Uber

My product launch wishlist for Instagram, Twitter, Uber and more

Posted by | 2018 Year in Review, Apps, instagram, iOS, Lyft, Mobile, Opinion, Pinterest, product design, Snapchat, Social, Spotify, Startups, TC, Twitter, Uber | No Comments

‘Twas the night before Xmas, and all through the house, not a feature was stirring from the designer’s mouse . . . Not Twitter! Not Uber, Not Apple or Pinterest! On Facebook! On Snapchat! On Lyft or on Insta! . . . From the sidelines I ask you to flex your code’s might. Happy Xmas to all if you make these apps right.

Instagram

See More Like This – A button on feed posts that when tapped inserts a burst of similar posts before the timeline continues. Want to see more fashion, sunsets, selfies, food porn, pets, or Boomerangs? Instagram’s machine vision technology and metadata would gather them from people you follow and give you a dose. You shouldn’t have to work through search, hashtags, or the Explore page, nor permanently change your feed by following new accounts. Pinterest briefly had this feature (and should bring it back) but it’d work better on Insta.

Web DMs Instagram’s messaging feature has become the defacto place for sharing memes and trash talk about people’s photos, but it’s stuck on mobile. For all the college kids and entry-level office workers out there, this would make being stuck on laptops all day much more fun. Plus, youth culture truthsayer Taylor Lorenz wants Instagram web DMs too.

Upload Quality Indicator – Try to post a Story video or Boomerang from a crummy internet connection and they turn out a blurry mess. Instagram should warn us if our signal strength is low compared to what we usually have (since some places it’s always mediocre) and either recommend we wait for Wi-Fi, or post a low-res copy that’s replaced by the high-res version when possible.

Oh, and if new VP of product Vishal Shah is listening, I’d also like Bitmoji-style avatars and a better way to discover accounts that shows a selection of their recent posts plus their bio, instead of just one post and no context in Explore which is better for discovering content.

Twitter

DM Search – Ummm, this is pretty straightforward. It’s absurd that you can’t even search DMs by person, let alone keyword. Twitter knows messaging is a big thing on mobile right? And DMs are one of the most powerful ways to get in contact with mid-level public figures and journalists. PS: My DMs are open if you’ve got a news tip — @JoshConstine.

Unfollow Suggestions – Social networks are obsessed with getting us to follow more people, but do a terrible job of helping us clean up our feeds. With Twitter bringing back the option to see a chronological feed, we need unfollow suggestions more than ever. It should analyze who I follow but never click, fave, reply to, retweet, or even slow down to read and ask if I want to nix them. I asked for this 5 years ago and the problem has only gotten worse. Since people feel like their feeds are already overflowing, they’re stingy with following new people. That’s partly why you see accounts get only a handful of new followers when their tweets go viral and are seen by millions. I recently had a tweet with 1.7 million impressions and 18,000 Likes that drove just 11 follows. Yes I know that’s a self-own.

Analytics Benchmarks – If Twitter wants to improve conversation quality, it should teach us what works. Twitter offers analytics about each of your tweets, but not in context of your other posts. Did this drive more or fewer link clicks or follows than my typical tweet? That kind of info could guide users to create more compelling content.

Facebook

(Obviously we could get into Facebook’s myriad problems here. A less sensationalized feed that doesn’t reward exaggerated claims would top my list. Hopefully its plan to downrank “borderline content” that almost violates its policies will help when it rolls out.)

Batched Notifications – Facebook sends way too many notifications. Some are downright useless and should be eliminated. “14 friends responded to events happening tomorrow”? “Someone’s fundraiser is half way to its goal?” Get that shit out of here. But there are other notifications I want to see but that aren’t urgent nor crucial to know about individually. Facebook should let us decide to batch notifications so we’d only get one of a certain type every 12 or 24 hours, or only when a certain number of similar ones are triggered. I’d love a digest of posts to my Groups or Events from the past day rather than every time someone opens their mouth.

I so don’t care

Notifications In The “Time Well Spent” Feature – Facebook tells you how many minutes you spent on it each day over the past week and on average, but my total time on Facebook matters less to me than how often it interrupts my life with push notifications. The “Your Time On Facebook” feature should show how many notifications of each type I’ve received, which ones I actually opened, and let me turn off or batch the ones I want fewer of.

Oh, and for Will Cathcart, Facebook’s VP of apps, can I also get proper syncing so I don’t rewatch the same Stories on Instagram and Facebook, the ability to invite people to Events on mobile based on past invite lists of those I’ve hosted or attended, and the See More Like This feature I recommended for Instagram?

Uber/Lyft/Ridesharing

“Quiet Ride” Button – Sometimes you’re just not in the mood for small talk. Had a rough day, need to get work done, or want to just zone out? Ridesharing apps should offer a request for a quiet ride that if the driver allows with a preset and accepts before you get in, you pay them an extra dollar (or get it free as a loyalty perk), and you get ferried to your destination without unnecessary conversation. I get that it’s a bit dehumanizing for the driver, but I’d bet some would happily take a little extra cash for the courtesy.

“I Need More Time” Button – Sometimes you overestimate the ETA and suddenly your car is arriving before you’re ready to leave. Instead of cancelling and rebooking a few minutes later, frantically rushing so you don’t miss your window and get smacked with a no-show fee, or making the driver wait while they and the company aren’t getting paid, Uber, Lyft, and the rest should offer the “I Need More Time” button that simply rebooks you a car that’s a little further away.

Spotify/Music Streaming Apps

Scan My Collection – I wish I could just take photos of the album covers, spines, or even discs of my CD or record collection and have them instantly added to a playlist or folder. It’s kind of sad that after lifetimes of collecting physical music, most of it now sits on a shelf and we forget to play what we used to love. Music apps want more data on what we like, and it’s just sitting there gathering dust. There’s obviously some fun viral potential here too. Let me share what’s my most embarrassing CD. For me, it’s my dual copies of Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other” because I played the first one so much it got scratched.

Friends Weekly Spotify ditched its in-app messaging, third-party app platform, and other ways to discover music so its playlists would decide what becomes a hit in order to exert leverage over the record labels to negotiate better deals. But music discovery is inherently social and the desktop little ticker of what friends are playing on doesn’t cut it. Spotify should let me choose to recommend my new favorite song or agree to let it share what I’ve recently played most, and put those into a Discover Weekly-style social playlist of what friends are listening to.

Snapchat

Growth – I’m sorry, I had to.

Bulk Export Memories – But seriously, Snapchat is shrinking. That’s worrisome because some users’ photos and videos are trapped on its Memories cloud hosting feature that’s supposed to help free up space on your phone. But there’s no bulk export option, meaning it could take hours of saving shots one at a time to your camera roll if you needed to get off of Snapchat, if for example it was shutting down, or got acquired, or you’re just bored of it.

Add-On Cameras – Snapchat’s Spectacles are actually pretty neat for recording first-person or underwater shots in a circular format. But otherwise they don’t do much more, and in some ways do much less, than your phone’s camera and are a long way from being a Magic Leap competitor. That’s why if Snapchat really wants to become a “Camera Company”, it should build sleek add-on cameras that augment our phone’s hardware. Snap previously explored selling a 360-camera but never launched one. A little Giroptic iO-style 360 lens that attaches to your phone’s charging port could let you capture a new kind of content that really makes people feel like they’re there with you. An Aukey Aura-style zoom lens attachment that easily fits in your pocket unlike a DSLR could also be a hit

iOS

Switch Wi-Fi/Bluetooth From Control Center – I thought the whole point of Control Center was one touch access, but I can only turn on or off the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It’s silly having to dig into the Settings menu to switch to a different Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device, especially as we interact with more and more of them. Control Center should unfurl a menu of networks or devices you can choose from.

Shoot GIFs – Live Photos are a clumsy proprietary format. Instagram’s Boomerang nailed what we want out of live action GIFs and we should be able to shoot them straight from the iOS camera and export them as actual GIFs that can be used across the web. Give us some extra GIF settings and iPhones could have a new reason for teens to choose them over Androids.

Gradual Alarms – Anyone else have a heart attack whenever they hear their phone’s Alarm Clock ringtone? I know I do because I leave my alarms on so loud that I’ll never miss them, but end up being rudely shocked awake. A setting that gradually increases the volume of the iOS Alarm Clock every 15 seconds or minute so I can be gently arisen unless I refuse to get up.

Maybe some of these apply to Android, but I wouldn’t know because I’m a filthy casual iPhoner. Send me your Android suggestions, as well as what else you want to see added to your favorite apps.

[Image Credit: Hanson Inc]

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Careem launches delivery service as it nears closing a massive round

Posted by | careem, Didi Chuxing, Mobile, Startups, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

The ride-hailing giant Careem is now in the delivery business as the company seeks new verticals in its ever-increasing fight against other services in the Middle East, including Uber. Starting with food delivery in Dhabi and Jeddah, the company sees the delivery service, called Careem Now, expanding to pharmaceuticals. according to a report by Reuters. Careem is investing more than $150 million into the service.

“We believe the opportunity for deliveries in the region is even bigger than ride-hailing,” chief executive and co-founder Mudassir Sheikha told Reuters. “It is going to become a very significant part of Careem over time.”

Careem Now will operate independently from its ride-hailing business. It will have its own app and Careem is building the service as a dedicated call center.

This comes as the company is trying to close a $500 million funding round. Back in October, it announced it had already raised $200 million from existing investors. Prior to this announcement, rumors were swirling that several companies, including Didi Chuxing, could acquire Careem.

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How Uber will become an ad company, starting with Eats Pool

Posted by | aggregation theory, Apps, eCommerce, Mobile, Startups, TC, Uber, Uber Eats, uber pool | No Comments

Where there is discovery in an app, there is paid discovery. Google helped you choose between links, then sold ads that promote a few. Facebook helped you choose between pieces of content, then sold ads that promote a few. And eventually, as Uber helps you choose between restaurants, it will sell ads that promote a few. It could become the marketing platform through which the physical world vies for your attention.

We got our first glimpse of this future last week when I reported that Uber Eats was offering restaurants in India bonus visibility in a Specials section if they’d offer discounts on meal bundles to Uber’s customers. Knock some rupees off the price of a sandwich, fries and a drink, and a restaurant wins itself some enhanced discoverability. Whether a chef wants to boost orders during slow hours, get rid of surplus food, preference high-margin items or just score new customers, there are plenty of reasons to pay Uber — even if currently only indirectly through discounts instead of a direct ad buy.

But now Uber’s senior director and head of Eats product Stephen Chau has confirmed to me the company’s intentions to become an ad company. “There’s a bunch of different ways we can work with restaurants over time. If we have all the restaurants on the marketplace and we give them tools to help them grow, then this will be a very efficient marketplace. They’re going to be spending those ad dollars somewhere,” Chau tells me. “One of the things we’ve been experimenting with is allowing retailers to create promotions themselves and show them within the product.”

This conversation emerged from TechCrunch spotting Uber’s latest effort to influence where people choose to eat. To be worthy of ad dollars, Uber has to build leverage over restaurants by accruing sway over how people decide between restaurants. And with Uber confidentially filing to go public last week, it needs to prep new revenue streams. So it’s created what’s effectively “Uber Eats Pool.”

Gaining leverage with Eats Pool

In response to our inquiry, Uber confirmed it’s now testing in some markets a system designed to batch to a single restaurant multiple orders from different customers nearby each other. That way, a single delivery driver can pick up all the orders at once and then speedily distribute them to neighbors or co-workers. Uber must incentivize customers who are close to each other to pick the same restaurant in rapid succession, so it offers a discount.

“$2 off your order — share a courier with a nearby order,” the promotion announces atop the Uber Eats home screen above a carousel of restaurants where you can grab the discount. It’s equipped with a countdown timer to when it will refresh the list of restaurants that follows users on an eatery’s order page. This triggers a sense of urgency to hurriedly buy through Uber Eats (and not check competitors), but also to ensure orders come in close enough together that the first one cooked won’t have to wait long for the last before they’re all scooped up for delivery.

Some customers actually play the Uber Eats Pool discounts like a game they can beat, waiting through several rounds of the timer until they spot one of their favorite restaurants, Chau says with a laugh. For now, passengers don’t ride alongside food orders, though that’s certainly a possibility in the future. And if Uber Eats can batch your order into a Pool with other customers, it will retroactively give you the discount.

“It’s similar to what we did with Uber Pool,” Chau tells me. “Generally people are coming in with an intent to eat but there are many, many options available to them. We’re giving you a discount on the food delivery by using machine learning to understand these are some restaurants it might make sense to order from. When multiple people order from the same restaurant, delivery drivers can pick up multiple people’s food.”

Therein lies the leverage. As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson writes about aggregation theory, internet companies are gaining great influence by becoming marketplaces that connect customers with suppliers when previously customers preemptively chose a particular supplier. These platforms not only gain enormous amounts of data on customer preferences, but they also hold the power to point customers to certain suppliers that are willing to play ball.

Uber builds a toll bridge

With all the data, the platforms know just who to show the ads to for a maximum conversion rate. And over time, as the aggregator’s perks lure in more customers, it can pit suppliers against each other to further drop their prices or pay more for ads. Spotify used its own playlists to control which songs became popular, and the artists and record labels became beholden to cutting it sweeter deals to stay visible. Amazon looks like the best place to shop because it makes merchants fiercely fight to offer the lowest prices and best customer experience. With Uber Eats Pool, Uber is flexing its ability to influence where you eat, training you to trust where it points you when businesses eventually pay directly to be ranked higher in its app.

“Eats proves the power and potential of the Uber platform, showing how our logistics expertise can create the easiest way to eat,” Chau tells me. “We partner with a wide selection of restaurants and bring our trademark speed and coverage to the food delivery experience. This feature shows how leveraging the Uber network allows us to offer people even more affordable dining options.” That quote is even more telling than at first glance. It’s the logistic network that accrues the power and creates leverage over the supplier to benefit customers with the lowest prices.

“We can see on Eats how much more business they’re bringing in and how much is incremental new business. Eventually we’ll be able to do very precise targeting. ‘People who haven’t tried my restaurant before, let’s give them a discount,’” Chau tells us. Restaurants are asking him how to grow delivery as a percentage of their orders. “We can see the types of food people are ordering right now but also what they’re searching or are not able to order [because that cuisine isn’t available nearby]. We’re working with them to create new options to fill that gap. They’re able to get much more utilization of their fixed assets and iterate on these concepts much faster than they’re used to.”

Uber demonstrated the data science it could dangle over restaurants with its review of Uber Eats 2018 trends it published this morning. It predicts clean eating, plant-based foods, smoothie bowls, milk alternatives, fermented items like kimchi and Instagrammably dark “goth food” will rise in popularity next year. Meanwhile, now-tired social media bait “rainbow-colored foods,” Brussels sprouts and seaweed are on the decline.

It becomes easy to imagine restaurants running Uber Eats software for tracking order trends and predicting spikes to better manage food and staffing resources, with a baked-in option to buy ads or give deeper discounts to get seen by more hungry people. Chau concludes, “Restaurants can think of Uber Eats as a platform that gives them this intelligence.”

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New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission approves minimum wage rules for app-based drivers

Posted by | gig economy, Lyft, Mobile, Policy, Startups, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has approved new rules designed to provide a minimum hourly wage of $17.22 (after expenses) for drivers who work with app-based services like Uber, Lyft, Via and Juno.

Fast Company reports that the rules try to deliver that wage by requiring drivers be paid according to a formula that incorporates mileage, time and utilization rate (the average percentage of time drivers have passengers in their cars). They also call for a higher payment when drivers have to take passengers far outside the city (to compensate for them for the return trip).

A proposed bonus payment for drivers offering Uber Pool and other shared-ride options appears to have been removed from the rules.

The Independent Drivers Guild, a labor organization that advocates for drivers, has been advocating for these changes, and it praised the TLC vote in a press release.

“Today we brought desperately needed relief to 80,000 working families,” said IDG founder Jim Conigliaro, Jr. “All workers deserve the protection of a fair, livable wage and we are proud to be setting the new bar for contractor workers’ rights in America. We are thankful to the Mayor, Commissioner [Meera] Joshi and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, City Council Member Brad Lander and all of the city officials who listened to and stood up for drivers.”

And The New York Taxi Workers Alliance issued a statement from Executive Director Bhairavi Desai:

It’s the first real attempt anywhere to stop app driver pay cuts, which is an Uber and Lyft business practice at the heart of poverty wages … Ultimately, the TLC needs to regulate Uber and Lyft passenger rates, guarantee that app drivers get 80 percent of those rates, and regulate the yellow/green meter to charge the same minimum rates, so drivers across the industry can earn a raise.

Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, criticized the decision, though with careful wording emphasizing that the companies aren’t opposed to ensuring that drivers receive a living wage.

“Uber supports efforts to ensure that full-time drivers in NYC – whether driving with taxi, limo or Uber – are able to make a living wage, without harming outer borough riders who have been ignored by yellow taxi and underserved by mass transit,” said Uber Director of Public Affairs Jason Post in a statement. “The TLC’s implementation of the City Council’s legislation to increase driver earnings will lead to higher than necessary fare increases for riders while missing an opportunity to deal with congestion in Manhattan’s central business district.”

Post argued that the rules do not account for the bonuses and other incentive payments that Uber and other companies might make. He criticized the TLC for adopting “an industry-wide utilization rate that does not hold bases accountable for keeping cars full with paying passengers.”

And here’s the statement from Lyft:

Lyft believes all drivers should earn a livable wage and we are committed to helping drivers reach their goals. Unfortunately, the TLC’s proposed pay rules will undermine competition by allowing certain companies to pay drivers lower wages, and disincentive drivers from giving rides to and from areas outside Manhattan. These rules would be a step backward for New Yorkers, and we urge the TLC to reconsider them.

Specifically Lyft says that companies would be able to essentially pay drivers less by claiming a higher utilization rate than the industry average. It also says that it will be nearly impossible to implement the higher out-of-town payment rates in the 30-day window before the new rules take effect.

Update: You can read the new Driver Income and Transparency Rules here.

“Convenience costs, and going forward, that cost will no longer be borne by the driver,” said TLC Chair Meera Joshi in a statement. “Today’s rules will raise driver earnings by on average $10,000 a year and require companies to be completely transparent on how they calculate pay and car leasing costs.”

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Uber Eats test lets restaurants trade discounts for ranking boost

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, eCommerce, food, food delivery, Logistics, Mobile, payments, Startups, TC, Uber, Uber Eats | No Comments

Uber Eats has effectively invented its own native ad unit. Uber confirmed to TechCrunch that a test quietly running in markets around India allows restaurants to bundle several food items together and sell them at a discounted price in exchange for promoted placement by Uber Eats in a featured section of local “Specials.” In some cases, restaurants foot the cost of the discount, while in others Uber pays for the discounts.

The Uber Specials feature demonstrates the massive leverage awarded to food delivery apps that aggregate restaurants. Users often come to Uber Eats and its competitors without a specific restaurant in mind. Uber can then point those customers to whichever food supplier it prefers. The suppliers in turn will increasingly compete for the favor of the aggregators — not just in terms of food quality, speed and review scores, but also in terms of discounts. The aggregators will win users if they offer the best deals; creating a network effect makes restaurants more keen to play ball.

TechCrunch first learned of Uber’s ambitions in the space from a mock-up of the Promoted Items Value Section feature spotted in its app by mobile researcher and frequent TC tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The fictional food items included “Best Beer” that “is made from only the finest gutter swill” and “Weird Fries” that “will so utterly decimate your sense of good food that you will be permanently reduced to a whimpering shell of your former self!” This jokey text that seemingly was never meant for public viewing also noted that the fries are so good you should “throw all your other food in the garbage right now!” Uber assured us these weren’t real.

But what it did confirm is that the discounts for promoted placement test is live in India. “We’re always experimenting with ways to make it easier to find your favorite foods on Uber Eats,, according to a statement provided by an Uber spokesperson.

The feature allows restaurants to create a bundled meal at a certain price point, such as a chicken sandwich, french fries and a drink at a price that’s less than the sum of its parts. The company tells me the goal is to take the friction out of ordering by giving people pre-set meals at a better price prominently available in the app. Attracting more customers that have plenty of other options could offset the discount. Businesses could also use it to bundle high-margin items, like soft drinks, with meals, or to get rid of overstock.

Ben Thompson’s aggregation theory describes how power accrues to aggregators that match supply with demand

It’s already common for restaurants to make “specials” out of food they have too much of. That butternut squash ravioli might only be featured because they can’t get rid of it. In that sense, you could think of Uber Specials as the inverse of surge pricing. When supply is too high, restaurants can offer discounts to gain more demand. It’s also not far off from Google Search’s keyword ads where business pay for more visibility.

Uber wouldn’t discuss whether it plans to bring the strategy to other markets, but it makes sense to assume it’s considering expansion. Done wrong, it could look a bit like Uber Eats is pressuring restaurants to surrender discounts if they want to be discoverable inside its app. If restaurants within Uber Eats get into heated competition to offer discounts, it could drive down their profits. But done right, Specials could look like a triple-win. Restaurants can offload surplus and bundle in high-margin items while scoring new customers from enhanced placement, customers get cheaper food options and Uber Eats becomes people’s go-to app for easy-to-order discounted meals.

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Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, eCommerce, loyalty program, Mobile, payments, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber, Uber Eats | No Comments

Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole U.S. in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego or anywhere in New Jersey, as Uber wanted to test with a representative sample of the U.S.

The loyalty program ties all of the company’s different transportation and food delivery options together, encouraging customers to stick with Uber across a suite of solutions instead of treating it as interchangeable with alternatives. “As people use Uber more and more in their everyday, we wanted to find a way to reward them for choosing Uber,” says Uber’s director of product for riders Nundu Janakiram. “International expansion is top of mind for us,” adds Holly Ormseth, Uber Rewards’ product manager.

As for the drivers, “They absolutely get paid their full rate,” Ormseth explains. “We understand that offering the benefits has a cost to Uber but we think of it as an investment,” says Janakiram.

So how much Ubering earns you what perks? Let’s break it down:

In Uber Rewards you earn points by spending money to reach different levels of benefits. Points are earned during six-month periods, and if you reach a level, you get its perks for the remainder of that period plus the whole next period. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. You’ll see your Uber Rewards progress wheel at the bottom of the homescreen fill up over time.

Blue: $5 credits

The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations

Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection

At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades

At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

Keeping everyone happily riding

Uber spent the better part of last year asking users through surveys and focus groups what they’d want in a loyalty program. It found that customers wanted to constantly earn rewards and make their dollar go further, but use the perks when they wanted. The point was to avoid situations where riders says, “Oh I’ve been an Uber user for years. When something goes wrong, I feel like I’m being treated like everyone else,” Janakiram tells me. When riders think they’re special, they stick around.

One big missing feature here is a Rewards calculator. Uber could better gamify earning its perks if there was an easy way to see how many more monthly or total rides it would take to reach the next level. It’d be great to have a few little sliders you could drag around to see if I just take Uber X, how many of my average length trips would it take to level up.

Uber managed to beat Lyft to the loyalty game. Lyft just announced that its rewards program would roll out in December, allowing you to earn discounts and upgrades. But Southeast Asia’s Grab transportation service started testing a loyalty program back in late 2016 where you could manually redeem points for discounts. While Uber’s rewards are more predictable and automatic, it does seem to have cribbed Grab’s rewards period mechanic where you keep your perks through the end of the next cycle. We’ll see if Uber mistakenly gave too much away and will have to reduce the perks like Grab did, pissing off its most loyal riders.

One risk of the program is that Uber might make users at lower tiers or who don’t even qualify for Gold feel like second-class citizens of the app. “One thing that’s important is that we don’t want to make the experience for people who are not in these levels poor in any sense,” Janakiram notes. “It’s not like 80 percent of people will suddenly get priority airport pickups, but we do want to monitor very closely to make sure we’re not harming the service more broadly.”

Overall, Uber managed to pick perks that seem helpful without making me wonder why these features aren’t standard for everyone. Even if it takes a short-term margins hit, if Uber can dissuade people from ever looking beyond its app, the lifetime value of its customers should easily offset the kickbacks.

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

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Embracing multimodality, Uber pioneers ride recommendations

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, JUMP, jump bikes, Mobile, Startups, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

For the first time, Uber will make contextual, personalized suggestions about the best way to get from point A to point B. The startup offers more than just cars now, and it’s starting to understand the trade-offs between price, speed, convenience and comfort amidst its multi-modal fleet. Most noticeably, you’ll soon see JUMP bikes get premier billing right alongside Uber’s other vehicles. Going a short distance and there’s a charged up bike nearby? Uber will suggest you pedal. Might need extra room for luggage on your way to the airport? UberXL and SUV will appear. Always take cheap Pools? It won’t show you a pricier Black car.

Uber is finally getting smart. It has to if it’s going to make sense of its growing patchwork of ride types without overwhelming passengers with too many options. Uber’s algorithm can help them choose. “We think there’s a lot to be gained by being a one-stop shop to get somewhere,” says Uber director of product Nundu Janakiram.

Uber now dynamically recommends different ride types

In particular, Uber could block disruption by scooter-specific startups like Spin, Bird or Skip. If those apps have no vehicles nearby or you’re going too far, they’ve got nothing to offer. But Uber can provide a competitively priced Express Pool when there’s no open-air ride available, while convincing its existing UberX riders to try a bike or scooter for quick trips when congestion is thick, thanks to its new in-house traffic estimates.

Uber Director of Product Nundu Janakiram

Previously, you’d get a static set of three ride options from the price class you booked from last, regardless of your destination. Meanwhile, bikes and scooters were buried in Uber’s hamburger menu sidebar or an awkward toggle at the top of the screen. The company hasn’t done a good job of communicating the definition of Select (nicer normal-sized cars) or Express Pool (walk and wait for a discount) either.

Now Uber’s homescreen can cherry pick the most relevant ride suggestions from across all price classes and vehicle types based on your trip length, destination type and personal ride history. Along with better explanations of the different options, this could get users experimenting with modes they’d never tried before. In the coming weeks, you’ll start to see bikes in these recommendations.

To make room for more suggestions, the Uber Pool option will unfold to offer both Pools and Express Pools. Uber will even point you to nicer vehicles like Black cars or XLs if UberX is surging to the point that their prices are similar. If you want to compare all the options manually, you can tap to see a list with all the specs and prices lined up.

Beyond ride recommendations, Uber is moving the address bar to the bottom of the screen so it’s closer to your thumbs (which is great as phones keep getting bigger). Finally, in the coming weeks Uber will add a dynamic message bar to the center of the homescreen. Here, depending on your pickup and drop off, it could show instructions for hailing from an airport, a discount offer, a birthday message or just a friendly “Good Morning.” 

Eventually, Uber hopes to integrate public transportation ticketing like through its partner Masabi, car rentals and even multi-leg trips into its recommendations. Maybe a JUMP bike to the train, then an UberPool that’s waiting to take you to your final destination is quicker and cheaper than any one mode alone. If you’re looking at an hour-plus Uber, it might cost less to just rent a car through its partner GetAround and drive yourself. And if a scooter is by far the best ride for you but all of Uber’s are rented, it could recommend one from its partner Lime.

A new communication box is coming to the center of Uber’s homescreen

Uber’s data shows users are rapidly embracing the multi-modal future. A study found the introduction of JUMP bikes to one city led to a 15 percent increase in total Uber + JUMP trips, even though Uber use dropped 10 to 15 percent.

Even if Uber sometimes cannibalizes itself by recommending cheaper options, it’s a smart long-term strategy. Janakiram laughs that “If we wanted to optimize for revenue, we wouldn’t have shown UberX, Pool and Express Pool first for every user for the last few years.” The lifetime value of ridesharing users is so high that it’s worth losing a couple of bucks here or there to keep users from straying to multi-modal competitors like Lyft. Retention will be a key metric under scrutiny as it eyes a 2019 IPO at a potential $120 billion valuation.

“The big picture is that we want your phone to replace your personal car,” Janakiram concludes. “If we want to be a true transportation platform, we need to be everywhere our riders need to be, as well. The right ride for the right context, and what’s the right ride for you.”

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

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Uber fires up its own traffic estimates to fuel demand beyond cars

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, GreenTech, JUMP, Logistics, Mobile, Social, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber | No Comments

If the whole map is red and it’s a short ride, maybe you’d prefer taking an Uber JUMP Bike instead of an UberX. Or at least if you do end up stuck bumper-to-bumper, the warning could make you less likely to get mad mid-ride and take it out on the driver’s rating.

This week TechCrunch spotted Uber overlaying blue, yellow, and red traffic condition bars on your route map before you hail. Responding to TechCrunch’s inquiry, Uber confirmed that traffic estimates have been quietly testing for riders on Android over the past few months and the pilot program recently expanded to a subset of iOS users. It’s already live for all drivers.

The congestion indicators are based on Uber’s own traffic information pulled from its historic trip data about 10 billion rides plus real-time data from its drivers’ phones, rather than estimates from Google that already power Uber’s maps.

If traffic estimates do roll out, they could make users more tolerant of longer ETAs and less likely to check a competing app since they’ll know their driver might take longer to pick them up because congestion is to blame rather than Uber’s algorithm. During the ride they might be more patient amidst the clogged streets.

Uber’s research into traffic in India

But most interestingly, seeing traffic conditions could help users choose when it’s time to take one of Uber’s non-car choices. They could sail past traffic in one of Uber’s new electric JUMP Bikes, or buy a public transportation ticket from inside Uber thanks to its new partnership with Masabi for access to New York’s MTA plus buses and trains in other cities. Cheaper and less labor intensive for Uber, these options make more sense to riders the more traffic there is. It’s to the company’s advantage to steer users towards the most satisfying mode of transportation, and traffic info could point them in the right direction.

Through a program called Uber Movement, the company began sharing its traffic data with city governments early last year. The goal was to give urban planners the proof they need to make their streets more efficient. Uber has long claimed that it can help reduce traffic by getting people into shared rides and eliminating circling in search of parking. But a new study showed that for each mile of personal driving Uber and Lyft eliminated, they added 2.8 miles of professional driving for an 180 percent increase in total traffic.

Uber is still learning whether users find traffic estimates helpful before it considers rolling them out permanently to everyone. Right now they only appear on unshared UberX, Black, XL, SUV, and Taxi routes before you hail to a small percentage of users. But Uber’s spokesperson verified that the company’s long-term goal is to be able to tell users that the cheapest way to get there is option X, the quickest is option Y, and the most comfortable is option Z. Traffic estimates are key to that. And now that it’s had so many cars on the road for so long, it has the signals necessary to predict which streets will be smooth and which will be jammed at a given hour.

For years, Uber called itself a logistics company, not a ride sharing company. Most people gave it a knowing wink. Every Silicon Valley company tries to trump up its importance by claiming to conquer a higher level of abstraction. But with advent of personal transportation modes like on-demand bikes and scooters, Uber is poised to earn the title by getting us from point A to point B however we prefer.

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With a $10 million round, Nigeria’s Paga plans global expansion

Posted by | africa, alipay, Android, Bank, bank transfers, california, cellulant, ceo, Column, e-commerce, economy, ethiopia, Finance, kenya, M-Pesa, Mexico, mobile devices, mobile payment, money, Nigeria, Omidyar Network, online payments, p2p, PayPal, Philippines, Safaricom, San Francisco, Spotify, Sweden, Uber, vodafone, western union | No Comments
Jake Bright
Contributor

Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for an international expansion with $10 million in funding let by the Global Innovation Fund. 

The company is planning to release its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom’s M-Pesa, according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he  said of Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Founded in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally that’s already serving 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses. All of whom can drop into one of Paga’s 17,167 agents or transfer funds from one of Paga’s mobile apps.

Paga products work on iOS, Android, and basic USSD phones using a star, hashtag option. The company has remittance partnerships with the likes of Western Union and Moneytrans and allows for third-party integration of its app.

Paga has also built out considerable scale in home market Nigeria—which boasts the dual distinction as Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu.

That’s no small feat given the country straddles the challenges and opportunities of growing digital payments. Only recently did Nigeria’s mobile and internet penetration break 50 percent and 40 percent of the country’s 196 million remain unbanked.

To bring more of Nigeria’s masses onto digital commerce, Paga recently launched a new money transfer-app that further simplifies the P2P payment process from mobile devices.

For nearly a decade, Kenya’s M-Pesa—which has 20 million active users and operates abroad—has dominated discussions of mobile money in Africa.

Paga and a growing field of operators are diversifying the continent’s payment playing field.

Fintech company Cellulant raised $47 million in 2019 on its business of processing $350 million in payment transactions across 33 African countries.

In Nigeria, payment infrastructure company Interswitch has expanded across borders and is pursuing an IPO. And Nigerian payment gateway startups Paystack and Flutterwave have digitized volumes of B2B transactions while gaining global investment.

So why does Paga—a Nigerian payments company—believe it can expand its digital payments business abroad?

“Why not us?,” said CEO Oviosu. “People sit in California and listen to Spotify that was developed in Sweden. And Uber started somewhere before going to different countries and figuring out local markets,” he added.

“The team behind this business has worked globally for some of the top tech names. This platform can stand shoulder to shoulder with any payments company built somewhere else,” he said.

On that platform, Oviosu underscores it has positioned itself as a partner, not a rival, to traditional banks. “Our ecosystem is not built to compete with you, it’s actually complimentary to you,” he said of the company’s positioning to big banks—enabling Paga to partner with seven banks in Nigeria.

Paga also sees potential to adapt its model to other regulatory and consumer environments. “We’ve built an infrastructure that rides across all mobile networks,” said Oviosu. “We’re not trying to be a bank. Paga wants to work with the banks and financial institutions to enable a billion people to access and use money,” he said.

As part of the $10 million round (which brings Paga’s total funding up to $35 million), Global Innovation Partners will take a board seat. Other round participants include Goodwell, Adlevo Capital, Omidyar Network, and Unreasonable Capital.

Paga will use the Series B2 to grow its core development team of 25 engineers across countries and continents. It will also continue its due diligence on global expansion—though no hard dates have been announced.

On revenues, Paga makes money on merchant payments, bank to bank transfers, and selling airtime and data. “As we roll out other services, we will build a model where we will make money on savings and lending,” said the company’s CEO.

As for profitability, Paga does not release financials, but reached profitability in 2018, according to Oviosu—something that was confirmed in the due diligence process with round investors.

On the possibility of beating Interswitch (or another venerable startup) to become Africa’s first big tech IPO, Oviosu plays that down. “For the next 3-5 years I see us staying private,” he said.

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The top 10 startups from Y Combinator’s Demo Day S18 Day 2

Posted by | 500 startups, accelerator, Android, Ant Financial, Facebook, General Catalyst, george church, instagram, Lyft, Novartis, qvc, Snap, Startups, TC, Uber, Y Combinator | No Comments

Fifty-nine startups took the stage at Y Combinator’s Demo Day 2, and among the highlights were a company that helps developers manage in-app subscriptions; a service that lets you create animojis from real photos; and a surplus medical equipment-reselling platform. Oh… and there was also a company that’s developed an entirely new kind of life form using e coli bacteria. So yeah, that’s happening.

Based on some investor buzz and what caught TechCrunch’s eye, these are our top picks from the second day of Y Combinator’s presentations.

You can find the full list of companies that presented on Day 1 here, and our top picks from Day 1 here. 

64-x

With a founding team including some of the leading luminaries in the field of biologically inspired engineering (including George Church, Pamela Silver and Jeffrey Way from Harvard’s Wyss Institute), 64-x is engineering organisms to function in otherwise inaccessible environments. Chief executive Alexis Rovner, herself a post-doctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute, and chief operating officer Ryan Gallagher, a former BCG Consultant, are looking to commercialize research from the Institute around accelerating and expanding the ability to produce functionalized proteins and sequence-defined polymers with diverse chemistries. Basically they’ve engineered a new life form that they want to use for novel kinds of bio-manufacturing.

Why we liked it: These geniuses invented a new life form.

CB Therapeutics

Sher Butt, a former lab directory at Steep Hill, saw that cannabinoids were as close to a miracle cure for pain, epilepsy and other chronic conditions as medicine was going to get. But plant-based cannabinoids were costly and produced inconsistent results. Alongside Jacob Vogan, Butt realized that biosynthesizing cannabinoids would reduce production costs by a factor of 10 and boost production 24 times current yields. With a deep experience commercializing drugs for Novartis and as the founder of the cannabis testing company SB Labs, Butt and his technical co-founder are uniquely positioned to bring this new therapy to market.

Why we liked it: Using manufacturing processes to make industrial quantities of what looks like nature’s best painkiller at scale is not a bad idea.

RevenueCat

RevenueCat founders

RevenueCat helps developers manage their in-app subscriptions. It offers an API that developers can use to support in-app subscriptions on iOS and Android, which means they don’t have to worry about all the nuances, bugs and updates on each platform.

The API also allows developers to bring all the data about their subscription business together in one place. It might be on to something, though it isn’t clear how big that something is quite yet. The nine-month-old company says it’s currently seeing $350,000 in transaction volume every month; it’s making some undisclosed percentage of money off that amount.

Read more about RevenueCat here.

Why we liked it: Write code. Release app. Use RevenueCat. Get paid. That sounds like a good formula for a pretty compelling business.

Ajaib

Indonesia is a country in transition, with a growing class of individuals with assets to invest yet who, financially, don’t meet the bar set by many wealth managers. Enter Ajaib, a newly minted startup with the very bold ambition of becoming the “Ant Financial of wealth management for Indonesia.” Why the comparison? Because China was in the same boat not long ago — a  country whose middle class had little access to wealth management advice. With the founding of Ant Financial nearly four years ago, that changed. In fact, Ant now boasts more than 400 million users.

China is home to nearly 1.4 billion, compared with Indonesia, whose population of 261 million is tiny in comparison. Still, if its plans work out to charge 1.4 percent for every dollar managed, with an estimated $370 billion in savings in the country to chase after, it could be facing a meaningful opportunity in its backyard if it gains some momentum.

Why we liked it: If Ajaib’s wealth management plans (to charge 1.4 percent for every dollar it manages) work out — and with a total market of $370 billion in savings in Indonesia — the company could be facing a meaningful opportunity in its backyard.

Grin

The scooter craze is hitting Latin America and Grin is greasing the wheels. The Mexico City-based company was launched by co-founder Sergio Romo after he and his partner realized they weren’t going to be able to get a cut of the big “birds” on the scooter block in the U.S. (as Axios reported). Romo and his co-founder have already lined up a slew of investors for what may be the hottest new deal in Latin America. Backers include Sinai Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, 500 Startups, Monashees and Base10 Partners.

Why we liked it: Scooters are so 2018. But there’s a lot of money to be made in mobility, and as the challenge from Bird and Lime to Uber and Lyft in hyperlocal transit has revealed, there’s no dominant player that’s taken over the market… yet.

Emojer

Creating animated emojis made from real photos, Emojer just might be the most fun you can have with a camera. The company’s software uses deep learning algorithms to detect body parts and guides users in creating their own avatars with just a simple photo take from a mobile phone. It’s replacing deep Photoshop expertise and animation skills with a super simple interface. The avatars look very similar to Elf Yourself, a popular site that let you paste your friends’ faces on dancing Christmas elves goes viral every year at Christmastime. Founders have PhDs in machine learning and computer vision.

Why we liked it: As the company’s chief executive said, Snap was for sexting, and Facebook was hot or not, so who says the next big consumer platform couldn’t be the Trojan horse of easily generated selfiemojis (akin to Elf Yourself)?

Osh’s Affordable Pharmaceuticals

Osh’s Affordable Pharmaceuticals is a public benefit corporation connecting doctors and patients with sources of low-cost, compounded pharmaceuticals. The company is looking to decrease barriers to entry for drugs for rare diseases. Three weeks ago the company introduced a drug to treat Wilson’s Disease. There was no access to the drug that treats the disease before in Brazil, India or Canada. It slashes the cost of drugs from $30,000 a month to $120 per month. The company estimates it has a total addressable market of $17 billion. “Generic drug pricing is a crisis, people are dying because they can’t get access to the medicine they need,” says chief executive Alex Oshmyansky. Osh’s might have a solution.

Why we liked it: Selling lower-cost medications for rare diseases in countries that previously hadn’t had access to them is a good business that’s good for the world.

Medinas Health

Tackling a $75 billion problem of healthcare waste, Medinas Health is giving hospitals an easy way to resell their used supplies. The company has already raised $1 million for its marketplace to help healthcare organizations buy and sell equipment. With a seed round led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures, and General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures fund, the company is also working to lower costs for cash-strapped rural healthcare centers.

Why we liked it: Finding uses for hospital equipment that’s been lying fallow in corners is a big business. A $75 billion business if Medinas’ estimates are correct. Add helping cut costs for rural medical facilities and Medinas is a business we can get behind.

And Comfort

Plus-size women have limited clothing options even at the largest retailers like Nordstrom and Macy’s. While a majority of American women fall into the plus-size clothing category, 100 million women are constrained to shopping for a very small percentage of options. And Comfort wants to solve the supply problem. To do this, the founders, two former Harvard classmates, are building a direct-to-consumer fashion brand with stylish, minimalist offerings for plus-size women, including tunic shirts and an apron dress. It’s very early days for the brand, but since launching in recent weeks, they’ve seen $25,000 in sales.

Why we liked it: This direct-to-consumer fashion brand is bringing higher quality, better-designed clothing options to a market that’s underserved and growing quickly. What’s not to like?

ShopWith

Influencers of the world are uniting on mobile app, ShopWith, which allows shoppers to browse virtual storefronts and aisles alongside their favorite fashion and beauty creators and YouTubers. Users can see exactly what products those influencers have featured and can buy them without ever leaving the app. It’s a free download and hours of commercially consumptive fun.

It’s like the QVC model, but for GenZ shoppers whose buying habits are influenced by social video content on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. The company revealed that one beauty influencer made $10,000 within five hours using the ShopWith platform. The founders are former product managers with experience building social commerce products at Facebook and Amazon.

Why we liked it: The QVC for GenZ not only has a nice ring to it, it’s a recipe for making cash registers hum. A mobile-first, influencer-based shopping company is something that we’d definitely not call an impulse purchase.

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