It’s right about two and half years since Uber Launched in Nairobi, its third city in Sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, it has had quite an experience, much like it’s global office; clashes with local taxi companies, a few tiffs with driver partners, fast growth, expansion to other Kenyan towns and East African cities and even a mention in parliament and a letter from Kenya the government. The person who has seen the regional office through this is Loïc Amado, whom, at 28, has seen quite a substantial amount of corporate combat since he joined the company. I sat down with him to try make some sense of all these developments. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
The last time I heard you speaking publicly, you severally described Uber’s growth in East Africa as “quite high”, could you put some context to that.
Uber launched in East Africa two years ago. It was the third city to launch in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Johannesburg and Lagos. Among the first three cities, Uber is experiencing the fastest growth in Nairobi. That is pretty telling on the potential on this side of the continent and the massive impact we are making on people’s’ lives and, the entirety of the transportation industry. We recently launched in Dar and Kampala and, they are following the same trend. We got a lot of work to do, we want to focus on our current progress, and we are open to explore other opportunities as well across the region. Any forward thinking city that is open to such an application as Uber, we are very willing to engage it, and look at eventual expansion as well.
How does that look in terms of numbers?
If you look across East Africa, there are more than 6000 economic opportunities that have been created, Nairobi specifically more than 4000 and tens of thousands of riders who are using it every single month. It’s been fun seeing how the uptake has been in Kenya; Kenyans adapt to new things fast. It is a lot of fun to try new things and show what kind of power this application can bring.
When you are expanding either nationally, in Kenya, or regionally, do you use the same approach for these places or you apply a unique approach to each city?
We tend to say we don’t choose the city, the city chooses us. There is so much data we have access to as a tech company and if we see that there are more sign ups, or more people opening the app, in a specific area, every time that is an eyeball for us, and the more eyeballs there are, the quicker we look at expanding into these new areas or cities.
Most drivers partnering with tech transport companies like Uber in Nairobi are driving for more than one company. Does that concern you?
We are very open to competition. It gives riders more choice; the more competition they have in the market, the more affordable the product becomes and the more the service level goes up. It translates to a better experience for riders. That is extremely important for us. It is not so much that we focus on our base competitors. It is more important that we go towards competing with private car ownership. If you start looking at cities that grow fast and if you have multiple people starting to request in the same area that want to go in the same direction or destination, we start thinking about how we can pool these people into the same car. So, that is UberPool. The more people start pooling the more that means you are starting to get more people into fewer cars and cars are taken off the roads. That is what we are competing with; your private car that you own and you think, okay, Uber is so reliable and so affordable and it is a safe way of getting around, why do I still need my car.
You rolled out new app four months ago, how has the uptake been?
Very good. It starts with the question where to. There are so many new things coming up as well. Look out for some more interaction in the car. If you look at other markets we have the snapchat filters for example. Here if you cross a specific monument, there is a description of that monument. So while you’re taking the ride in an Uber there will be other applications that will be embedded into the app as well. In terms of feedback till now; it loads faster, you’ve got a lot of shortcuts, and it’s very smooth. We have had a lot of amazing feedback so far.
(Since this interview took place, Uber introduced the in-app Snapchat integration in Kenya)
There was a recent driver-partners strike, and you seemed to have reached an agreement? Do both sides feel that that was a good compromise, or it is an ongoing conversation?
It has been/is an ongoing conversation the whole time. We are constantly monitoring driver earnings and we are having an open dialogue. We are also having all the means possible to get into that dialogue with partners. We have got in app chat where you can get all the support needed. You can come to our Greenlight hub (located at The Riverfront) whenever you have an issue. In terms of pricing, we are constantly monitoring driver earnings and we have a tried and tested price model that has been used in over 450 cities around the world and in 78 countries and we really make sure the price points is balanced by taking into account local issues and factors. We are constantly monitoring how macroeconomics, say inflation or fuel prices are changing and adjusting the pricing model accordingly.
Uber enjoyed rider loyalty during the initial blow back when launching in Kenya. Is that still the case? Uber is currently not at a fairly good perception publicly globally, has that affected how guys locally interact with the brand in any way?
To the first point, customer loyalty, that has been, from both the driver’s side and the rider’s side, unaffected. I think that comes back to providing that valuable and affordable and safe product. If you’re anywhere in the city at any given point in time, when you get an Uber within two minutes, and it is at the right pricing point, that has just not affecting our loyalty. There’s not a lot that can affect customer loyalty because it is such an entrenched pride right now, and so popular. So many people use it (Uber) and now it has become a way of life.
People feel like the frequency of the surge rose after Uber reduced the cost of the trips in 2016. Is that the case?
Once you reduce the price, the more people want to use it, and the more people request in one specific area. We want to be the most reliable, so when we see a lot of demand show up in one specific area, the price goes up at that specific area to get drivers to that specific area and then we are always going to be more reliable. Once we lowered the prices, there was massive demand. That is why you see these fluctuations in prices. But I think the most important thing is that we want to be the most reliable product around and, dynamic pricing makes that possible.