A Cleantech Finnish Startup “Split” Is Entering Indian App Based Taxi Market

Ola and Uber are battling it out in the Indian market, but they might have a competitor soon – Split. Split, a ride-sharing Finnish startup with operations in Washington DC, is aiming to grab a share of the fiercely competitive app-based cab hailing business in India dominated by Uber and Ola.

Split connects riders going in the same direction with the use of an app, helping them share cabs and save money. However the company will not offer the door-to-door business. Passengers will not be have specific pick up or drop points but to areas that are easily accessible from their designated destinations which will eventually save a lot of time and money of the customers.”Our priority is to stabilise our operations in DC and then look at growth markets like India,” said Teemu Sihvola, head of concept development at Split. Sihvola has also promised that Split is going to provide better service than Uber which will benefit Indian commuters.

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Split aims to enter India in a year or two. The app would slash costs for customers, and help reduce the number of cars on the road, curbing traffic jams and air pollution hurting Indian cities. Split is also the owner of the technology used by on-demand bus ride provider in Helsinki, Finland.

A struggling economy, small population and limited domestic market prospects have prompted Finland to encourage and fund young entrepreneurs to start new ventures. And especially in the emerging clean-tech sector, where business possibilities have risen with increased awareness. Due to this, many young individuals in Finland are taking the plunge to launch their new start-ups in the clean-tech sector. Split is one of the most significant clean-tech start-ups in the world that is working to build a sustainable future.

Split along with many other start-ups like Linkker, Visedo, Virta and Eneron presented their respective products and services including electric buses and street lighting solutions at the Global Clean-tech Summit that took place in Helsinki recently.

Mumbai Taxis On Strike, Uber Comes Up With The Perfect Response

Uber has grown at an astonishing pace to be worth $50 billion within 6 years of its inception, but its rise has been against fearsome odds, the most prominent of which has been the resistance of traditional taxi drivers whose services they have tried to disrupt. From the US to France to India, taxi unions have attempted to thwart the cab hailing company’s rise, with mixed results.

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The latest attack on Uber’s business model came today in Mumbai, when the Swabhiman Taxi-Rickshaw Union called a strike of all taxi cabs in the city, demanding a ban on taxi aggregators like Ola, Uber and Taxi For Sure. The Union, which is led by Nitesh Rane, son of Congress leader Narayan Rane, claims that these aggregators are negatively affecting the business of traditional black and yellow taxis.

A leader of the union, K K Tiwari said that they would take a demonstration of about 10,000 drivers to the transport commissioner’s office to press for their demands. In June this year, taxis had gone on a similar strike, affecting transport in the city. K K Tiwari had then claimed that the taxi aggregators were plying cabs “illegally” and that traditional taxis were not getting long-distance customers because of them.

Realizing that commuters in Mumbai would be hard pressed to get around the city on Tuesday, and catching on to what a great marketing opportunity this would be, Uber decided to waive surge pricing for the day in the city. 

This means that while there will be great demand for Uber cabs on Tuesday, pricing shall remain at normal levels. This move completely sidesteps the protest, and positions Uber as a reliable and safe alternative to taxi cabs. In addition, it also serves as a great marketing tool for Uber, as it brings the striking whims and fancies of traditional cab drivers into stark contrast with the reliability and dependability of Uber. The move won accolades on social media, with many commenters comparing Uber favourably to traditional taxis.

This round is to Uber.

Tata Capital Invests In Uber, Its First Foray Outside India

The Tatas is clearly betting big on the cab-hailing market. After Ratan Tata announced an investment in Ola last month, Tata Capital today announced it had made a “significant investment” into Uber. This move ensures that the company has a finger in all pies in the super-competitive cab hailing market in India.

The investment, whose amount has not been disclosed, is the Fund’s first ever foray in a company outside India.

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Padmanabh Sinha, Managing Partner of the Fund’s Advisory Team said, “The Tata Opportunities Fund (TOF) is delighted to support Uber’s growth and continued success around the globe. Uber’s technology continues to transform the way millions of people commute while creating economic opportunities for hundreds of thousands of first-time entrepreneurs (drivers and owners), who value the flexibility it offers. It is why Uber has grown at such an astonishing rate and continues to lead the way in the Internet economy.”

Travis Kalanik, CEO Uber Technologies said, “Tata is synonymous with entrepreneurialism in India and I am incredibly excited to have the Tata Opportunities Fund on board as a partner. Our goal is simple: reliable and affordable transportation at the push of a button everywhere, for everyone. Right now, we’re particularly focused on building a great service for hundreds of millions of Indians – Tata’s leadership and experience will be crucial in helping us meet this important goal.”

Uber, which launched in India less than two years ago, is now available in 18 Indian cities – more than in any other country outside the United States – and growing at a frenetic pace. It may be recalled that Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, has made a personal investment in rival Ola Cabs last month.

Uber Founder’s Is The World’s No. 2 Ranked Wii Tennis Player

Uber is riding high on a high valuation (nearly $50 billion) and a promise to take over the world. From a San Francisco based startup to one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley – Uber’s come a long way.

And along the company’s success, Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and CEO of Uber, made it to the Forbes list of billionaires. But it was not just his entrepreneuring skills that worked for the company’s success. The man has a now-not-so-secret passion and some “weird ways”, that investor Lowercase Capital partner Chris Sacca, finds important in an entrepreneur.

Image source - www.vanityfair.com
source – vanityfair.com

Chris Sacca, the founder of Lowercase Capital and an early Uber investor shares a story from a years ago.

“A few years ago, Uber was barely started, Travis was at my house up in the mountains over the holidays hanging out with me and my family, and he’s pal-ing around with my dad. And my dad says, “Hey, let’s play a game of Wii Tennis (Nintendo Wii).” My dad had a Wii at home and considered himself a pretty good tennis player. He’s like mildly athletic and has played in a few local tennis tournaments. So Travis is like, “Alright.”

Travis is barely awake yet. And they sit there and they start playing this Wii Tennis game and my dad is getting abused. He’s losing handily to Travis… And Travis is like, in full “Princess Bride” style, he says… “I’m playing with my opposite hand.” And so he switches the controller to his other hand.

They start the match again, and my dad doesn’t score a single point. He is absolutely swinging away and he gets no points in, and half of Travis’ serves are just aces. My dad is completely dejected. So this grin comes over Travis’ face, and… he starts thumbing over on the controller to the settings page on the Wii and to where they have the global high score. And he says, “I’m actually tied for second in the global rankings in Wii Tennis.” He was the second best player in the world in Wii Tennis.

I don’t know when the day was when Travis decided he wanted to be one of the best Wii Tennis players in the world while founding what’s gone on to become the biggest transportation company in history. But it was in that moment that I saw his true obsession with obtaining a goal. Once he sets something out as a goal for himself, he will absolutely accomplish it – at probably any cost.”

Travis Kalanick has carried that sportsman  and problem-solving spirit to Uber.  “He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t lose focus. He will even forget to eat. He executes again and again, inspiring those around him to have the same passion for the end game as he does”, Sacca said. “He would even take the cheapest hotels and hostels while traveling, and he’s a billionaire” Sacca added admiring Kalanick’s ability to stay grounded into the bootstrapped startup culture.

Kalanick didn’t have a golden fortune. His first startup failed and filed bankruptcy and the second one didn’t quite work out either and sold for $18.7 million in stock. He invested eight hard years in entrepreneuring, dropped out of U.C.L.A and reached almost mid-30s when Uber happened finally. But when it clicked, it clicked big time. And the next few years changed the transportation history forever.

Today Uber is competing with taxi services in the USA and 58 other countries all over the world and Kalanick holds at least 12% of the company.

Lessons From A Conversation With An Uber Driver Who Earns 80k PM

I emerged from my office at 5pm, earlier than my usual time, one eye continuously on the phone screen, tracking the movement of the guy who would take me home, today. The little black car icon squiggling away on the map, coming closer to the blue pin that’s me. Nagesh Shrinivas, the driver details inform me. Nagesh had apparently miscalculated a turn, and now needed to make a long u-turn, delaying the ETA by a few minutes. And here he was, in a shiny black Swift DeZire, a South Indian man presumably in his early 30s, wearing a Tshirt with jeans. I hop in and am immediately greeted with a “hello ma’am”. I settle in, request Nagesh to put my phone on charge which he obliges only too helpfully. “Maam, should I start trip?” he asks, I nod and off we go.

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I look at the world outside me. People like myself, 9-5 employees in this IT suburb of Bangalore are beginning to spill out from their respective IT parks and glass ‘n’ concrete offices. Some are driving, one in a big SUV – one of my pet peeves- adding to the famous mayhem that the traffic of this city is, some are comfortably ensconsed in the big comfortable seats of the AC Volvo, some unlucky ones who have to contend with standing in the aisles of the said bus, one hand dangling from the support with a laptop bag on the back; while some just like me are enjoying the real benefits of a sharing economy in a hired cab. I take a moment to thank this service and this driver in my mind for saving me the nightmare of having to drive- well, I can’t- or needing to learn to drive, of jostling for space in the overcrowded buses, or of losing a few precious minutes of my life haggling with an auto rikshaw driver in a negotiation that beats any I make at work.

The AC is on, there’s no music, and the noises of the outside world are tuned out. With my phone out of reach while it’s being charged, and a dead laptop to boot, I don’t have much to do for the next 2 hours that this ride would take. I wonder what Nagesh is thinking about. Let’s find out, I decide. And here begins a conversation that would make me re-look at my life and career forever after.

Extricating a bag of chips from my bag ever so carefully so as to not disrupt the peace of this cab, I decide food is a good way to break the ice. I hold out the bag by his side and offer. He smiles and says “No maam.” Ok! Someone can apparently eat not even one.

“So, since when have you been with Uber?” I ask in Hindi.

“It’s been 6 months now maam.” He replies in English. Ok, there’s no need to patronise the guy. 

I ask him about his education and I’m pleasantly surprised. Nagesh is a bachelors in commerce and worked at an IT company as an admin clerk before Uber happened.

“From a company to driving cars, how come the change in career?” 

“Maam, office work is too boring. Sitting, sitting in one place is not for me. Uber takes me around, I meet people, get paid on time. Every day, something new. Don’t miss a thing about office”. Thanks Nagesh, you just echoed my thoughts, except you actually went out and did something about it.

That’s nice, I tell him and move on to more casual questions to help him ease into the conversation. Nagesh has a wife and 2 kids who’re studying in a government school. He used his savings of 5 years to buy a second hand car for Uber, he adds.

“How long do you work for everyday?”

“Maam, I start at 7am…and usually do my last trip at 12, or even later”

“Wow, those are long hours.” I do a quick math. “You’re driving 17 hours a day?”

He chuckles. “Oh no no, I don’t do it continuously. I start early to get the people who have just arrived in the city after an overnight bus ride. Then I go for breakfast. Spend an hour or two there. And start again”. That is clever I thought, thinking back to my own trip a few days back when I’d hopped into an Uber immediately after getting down from my bus from Hyderabad, too weary from the long travel to want to bother with the tantrums of an auto rikshaw. On a side note I thought, breakfast afterall is the most important meal of the day.

“So, how many trips on average do you do per day?” I get down to asking the one question I’d been meaning to, the entire time.

“Around 10. But sometimes even 12. An average ride takes about an hour. So I manage to do 10 of them comfortably. But then of course it depends on the demand also. Sometimes we don’t get many calls”

10 rides per day. And if the average pay for one ride is 150,  1500 a day, and deduct expenses for fuel; doesn’t add up to much I calculate.

But I’d be surprised.

“How does the payment model work? How does Uber pay you for a ride?”

“So, basically, Uber pays us a flat amount for being available for 12 hours a day, even if we don’t get any booking. And we get a bonus on every trip from Uber, over and above what the customer pays the app. For eg. if you pay Uber 200, we get 350 from Uber. The 150 is our reward and bonus”.

Plus there’s surge pricing I add. With a dynamic pricing model, the fare can shoot up to 3x times depending on the demand. i.e. the more the demand for a cab in a location, and the fewer the cabs to meet it, the higher you need to shell out to book a ride.

Whoa, that’s a sweet model, I think. It’s a win win situation for the customer and the driver, for whom the earnings are almost unlimited. Well, not really considering that a driver can do only that many trips per day.

But consider this. On an average of 10 trips a day, 200 being the average fare for a trip and 350 being the compensation from Uber, the drive earns about 3500 a day or 1,05,000 a month in revenue. Add to that special allowances and bonuses that Uber metes out to the drivers from time to time. However, after deducting fuel and car maintenance costs, the profits are probably 70% of the revenue, I reason. Nagesh has probably read my thoughts.

“Maam in a good month I’ve made 80 thousand.” I picture my own payslip from the day. I try to smile and tell myself, ok driving around all day in this pollution and traffic has got to suck.

“The harder I work, the more I earn. So it depends on me how much I want to earn. Some days I’m really sleepy and another one hour in the bed looks tempting, but then I get up and push myself harder.” I make a quick mental note of that. This is a reminder we all probably need.  

“I’m happy. My kids are going to a good school now.”

This leaves me with a question. If I pay Uber 200, and Uber pays the driver 350, the other 150 is a loss to Uber. How’s it making any money?

It’s not. Right now, backed heavily by venture capital including ones from Google and Microsoft, Uber follows an invest and user-acquisition model, where its service and the discounted rides is the advertising. (Even though Uber too has started outdoor advertising of late) In fact a Gawker report has pointed to documents that prove that Uber is a mega loss venture as of right now, having registered over $50mn in losses in 2013 alone.

It hopes to poach drivers and customers from close competitors like Ola and Meru apart from the thousand of auto drivers in the city. The bigger objective of course is to become synonymous with commute, gradually encouraging people to be a bigger part of the sharing economy and ultimately, boil down to owning a car vs taking an Uber.

Of course while the customer enjoys most of the benefits, and the drivers are laughing all the way to the bank, it’s a matter of time when Uber may also start charging full price for its service, but by then we’d probably be too used to think of the alternatives. With its big expansion plans in India, and innovative ways to create a lovable brand, this is going to be an exciting future for the cab-hailing app and everyone else who cares to observe.

As my trip ends, and I look at the instant “Your Monday evening trip with Uber. 250” email that pops up on my screen, I thank Nagesh, for once not resenting someone who earns more than me, as I give him 5 stars, and an equally stellar review.

After Google and Amazon, Uber To Have Its Biggest Office Non-US In Hyderabad

Large tech companies can’t seem to get enough of Hyderabad. After Google and Amazon announced plans to set up their largest non-US campuses here, it’s now the turn of Uber to start calling Hyderabad its home. The company on Monday announced plans to invest $ 50 million to build a state-of-the-art office in the city.

“The investment will be into Uber’s core business — a new green field project which we are going to set up here. It will make Hyderabad the largest Uber office in the world outside the US,” Sidharth Shanker, general manager of Uber Hyderabad operations, told reporters after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Telangana government. 

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The facility will be set up over the next 5 years and will employ hundreds of people. This will be Uber’s biggest investment in India. 

“Hyderabad was always the preferred choice. The style of life, the progressive government and deep talent pool were the key factors that influenced the decision,” Sidharth said.

This MoU is expected to create thousands of jobs in Telangana. In addition to this, the company will partner with the government  to create socio-economic opportunities for women and people from resource-poor sections of society. Uber will also collaborate with Telangana Academy for Skills and Knowledge to identify and train 2,000 candidates by the end of 2016.

Uber Releases iPhone Game That Lets You Be An Uber Driver

Uber drivers are a talked-about lot these days. People are discussing their salaries with amazement, and there are blogs chronicling their experiences. Amidst all this hoopla, Uber has come up with a way to make the Uber driver experience available to the masses. And without the hassle of people throwing up in your backseat.

Uber has launched an iPhone game, UberDrive, that mimics the experience of being an Uber driver. The game claims showcases a day in the life of an Uber driver-partner. Players help riders get from A to B and earn high scores for identifying the safest and most efficient routes to their destinations.

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At the moment, future Uber drivers may only negotiate the streets of San Francisco, but a wider rollout is expected soon.

The game was developed by Mike Truong, a senior product manager at Uber. He has a background in creating education apps for small children.

This appears to be another recruiting tactic for Uber, which is aggressively looking for drivers worldwide. Users can sign up to become drivers and upload their applications and screening materials directly from inside the game. It could also be a part of an image makeover plan, considering how the company has received bad press globally for its strong-arm tactics, fare manipulations and passenger safety concerns. 

 

CEO Withdraws Job Offer After Candidate Posts Question On Quora

It’s not uncommon for people to turn to the internet for advice in choosing jobs. An engineer from the US, who had job offers from Uber and Zenefits, did exactly that. He posted a thread entitled “What is the best way to start my career: Uber or Zenefits?” on Quora, a popular discussion forum. Things did not quite go as planned when the CEO of Zenefits happened to come across his post and withdrew his job offer with a post.

 

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The engineer in question had job offers from Uber and Zenefits, both considered to be desirable startups to work for. His post began with a summary of the pros and cons of working at both companies. He felt that Uber had great people, a great product, and would be a solid brand to have on his resume when he applied to companies like Google and Apple, which he stated was where he wanted to eventually end up. He however felt that Uber, being a hot young startup with tons of qualified applicants, didn’t want his services enough, seeing how they’d not let him negotiate on his salary.

He felt that Zenefits, a cloud HR solutions startup, too had a great team who he’d enjoyed talking to during the interview process. Being a smaller company than Uber, he felt that the upper management there was more accessible and he’d be able to make a bigger impact working there as compared to working at Uber. He also felt that he’d be more valued as an employee there. His only grouse with the company was that it wasn’t a buzzword like Uber, which would be a disadvantage when he applied to companies like Google and Apple.

This did not sit well with the Zenefits CEO Parker Conrad, who was Quora user and happened to come across the thread. He publicly withdrew the offer with the comment posted above.

This post by the CEO, which has since been deleted, has been widely criticised on Quora since. Most Quora users found the questions and concerned justified, and the CEO’s response has been called “immature” amongst other things.

Zenefits Quora Response

Zenefits Quora Response

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While the original poster might take solace in the fact that most people now believe that the Zenefits CEO making his choice for him was probably for the best, it still raises the question of anonymity on the internet. When you post about job choices, it’s best to be mindful that people from the concerned company – including the CEO – could be watching.