The vice president overseeing Europe, Middle East and Africa for Uber, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, was on a visit to Lagos for two days during which he spoke with Emma Okonji about the company and the new technology innovation it is bringing to African markets. Excerpts:
What is the commitment of Uber to the Nigerian market since the launch of Uber in Nigeria some years ago?
We are very committed to the Nigerian market, including the entire African markets where we operate and the reason is that we see huge potential on the continent, based on its massive population of people living on the continent. Nigeria is a huge market for Uber and because each market has its own challenges, we are in Nigeria to address some of those challenges. Uber provides economic opportunities to address unemployment in Nigeria, through the engagement of Uber drivers across the cities where we operate in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the population of cities is growing very fast and this is also creating congestion on the city roads and Uber has the solution to address road congestion in cities. With Uber and emerging technologies, we can really make a difference in Nigeria.
How true is the allegation that Uber is developing the European markets more than the African markets?
This is a unique question that gives me the opportunity to share one of my main messages for the African markets. Uber is fully committed to the African markets just the same way it focusses Â on the European and US markets. There was a time when some investors were expressing their views that Uber should refocus efforts on Europe andÂ Â the US, which created a number of question marks how important is the African market to Uber. But I can assure Africans and Nigerians that Uber is committed to the African markets, just the same way it is committed to other markets outside Africa. We are extremely excited about the opportunities in the African markets, and we want to double our operations across the African markets.
Your competitors in the Nigerian market are doing everything possible to get a bigger percentage of the market share. What is Uber’s strategy to remain the market leader?
Competition is something that we genuinely celebrate because it makes us to be more innovative to boost our customers’ experience and our drivers’ experience. So fundamentally, we welcome competition. However, we have various strategies to help us maintain our leadership position in every market that we operate. We are the only global player that has the same app that could work in different countries of the world, and this is something that a lot of consumers who travel around the world value a lot. Again, we invest the most in technology and we have several thousands of engineers that are working very hard to ensure that our drivers and riders get the best of Uber experience. We are keen about safety of our riders and drivers and we have continued to put technology in place that guarantees their safety both day and night. Our app allows riders to see the drivers, get the drives details and also be able to share their trips with their friends so that their friends could have idea of whatever location they are at any given time. We also have 24/7 support for our riders and drivers. All these make us different from our competitors and have made us remain top player in our line of business.
Your line of business is largely driven by technology and technology is evolving. Today we have Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) driving various sectors of economies, do you have plans to introduce these emerging technologies in your business?
Yes, technology is evolving and there are many things we can do with emerging technologies like AI and IoT to further drive our business model. For example, we are trying to solve a particular challenge by bringing Uber magic to the mass market, through the introduction of mass ride, where we can bring more people to ride on a single trip, especially people traveling in the same direction and at the same time. Few years ago, we launched the service in the US and we are trying to extend that service to other parts of the world. The service uses AI and special algorithm to match riders traveling in the same direction and at the same time. Beyond our transportation business, we are also using technology to offer food delivery service to our customers and this unique service is called ‘Uber Eat’ and it is becoming very successful, since it was first experimented.
You are knowledgeable in coding as a way of using technology to develop yourself. How has your experience in coding impacted on the kind of transportation business that you currently manage in Europe, Middle East and Africa? Â
Yes, I have good knowledge in coding but I must admit that I am not coding in my day-to-day job, but be that as it may, it is very clear that software and technology are beginning to touch every aspect of our daily lives, including the most traditional businesses that we do. And I think it is important for the young generation to learn coding because the knowledge of coding can be applied to enhance job efficiency in various sectors.
What are your plans for training and retraining the Uber local teams that are driving the Uber business in Nigeria?
We invest in training and retraining of our staff, not just in Nigeria alone, but in every country where we have presence. As a company, we invest a lot in the development of our team members and we have a lot of programmes designed to develop our local staff. For example, we have had partnership programme with Business Schools in the US, to train our employees online and this is an initiative that has been very successful in the US and we have such initiative in various markets were we operate. We have also developed local contents for drivers in specific regions of our operations to assist the drivers perform optimally and we are also planning to release new apps for drivers that will help them navigate effortlessly around their various markets. The feedback we got from the meeting we had with Uber drivers in Nigeria during my visit, would be imputed into the new apps we are developing for drivers in the Nigerian market, to help them perform better. We plan to increase safety measures in Lagos, based on the feedback we got from our drivers in Nigeria.
Your line of business is powered by broadband, but we have a bit of challenge in Nigeria about broadband connectivity, which obviously pose challenge to riders when they try to make online request using the Uber app. Is there plan to make your upcoming apps very light for easy connectivity?
The broadband connectivity challenge in most market where we operate is well known to us at Uber and we are looking at doing a number of things to address that. The idea of developing lighter apps is something we are already considering for the Indian market and we can extend that to the Nigerian market and the West African markets as well. Apart from using mobile phones to make request for Uber ride, we are also looking at deploying public phone boots in Africa that riders could use to initiate request. We are working hard to ensure that Uber addresses some of the connectivity challenges in most markets globally.
What is the motive behind the establishment of the Uber Greenlight Hubs in Nigeria and what does it seek to address?
As Uber, we are big believers of the power of physical interactions and we felt that in order to serve our drivers better, we need that kind of physical contact between Uber and its drivers in ways that are more direct than the use of emails for communication, hence we created the Uber Greenlight Hubs in different locations around the cities where we operate in Nigeria. It is a centre for interaction and sharing of ideas and experiences between drivers and Uber staff. We understand that not all drivers can interact via emails, so the Uber Greenlight Hubs make it easier for them to interact and share their experiences and challenges in the course of doing their business as Uber drivers.
Has the Uber Greenlight Hub initiative been experimented in other regions, or is Nigeria the first country to implement it?
We have tried it out in other countries and it worked perfectly well just as it is working in the Nigerian market. But we have since discovered that the Nigerian market and other West African markets, have the strongest differentiator among the places we have introduced it.
How will you describe the growth of Uber business in Nigeria?
In terms of growth, I can say that the Uber business is having tremendous growth in Nigeria in terms of registered riders who use our app to ride on Uber on a daily basis. Again, there are opportunities for growth in the Nigerian market, considering its population. I think we have just scratched the surface of business in Nigeria because the opportunities for growth are enormous.
What is the current number of active ridders that use the uber app on a daily basis in Nigeria?
We currently have 130,000 people that use Uber to move around in a daily basis, with about 9,000 active drivers on a regular basis in Nigeria and 70 per cent of the driver number actually use the income they generate to meet family needs.
Government policies could make or mar businesses. What kind of government policy do you expect from the Nigerian government?
One of the things we have enjoyed as a business in most of the countries we operate, is about continuity in governance and regulation. We need regulatory policies that will drive business growth because we are in long term business and we are working with policy makers in different regions where we operate to figure out the best policies that will be beneficial to both the government and the business operating companies.
There is a trend where local taxis in some countries of the world like South Africa and Dubai feel threatened about the presence of Uber and they are doing everything to frustrate the Uber business in those regions, but this is not the case with Nigeria at the moment. What measures are you putting in place to avert such ugly situation from rearing its ugly head in Nigeria?
The fear of local taxis in some regions that Uber is taking away jobs from them is not necessary because Uber is providing mobility in areas where mobility was pretty difficult. It is our belief that what we are doingÂ Â complements the operations of the local taxis and should not be seen as a threat to their business. In Nigeria, the transport market is open to all and we do not envisage any form of monopoly or threat to business. In Nigeria, people see Uber as a company that has transformed the transport industry, using technology to better the lives of riders and drivers.
Tell us about the Uber incident response team and what it seeks to address?
The Uber incident response team helps to address the challenges that riders and drivers experience during any trip. The team is handling all forms of safety for riders and drivers. They have dedicated lines that drivers and riders can contact to get instant response in case of any challenge during a trip.