uber as the operating system for everyday life. My team is really focused on the customer and building out the best products we can and just focused on the long term.
Obviously profitability is very important and we continue to build products that can allow us to grow sustainably and that is a very big focus for the company.
Discipline and responsible growth, those are the words that Dara Khosrowshahi is using and the second quarter has been in his own words a messy one. Are you feeling hopeful that some of the pain of the past is perhaps going to be under control as you move ahead?
I think execution matters a lot. We have a very good service, we have an incredible products in more than 75 countries around the world. We are the number one on ride sharing in almost every market that we operate in. So, there is a lot going for us.
We have 15 million trips that we do on a global basis on a daily basis. So, there is a lot we are building as far as the product is concerned, as far as the service is concerned. So, I am very optimistic about the long term future because as I wake up in the morning and think about what we are going to do on a regular basis, I realise that there are just so many things that are unsolved problems and as a product person that just excites me every day. I talk to my team and say this is not working, in most cases Uber app works pretty well but there are many cases where it doesn't, so our job is to ensure that very few of those customer interactions go unnoticed by us and then we keep on improving the product on a daily basis. If we do that, it is a game that is going to be won in inches and not miles, so it is super important.
Let me come back to the claim that you have made about wanting to be the operating system in our everyday lives and that is a tall claim and it is also a tall ask, how do you intend to do that? The counter question would then be that if you are trying to do so many things at the same time, so many moving parts at the same time, does that then end up becoming a distraction as opposed to a laser sharp focus on what you are good at and need to get done?
When we talk about the operating system for daily life we are really talking about solving multiple set of use cases that users encounter. For instance, people want to go from point A to point B, people want to have some food on a daily basis, people want to order groceries, people want to also use public transit for that matter, so when we think about our long term vision and it is really a long term vision, we really want to be the operating system that is able to seamlessly integrate that, so that we can provide you a very reliable, very affordable, very convenient service and a safe service which allows you to do that.
If I were to break this up and you spoke about for instance people wanting to eat food and order their meals out and that is what Uber Eats is hoping to do, but you are not the number one player, at least not in a market like India where there are two other very large players and possibly a third big one coming in in the form of Amazon. Google Maps for instance addresses a different part of the problem that you are trying to solve. So, when you already have these entrenched large incumbents that are sitting on these different pieces, how do you then hope to be able to take them all on together?
Over the years we have seen consumer behaviour change rapidly from a product standpoint. People prefer apps where everything is integrated -- you have your payment credential on the file, it knows you, it is personalised and that is what typically becomes a platform of choice. We want to be the platform of choice because we believe that we can string together a bunch of different consumer needs and provide the same magic of Uber where we started off with a black car, we can provide the same magic and reliability and affordability and access to all different services. So, we are just focused on our own story and we are focused on building our own products and the rest will follow.
Let us talk a little bit about the announcements that you have made here in Delhi. I would imagine that the focus is going to move to micro-mobility, last mile and so on and so forth, this is the arrangement that you have with the Delhi Metro. It is not an exclusive partnership, am I right?
Yes, that is correct.
So, what is the aspiration, what do you hope to be able to achieve with this partnership with the Delhi Metro?
I think the Delhi Metro has done an incredible job. One of the staggering statistics is that they have powered a billion trips a year in Delhi alone and is probably the largest metro network that is out there.
So, what we aim to achieve is, we always start with a user first. If we are able to provide a new set of options for a user to go from Point A to point B and public transport is a very convenient and an affordable option in many cases, we want to be able to do that within the Uber app.
So, starting today in Delhi, when you open the Uber app and you enter your destination, you will start seeing the options for public transportation as well. It will give you real time schedules, it will give you fares, it will also give you information about what is the nearest stop that you can go to and with all that information you can make a better decision whether to take public transport or you can take all the other options that we have in Uber - you can take Uber Go, Uber Premium, so on an so forth. So, that is our intentionality in terms of providing all those options to users so that user can make the right decision.
How long did it take for you to be able to put all of this together here in India because the lack of data especially on the public transportation side must have been a challenge?
We have a very strong partnership with a company called Moovit which is powering all the data that we have. Moovit has done a phenomenal job collecting this information from multiple sources all around the world and they have powered a lot of the data that we are able to launch our public transport option today.
What is going to be next? When is this moving to Mumbai?
There is nothing to announce today but clearly we want to see how this launch goes. Delhi is the first city in Asia where we have launched this, we will see the response. As you saw today, there is a lot of interest in this space itself and we kind of have to start thinking about the way all these different modes of transportation interact with each other, I think that is the future. It is not just about one mode versus another mode, it is all of them getting stitched together in a way that matters to you and is personalised to you, so that is what we want to build.
Since you talked about different modes that Uber wants to focus on, let us talk a little bit about micro-mobility because that is a bet that you are making here in India as well, you have got a partnership with Yulu for instance, take us through what the landscape could involve going forward?
The micro-mobility space is having such a strong revolution in terms of number of options. There are so many different players who are trying different options from two-wheelers to three-wheelers to four-wheelers and so on and so forth, so it is like a very strong set of investments that are going in.
We are watching this space very closely overall from a global perspective. We also have our own option in the US and in many other markets where we have a product called Jump which is a bike and a scooter product and we continue to look at this option.
Could you consider bringing it here?
At some point we might. It depends a lot on what is available, what is working in the market and we might bring it here.
Going back to the operating system vision that we talked about, we are also open to adding a lot of these existing mobility options as third party options on our Uber app. So, we have done this with a company called Lime in the US which is a very strong player as well. With Lime when you open the Uber app, you can not only see Jump scooters and Jump bikes, you can also see Lime scooters and Lime bikes. At some point in future, we might do that with other third parties around the world as well because from our perspective you as a user open the Uber app, you enter the destination and we provide you the best option to go from point A to point B.
When you look at things like micro-mobility and as chief product officer, how much of the unit economics is something that you look at and how do you then design specifically for that?
Unit economics - these are early stages, we are still figuring out how overall the space evolves, there are hardware costs associated with it, there are re-positioning costs associated with it, so we are obviously looking at unit economics on a very close basis for the business that we run but also strong point of view on the businesses that other people run as well. Then over time this is a scale business as well and as we continue to grow the business, as we continue to grow the number of options and the number of assets which can be deployed where people can take them and they can take them for shorter trips, longer trips and so on, I think overall the unit economics will scale.
How much of the responsibility of taking the costs out of the business falls under your domain?
When you are running a technology team, you always have to look at both sides of the equation. You have to look at how you are going to build products and features that are going to grow but you also have to look at how automation can really help reduce the costs. So, we have many projects right now when it comes to for instance improving our payment costs. Payment is so integral to Uber and we have a team that is exclusively focused on reducing fraud, reducing risks, reducing the payment costs of processing payments and so on. We also have teams that are running our customer support organisation and how do we automate that, how do we streamline that, so as you look at technology companies, when they get to a certain scale, the scale starts providing you the leverage that you need to truly build very foundational businesses and I think that is a journey we are on right now.
One of the other important aspects that you are possibly working on is safety and security and that is a big part of the new Uber story. You have introduced some special features in the US, the 911 integration for instance, what can we expect more on that front here in India as well as globally?
One of the things I have to give a lot of credit to Dara Khosrowshahi was when he first came onboard two years ago, he told the entire company in the first few days that he was there that safety has to be our number one priority. Stand for safety is a company priority that we have been working on for the last couple of years and we have done a tremendous amount of work in terms of bringing in new safety features to market. I would argue that we are probably - in terms of features set, we are probably the most ahead of the game when it comes to transportation today.
Just recently we announced almost another 10 new features. One of my favourite features is around detecting if something has gone wrong automatically and calling the rider and driver. So if let us say we detect that there has been a crash or if the driver is taking a route that is not really the route that we had planned for the rider, we will have someone call the rider and the driver to check if everything is okay. So, we are doing a lot of these new technologies to really improve the safety experience for our riders and drivers in all the markets that we operate in and as we scale those, we will definitely bring them to India over time as well.
Is there a timeline tentatively by when you expect all of this to be launched here in India?
India is a very important market for us. 12 percent of all our global trips today are done in India. Dara is here, I am here, there are a lot of folks who are here because we really want to double down on India both in terms of our business but also in terms of our technology teams. In terms of timelines, we are actively looking at it. We tend to build products once and then deploy them everywhere, that is usually our development philosophy. Nothing to announce today but it is absolutely one of the highest priorities.
India has also been a market where you have used it as a test bed for your innovation, Uber Lite for instance, so what more can we expect on that front. Is there anything in the pipeline that is being tested here in India for you to be able to take it global?
Yes, I will find out in the next couple of days when I will be in Hyderabad. Uber Lite has been a good success for us, we started that project about 18-24 months ago and the instinct was we should be able to come up with the new version of Uber App that will work on lower-end devices, it will work in poor network conditions and low storage devices as well and we have now launched it in 30 markets around the world and the entire product development lifecycle has been done in India, Bangalore.
There are designers, there are data scientists, there are user researchers, there are product managers, there are engineers, you typically do not see this level of investment happening from other companies in markets like India where they are building products ground up. So over the course of the next several months and years, I am pretty positive that we will have insights that are driven from local product managers and engineers who will come up with new ideas and then we will build them. So as we rollout moto, auto I am very bullish that we will make them successful in India and then we will just apply them everywhere
Speaking of rollouts and takeoffs, what is the latest as far as Uber Air is concerned and where you see that and how soon we can expect an update on that front?
Uber Elevate, I don’t have the numbers on top of my head but I believe in the coming years, we have already selected the top three cities where we want to go and the team is working really hard on making sure that we are going to hit those milestones. One very interesting example of how this will work in the future is we have launched a helicopter product in New York and it is a completely integrated multi-modal product.
So, what you do it, you open the Uber App and it shows you that you have a helicopter option to go to the airport - say from Manhattan to the airport, everybody knows the nightmares of traffic. When you do that it works in a way where it sends you an Uber and you get into the Uber and go to the terminal, you take the helicopter ride, you go to the other side and then there is an Uber waiting for you to take you to your aircraft terminal. So that is the future where we will have set of multi-modal trips where some of them might involve flying right over the future because that would be the best, fastest more economical way to get around, so that is what we are building.
So in this quest to become global transportation company, you have got freight, you have got Jump, you have got Uber Elevate what else, what next?
Going back to how we really think about the future for transportation, we want to provide all kinds of transportation options, whether they are air, whether it is ground, so on and so forth. I think the important thing for me is to really keep a close eye on what is happening in the micro mobility space because I feel that whole space is very ripe for a lot of new innovation because cars and four-wheelers they have been around for a while but if you look at micro mobility it is so personalised and people have different preferences at different price points and that is an area to watch and I believe as and when that market evolves through us and through other partners as well we will continue to integrate that.
Since you raised the issue of price, let me ask you this - given the current climate do you believe you enjoy pricing power, at least in some of your key markets like India?
My view is that we just have to focus on the customer and ensure that we are providing the most affordable, reliable and convenient service for them and the rest will follow.
I want to get your take on this big debate on whether we are going to see not just a fall in car ownership but if there is structural shift away from car ownership and if this millennial phenomenon is going to be something that auto companies should now just readjust to. How do you see this, do you believe that there is enough evidence at this point of time to suggest that we are seeing the structural shift away from car ownership? You are being blamed for the fact that auto sales in India are declining?
It is hard to say. The reason why I say that is if you look at India, the car ownership is about 22 per 1000 and that is probably one-sixth of developed markets. So, countries like India and lots of countries who are in the similar space kind of understand and solve the question of what will long-term infrastructural challenges be in the country.
Even with such low car ownership on a per capita basis, our streets in India are very congested. So how does this evolve and I think we can play a very important part in partnership like we announced today with Delhi Metro, we can play an important part in decongesting the streets - if we can have carpooling take off, if we can have people use public transport, if we can have people user micro mobility options, I think that is the future and where car ownership lies within that remains to be seen.
In terms of risk, how much of a regulatory risk do you believe is a challenge that you face today, we have seen the move in California towards whether Uber drivers should be employees, at least contractual labour etc., how much of a regulatory risk are you concerned about?
Over the last few years we have been increasingly working much more closely with regulators. Regulators and cities, it is really important for us to have very strong partnerships with them because we have to solve for multiple constituents - we have to solve for the riders, we have to solve for drivers, solve for regulators and for cities. From my perspective, it is going to be a very important area of focus for us and our job is to really explain in our perspective what is the future, what is our vision and if we can partner with the right partners, again calling Delhi Metro as an example they are such a futuristic operator that if we partner with them…
Are you being seen as a partner by regulators and government or are you been seen more as a threat?
I think it depends on which market but in general from our perspective we want to partner with regulators and make sure that we have a shared point of view because we all want to solve the same problem. What are cities struggling with today - there is lot of congestion. People are moving to the cities, so people want transportation option and there are not that many good transportation options around in large parts of the world and we definitely want to solve that. So we definitely want to work with regulators and see where it goes.
You have got a quarterly conference call coming up on November 4, give us a sense of what we have seen in this quarter gone by in terms of important milestone outside of topline and bottom-line but in terms of rides, the kind of growth you are already starting to see?
Our business continues to grow at a rapid pace and what I can tell you is we have made tremendous progress in starting to deliver an experiment with the vision of operating system for everyday life.
I will give two examples. The first is we launched a loyalty programme for the riders and for drivers and that has taken a very strong reception from multiple people around the world and people like the fact that they grow up the status, they get more and more benefits. One of my favourite benefits is that I get priority dispatch at airports and we have launched that in the US, so if I get out of the airport, I get a car very fast because I am one of the higher-tier members. Lots of users like that kind of feature. So we are starting to build those long-term engagement aspect and that is very interesting.
The second is very recently we started doing an experiment for how the future of Uber App is going to look like and this is where we started not only showing you the rides where you can go from point A to point B, but we also started showing you Eats within the app itself and we are playing around with different formats over there and we are starting to see what resonates with usersSo from a product lens, we are definitely investing in building out the future for the rider app, for driver app and so on and that is what we are focused on.