Three key principles that drive Uber’s progress

May 20, 2016


Don’t listen to your mates, work out how to do yourself out of a job, and don’t waste time on a business plan – these are just some of the tips for successful disruption from David Rohrsheim, the Australian head of ridesharing pioneer Uber.

I became hooked on mobile apps in 2003 during a class at Adelaide University named “Mobile Networks & Applications”. SA had just deployed on North Terrace a pioneering 3G network demonstration. I knew I was witnessing the future, and I wanted to be part of making it happen.

Uber is a mobile app that makes a city easier to use – you press a button on your phone and a car shows up to give you a ride. Ridesharing makes better use of the transport infrastructure a city already owns by filling the empty seats in personal cars.

Uber recently celebrated our one-billionth ride globally. This sort of change is hard, but a few simple principles fuelled our progress:

Don’t plan, act: Don’t waste time writing a 40-page business plan. Stop talking to your mates. You’ll learn so much more from closing your first paying customer. Interviews and studies can be very misleading.

Henry T. Ford is rumored to have said: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” You have to be willing to run experiments – in a safe, controlled manner – to create the future. In the year that the SA Government spent conducting surveys and interviews on the future of personal transport, over 36,000 Australians in all other mainland states were already living in the future making money by driving with Uber.

Focus on the customer: Uber started with zero customers in Australia, so we had to offer both riders and drivers a better deal or none would have ever signed up. We learned that passengers wanted reliable, affordable rides, while drivers wanted flexible ways to make money. Sometimes regulations stand in the way of that vision, so we are obliged to start a conversation with the government about fixing them.

Disrupt yourself: I frequently ask my team “how can you put yourself out of a job?” to encourage them to embrace smart technology to streamline routine operations. Then they can move on to more valuable tasks. I wish the SA Government would lead the way on this thinking, but when we see application forms take 30 working days (or more) to process you know that it must be built on people and paper rather than technology.

The SA taxi industry could have invented Uber itself if it had re-invested more of its $200m annual revenue in better services for customers. Not every industry can depend on the Treasurer to arrange a $90 million bailout when new competition arrives. On our end, we are already making significant investments in autonomous vehicles (we’re hiring!) to ensure Uber has a role when that future arrives too.

Change is hard work, so be sure to choose something you care about passionately. When I was a student at Adelaide Uni, I vividly remember walking home through the parklands late at night because I couldn’t find an affordable ride when I needed it. Ridesharing can fix that – but only with sensible regulation.

InDaily presents Disrupters on Thursday, 23 June at the Published ArtHouse in Cannon Street, Adelaide – click the link below for more details and to book tickets.



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