photo courtesy of Mike Folden Productions
One of the perks of deploying transportation systems is that in order to do so, you need to get really familiar with a city. I like to say that for each city Uber deploys in, I get to start a new romantic, intimate, loving relationship… with that city. See, in order to provide efficient, stylish transportation, you need to understand a city’s heart. You need to understand its flaws, and you need to have a vision for its potential. You can’t come in and just “hit” on a city without knowing what moves her.
This means that before a single car hit the ground in Seattle, we had a “recon” phase. We met the locals, the connective tissue of a city, the folks that power the city, and the citizens that make up its character (like our GM, Michelle Broderick). We went to bars like Rob Roy’s, go for jogs around the city, take all forms of city transportation, and just generally hang out. But once we hit the “Secret Uber” phase, what we do more than anything else, is take Ubers all over town. And so, I got in Ubers all over Seattle, rolled around town talking to our initial crew of drivers to see what the Emerald city had in store for Uber and what Uber could give back.
The “how’s it going” chat that I have many times a day with drivers has quickly become the litmus test for how we’re doing in a city, for how much potential and meaning Uber has for its citizens, and for how the Uber operation is performing where the “rubber meets the road.” The rule of thumb is that if the drivers are happy, then everyone is happy.
So this last week embedded in Seattle has been an eye-opener. Never have I seen such a high level of optimism, professionalism, and so much heart in an initial set of partner-drivers. Two days ago, one of our drivers asked me for my autograph before leaving the car. I was taken aback. What is so special about Uber here in Seattle? I’ve tried to boil it down to a few principles that are already making UberSeattle a big hit.
Fixing a marketplace
On the Seattle black car scene there simply isn’t a marketplace at all. The drivers and cars are here to fill the supply gap left by the taxi oligopoly (fixed supply, government set pricing), but there is no efficient market mechanism to connect those drivers with prospective riders. What results is a lot of “gypsy-cabbing” and “hustling” for fares.
With UberSeattle, all that changes. For the black car driver, it means having a reliable, steady stream of income that he can count on and ultimately invest in (i.e. expand his fleet). For the driver community here in Seattle, that means the potential of owning a real business, and living their own American dream (most early Uber drivers are in the Ethiopian-American community).
The Seattle aesthetic is one of a deep respect for one’s craft – that a job well done is a job done well. Attention to detail. Quality. Precision. These are the things that capture the Seattleite’s imagination. Lucky for us, it’s also the qualities that are at the core of the experience Uber delivers. What this means is that in Seattle, we have found a treasure-trove of high quality craftsmen (drivers), looking for a system (Uber) that appreciates their craft, and connects them to customers (Seattleites) who have been starved for the quality service they offer. It’s the soft stuff no doubt, but it matters, and so far it looks like a match made in heaven.
The Geek Factor
Geeks run the show here in Seattle. 35 years of Microsoft, 15 with Amazon, and many decades of Boeing have made Seattle a gadget, tech, app geek haven. Living in the future is a way of life. Pushing a button and within minutes having a shiny towncar arrive fits that mold. And the intense math and algorithms to make that a reality seals the deal. Our numbers for the Secret Uber phase were off the charts (can someone say Amazon Campus hotspot) and it’s pretty clear Seattle’s inner geekiness is getting its fix with Uber.
Style without Class
A big question I get here in Seattle is how we’re going to get over the whole “ewwww, you showed up in a Town Car?” Well, this isn’t your father’s black car service. It starts with technology. Push a button and watch your car come to you… that’s pretty awesome – only the cool tech kids need apply. But it’s also about price… for most trips we’re about $6-7 more than a taxi. I’ll grant that it will be a bit surprising at first for Seattleites to regularly see people hopping into and out of black town cars all over the city. But the black car won’t look the same in Seattle when we’re done with it. Style will replace Class.
Seattle, like any city, needs transportation alternatives. Well, let me embellish a little there… Seattle needs modern, accountable, convenient, flexible, stylish, efficient transportation alternatives. We’re excited to be here and build out our local team and business. Seattlites have a new alternative and if we do our job, transportation in the city will never be the same.
So now that we’ve been on our first few “dates” with Seattle, it’s probably time to have the Defining The Relationship (“DTR”) moment. Uber’s here for Seattle for the long haul but this won’t be an exclusive relationship. Love affairs with Chicago, Boston, and D.C. are too intriguing to pass up in the coming months. I definitely can’t wait to continue Uber’s summer of love.