Uber: We under-invested in technology

The ride-sharing service was focused on adding people quickly to its platform that its business suffered.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Uber VP and global head of community operations Troy Stevenson has said his company focused too heavily on adding people to its platform, rather than investing in a long-term business model when the startup thrust its new ride-sharing concept into the world back in 2009.

"I think because we were trying to add people at such a pace, we probably under-invested in technology along the way," he said, speaking at Dreamforce 2019 in San Francisco last week.

"The tech team that supports my organisation -- when I started three years ago, was maybe a dozen people -- our ability to kind of build what we needed into the apps and build little integrations with it was was pretty scant."

According to Stevenson, what Uber has since done to rectify this over-eager attitude to scale its platform was invest in its teams, as well as its agents.

"We've also found great tech partners to work with," Stevenson said, pointing to Salesforce as one example. "We realised that we don't need to be the expert on everything and our tech stack. You know there's parts where we think it is a unique competitive edge, and that's what we want to focus our resources, and there's other parts where we don't need to reinvent the wheel on every aspect of the experience."

Stevenson said in the early days of Uber, the startup was "very reticent" to work with partners outside of its ecosystem.

"That probably slowed us down more than we needed to, and I think as we grew and as we scaled -- enterprise sales or knowledge basis and things like that, when it's not a proprietary part of the company but it's a really critical part of the experience -- [we] pooled together partners to help us with that," he said.

See also: IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (TechRepublic Premium)

Uber, he said, is now giving thought to the future when building new capability.

"We have to try to make them fulfill the needs of the future, we're not going to invest lots of people's time and lots of money into solving yesterday's problems, we have to kind of look forward to where the puck is going," Stevenson said.

According to Stevenson, as Uber was growing, the company looked at its operation as a very "one size fits all model".

"That is the reality of a much more complicated segmented customer base we've really been trying to be able to differentiate a lot more," he explained.

"It works the other way, too, we've got markets and products where the average fare might be 50 cents and what we're really competing against is a subway or a bus, and it just wouldn't be economically viable to provide the same type of support experience for that as we do for UberX in San Francisco."

Stevenson said this is where Uber is trying to make a more deliberate decision on how to enter markets it isn't already in.

With the vast majority of the world's population not having access to Uber currently, Stevenson said solving the most economically viable way to make that happen is "just as innovative a problem to solve as is the flying car problem ".

"For that to work we need to really just be incredibly focused on automation and efficiency and low costs," he said.

On the future of Uber and pipeline of transportation services the company is looking to launch, Stevenson said Uber is not that far away from autonomous battery powered human-carrying drones.

"Most innovative technological barriers around sound and safety and redundancy are very close to being solved," he said.


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