San Francisco private driver startup Uber is picking up speed in Europe, with an official launch last week in Berlin and Milan as the next city on the list. What’s the strategy? “Lots of hustle”, as the company’s VP of Global Operations Ryan Graves puts it.
Uber runs on a simple idea – download an app, sign up using your credit card details, summon a private driver, see who’s close and how far away they are, and pay effortlessly within the app.
The price tends to sit at 15 to 20 per cent more than the cost of a normal taxi cab. In exchange, Uber promises a superior car and reliable service.
In the US, the model proved enough of a hit for Uber to raise a fresh $37m and, in late 2011, announce plans to expand to “two cities a month around the world”. Since then, the company has rolled out in new cities including London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Milan and Singapore (both still in test phase), and Sydney.
Berlin may prove a tricky market – with a few exceptions, it’s more known for tote bags and graffiti than glitz and business. It’s also a stronghold for Germany-founded taxi app MyTaxi and limousine service Blacklane.
Graves, also Uber’s first CEO, spoke to us in Berlin about why the city’s a good fit, plans to bring its lower-priced taxi service to Europe (“possible”), driver contracts and how the company will avoid fights with regulators like those it had in Washington DC.