Three years in the heart of the Uber adventure
I joined Uber in 2012, when Uber was still in its infancy; three years later, the time has come to take stock of the reasons for the app’s overwhelming success around the world, and also to come back, very modestly, to a few lessons learned along the way.
Three years ago now, I decided to leave the City’s trading rooms to join Uber. I was 27 and wanted to build something on my own. However, fate passed that way: through a friend, I got to know Austin, an American passing through Paris; Austin was in charge of Uber’s international expansion and was looking for someone willing to roll up their sleeves to develop Uber in France, the app’s first foray outside the United States.
Like many back then, I had never heard of Uber. But I quickly discovered a very promising application; a few days later, I found myself on Skype with Travis Kalanick, CEO and co-founder of Uber, and his first employee Ryan Graves – the one who has now become my boss. After two hours of lively conversation during which I present my business plan for France, the two Californians make me wait a few minutes. Ryan suddenly reappears and suggests that I join the Uber adventure… the next day. And here is my first experience of the on-demand economy!
Paris occupies a special place in Uber’s history
Paris holds a special place in Uber’s history, as this is where the idea for the app came from Garett Camp, one of Uber’s co-founders. The story is known: Garett and Travis were in Paris for LeWeb, and had all the difficulties in the world to find a taxi back to Paris from Saint-Denis. With a smartphone, pushing a button to get a car quickly became suddenly possible – first as a luxury service, limousines for everyone. My first Uber trip, in 2012, cost me almost 50 euros, more than double what I would have spent in a regular taxi..
However, as our development progressed, we realized that lower prices make it possible to attract more customers and therefore more drivers, which leads to shorter waiting times, with the added bonus of a double beneficial effect. : better profitability for the driver and better quality service for the customer… a virtuous circle whose success we see all over the world. The reasoning is taken to the extreme with uberPOOL, which allows several people heading in the same direction to share a vehicle, and therefore its cost.
The initial problem was relatively simple: allow city dwellers to get around easily and without breaking the bank.
The initial problem was relatively simple – to allow city dwellers to get around easily and without breaking the bank; but somewhat by chance, we have brought about something considerably more important. Services like uberPOOL help reduce city congestion and pollution, one of the most critical problems of our time – a problem that is not going to go away in the face of rampant urbanization. There is nothing revolutionary about uberPOOL in itself: we have been talking about sharing car journeys since there were traffic jams, that is, since the early 1970s; but no one has ever really succeeded in finding a viable solution. Today it is possible: technology allows more people to share the same car, and the effect on urban congestion is immediate – we see it everywhere uberPOOL is active, in Paris but also in London, United States, India… In doing so, Uber also defeats the paradigm of the private car: when it is easier and faster to use your smartphone to get around, what is the point of driving yourself and having to find your way, a parking space etc?
Running a business is a bit like driving in a fog
Today, I have been working for Uber for over three years. In three years, I have had the opportunity to meet many entrepreneurs, in the United States and in France, and to learn what it means to launch and then take off a business.
And three cardinal virtues stand out to succeed in this tour de force: first, the ability to adapt. Uber is growing extremely fast, in a technological world that is changing at the speed of light: we can’t be sure of anything, ever. As Travis says, running a business is a bit like driving in a fog: you can barely see a few feet in front of you, and the weather changes all the time. Staying focused while knowing how to adapt is the key to success.
Uber has sometimes gone too far, making us come across as unnecessarily aggressive rather than constructive
In the second place, one must know how to question established truths. Uber has sometimes gone too far in this area, which has made us appear to be unnecessarily aggressive rather than constructive; working in partnership with the cities where we are developing, knowing how to convince of the validity of our ambitions: this is a challenge for Uber’s future. But we should not hope to create something new without questioning the status quo existing.
And finally, to be successful you have to know the difference between perception and reality. Perception is what everyone thinks is true, reality is what isreally true: sometimes it’s the same, sometimes not. Real entrepreneurs are those who know how to distinguish between perception and reality, those who know how to go beyond appearances – and who do not hesitate to think differently, to oppose what everyone thinks is true. As Albert Einstein said, “He who follows the crowd will never go further than the crowd; those who follow their own path are likely to find themselves in places where no one has ever been ”.