Our sitdown with Dara Khosrowshahi
Our sitdown with Dara Khosrowshahi: We had the opportunity to speak with the Uber CEO on his first visit to Cairo since taking over the company. The discussion ranged from the launch of Uber Bus to the company’s love of Egypt as an investment destination, how Egypt fits into its global strategy and where he sees the future of ride-hailing and transportation. Edited excerpts:
Why the company’s bus service made its global debut in Cairo: We started in Egypt because it is an important market for us. It’s our largest market in the Middle East, it’s one of the fastest growing markets and a top 10 market in terms of trips on a global basis. We’re big believers in the Egyptian economy and what President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is doing. So it is a market we are going to continue to invest in. What’s important for us in investing in Egypt (or any market) is making sure we increase the accessibility of our service to a broad range of Egyptians. Minibuses are a popular mode of transport in Cairo and a lot of big cities, and what we want to do is to take bus services to the next generation. So what you will see with the Uber Bus service are very exciting new features such as dynamic routing, and a deep integration into our product, which we are starting in Egypt and from where we will expand to the rest of the globe.
Uber will invest USD 100 mn here over the next five years: The growth is all over our Egypt services, honestly. The Egyptian market is an incredibly healthy market and that has led us to invest over USD 100 mn in the next five years. We are also building a center of excellence here. Uber Scooter is off to a terrific start here, and we hope Uber bus will have the same sort of start.
How much is Uber investing in the product launch? If the service grows like we expect it to, the investment will be significant. Right now the investment is in the technology that is integrated in the mainline. I can’t share investment numbers just yet, as the numbers will depend on how big the business gets. But my expectation is that the investment will get very significant.
Ride-hailing Apps Act is a “model regulation” for the rest of the world: We believe that the law is a very constructive law. We’ve always wanted to work with authorities to make sure are services are ones that fit in with the vision of the government, and is also able to help the local economy grow. We over 90,000 monthly active Uber drivers now. So we’re waiting for the executive regulations to come out, and we’re looking for a constructive dialogue with the government here. But I think that this regulation has a potential of being not only a strong regulation here in Egypt, but a model regulation for the world.
Where does Egypt fit in to Uber’s global strategy of becoming “the Amazon of transportation”? When I talk about becoming the Amazon of transportation, I’m really talking about moving beyond just cars and into whatever form of transportation. And Egypt for us is going to be an innovation front. I think Uber Bus is going to be an incredibly important part of the various types of transportation that we offer, and if we are going to achieve this vision, Egypt is going to be very crucial to that.
How is Uber adapting to younger (Taxify) and at times homegrown competitors (Swvl), which the Wall Street Journal has described as more nimble? These competitors are certainly younger, but I take issue with them being nimbler. I think competition is good for any industry, makes us smarter and sustainable, and makes us continue to be at the bleeding edge of innovation.
Was there an acquisition involved in Uber Bus? The Uber Bus technology and service was really built from the ground up, and in a very integrated way with Uber’s other lines of business. So this will not be a service on the side and will be part of the mainline.
How does the business of Uber Bus work? We’re essentially working with local providers to supply the buses. We don’t buy the buses, as you know there are a lot of local providers. And we want to partner with local businesses to build the Uber Bus service.
Uber Bus is part of the company’s drive to cater to a wide cross-section of society: Our mission is to essentially be the mobility on demand for service for cities all around the world. And we want to make mobility available in many forms, including UberX. Options like Uber Bus and Uber Scooter increase accessibility by making mobility on demand essentially more affordable for everybody. We’re combining that with the launch of Uber Lite, so if you have Android phones that are less powerful or don’t have the broadband access as someone in the US, you have accessibility.
Sorting out Cairo’s traffic problem: We consider it a challenge. And with a service like Uber Bus and our ability to dynamically route, we believe we can be a solution for Cairo’s traffic problems. This is going to take a lot of experimentation and partnership with the city and government as well. We’re certainly up for it, and we believe this is going to be a multi-year investment for us in partnership with the government.
What’s next? Maybe an Uber Tuk-tuk? Never say never. With the launch of Uber Scooter and Uber Bus, there’s going to be a lot of experimentation and investment in that format. But we’re constantly looking at different ideas. We’re looking at an auto rickshaw product in India and if it works there, we’ll expand it as well. We really look at the particular needs to every city and based on the success of a rollout in a city, we’ll expand. If the potential for Uber Bus proves out, it will be a product we will launch globally.
Electric cars are also on the menu: We’re certainly interested in reducing congestion and helping the environment, so electric is definitely a part of that. And we’re open to dialogue with the government on electric transportation.
Driverless here in Egypt? Way, way, waay down the road? Based on my experience getting from the airport to here, we would really have to optimize our driverless hours to make it work here. With driverless, you have to start some place, but I wouldn’t go to Cairo tomorrow.