Aloha Startups had the opportunity to sit down with Tomas Campos of Uber; a mobile service that allows customers to connect with towncar for-hire drivers. Tomas is a “Launcher” for Uber, and shared his experience in launching the Uber service in Hawaii along with a few of his insights in launching a platform (a service which requires different user classes such as buyers and sellers for the service to function), specifically one that relies on existing assets and infrastructure, which can be challenging for any launch.
Tell us what you do.
Tomas: “I’m a launcher at Uber, and what launchers do is go to a city where Uber doesn’t exist and by the time we’re done, there are cars on the road, people know about Uber, and things are well on their way to growth. The first step that the launch team takes is an initial analysis of a market. Sometimes we’ll do that analysis from far away. Here in the US we were able to do an initial analysis of Honolulu without actually having to send someone here. ”
How does Uber affect existing taxi and towncar companies?
“There are a lot of misconceptions. One of the misconceptions is that
a driver who is employed by a limousine company, which partners
with Uber, can take the Uber system and start making money directly
and bi-pass the partner, which is a common misconception. If the drivers make any money, that money goes to the partner, who then pays the driver. The partners can see exactly where their vehicles are located, who’s logged in, and they have a
breakdown of all the trips that drivers are doing. It’s a very transparent system. That’s one misconception.
The other one is that Uber is going to take over the airport transfer business, when in reality, airport transfers are a very small percentage of the total number of trips that take place in the Uber system, whereas in the traditional pre-booking limousine business, airport trips are a large percentage – often 50% of their business. It’s something they’re very concerned about.
So why not Vegas?
“There are regulatory constraints to operating in Vegas. An example
of a regulatory barrier is a minimum fares. There are cities that have minimum fares for black or town cars. Another barrier is a minimum pre-booking time. There are certain cities, such as Miami, where you can only book a car one hour from now.”
Tomas goes on to explain that in a city such as Miami, a rider can request a town car, it can arrive within five minutes, but one can’t legally step into the car until an hour has elapsed from the request.
Have there been any barriers to entering Honolulu?
“There are two things that come to mind: The number of black cars is somewhat limited here. There aren’t that many cars that we can initially partner up with. It’s not like a multi-million person city where there are hundreds and hundreds of black cars. In the short run that number is constrained. In the long run, partners can add as many black cars as they wish. Since we’ve partnered up with some of the local companies here, they’ve gone out and bought cars. They’ve seen an influx of business here, so they’ve gone out and purchased new vehicles. So in the short run it can be challenging, but in the long run it’s not an issue.
The other thing that’s really different about Honolulu is that there’s a very large tourist demographic. Uber, for the most part, has never focused on the tourism business. The vast majority of people who use the Uber app are people who live in the city, who want something classy and convenient to get around. That’s really been the main base of Uber riders. Here, there’s an interesting opportunity to capture some of the tourism market. We’re getting a lot of riders that already have the app, and they arrive here and see there are cars. There are also a lot of people coming from Asian cities that don’t know about Uber, so it’s an interesting market for us to experiment in. How do we get these people to try it out?”
How are you going to tap that market?
“To be honest, I don’t know. We haven’t started to try things, but we want to. I think it’s going to be a lot of trial and error.
One of the things we can do is track information really well. We can do certain promo codes or marketing campaigns with particular codes or criteria, and we’re able to track that. We can do a lot of A/B testing and see if something is a grand waste of time or a goldmine.”
Are there plans for uberX (a popular service provided by Uber in San Francisco and Los Angeles that allows independent drivers of hybrid vehicles to utilize Uber as a dispatch service)?
“It’s not something that we have explored yet. But we’re open
to the possibility, especially given way Lyft has been expanding to
many new U.S cities. It’s not clear whether we’re going to launch uberX here.”
What would be the challenges in launching uberX here?
“Launchers are mostly involved in launching Uber Black. uberX is something that the city teams begin to explore. There are different regulatory questions that come to play with uberX.
In some markets it’s p2p, in other markets there are different regulations. It’s like launching a new product line. We first need to lay a strong foundation.”
Can you give us a rundown of the Good and Bad you’ve encountered in this launch?
“Bad: I would have liked to have found an Associate GM by now (laughs). There’s a little bit of randomness in the process. Sometimes we find the right person right away, sometimes it just takes longer. We’ve had a lot of applicants. We’ve had a lot of really good applicants. It’s just a matter of us selecting someone and building the team. I think it would’ve been nice to find someone a little sooner. But it’s been a good launch. I have to say.
Good: Things have been going well. We’ve had healthy supply levels since the beginning. Our partners are really excited. They’ve gone out and bought cars, and right now we’re in a situation where we’re almost over-supplied. It’s been a dance. Unlike Honolulu, there have been markets where’s it’s really hard to get an Uber on Friday night during the first few weeks of launch.”
Are the app downloads per capita been on par with other cities of our size?
“It’s been on par. I would say that compared to Indianapolis, Honolulu has been slightly slower, and part of that has to do
with the fact that Uber is more foreign here than it is in Indianapolis, which is close to Chicago, where Uber has a strong presence. There are a lot of
people who live in Indianapolis, who often go to to Chicago, and who
were just writing to us every other week asking ‘when are you coming here?’
We’ve seen strong growth week after week. Compared to some markets, Honolulu is doing quite well.”
Tomas leaves us an optimistic note in regards to the startup community of Hawaii. From their inaugural ride with Kala Alexander on July 16th to the publication of this article, one can simply open the app on their phone observe a bevy of Uber activity in Honolulu. This bodes well for the platform-based startups out of Hawaii, especially those that are attempting to address efficiency gaps. Uber, at it’s core is really about closing those gaps by creating efficient uses of black cars that would otherwise not go to use because luxury car services were largely pre-arranged and have a lot of downtime.
Have your own thoughts about Uber or platform launches in general? We’d love to hear from the community in the comments.