Uber CEO Finally Tries Using The Product

Wall Street Journal profiled Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi last week. The WSJ of late is a combination of absurdly solid news briefs, mind-numbing opinion, and PR fluff. The profile of Khosrowshahi fell into the latter category.

The scene stealer in that article is the fact that Khosrowshahi hadn’t used the driver app until just a second ago. In the profile, and probably for other business reasons he acted as an Uber Eats driver. He found several problems with both how the app works technically, and structural issues for drivers.

Each year for at least the last nine years, some portion of my job has involved product management and UX work. That means using the products. No amount of user interviews will give the same insight as experiencing a problem yourself.

User interviews are important, particularly when the barrier to entry for using a product is high. One cannot become a radiologist to demo a new software for radiology for example. But Uber is different, most can just sign up as an Uber driver.

The fact Khosrowshahi who started in 2017, had never used the app is a failure of leadership. That when he over five years in had trouble signing up, and noticed issues with the apps assigned order of operations is a failure down the line.

In an early meeting with fleet leasing startup Spring Free EV, I pegged the marketing department as inept. A marketing team in place for months had never interviewed a customer to figure out how to craft marketing material. That startup ultimately became a headache for other reasons. But if something is a red flag in an early stage startup, it’s a bigger, redder flag in a public company.

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I was going to write about this as an article about product management. However, the Big Technology newsletter scooped me. Alex Kantrowitz nailed just about every point I would have made. So please read his article.

What The Heck is Happening At Uber?

An Uber spokesperson told me that the company had dedicated more resources to its driver app, and Khosrowshahi’s driving was part of an effort to improve. “As a company we were unfortunately more focused on the rider app than the driver app, until the post-pandemic driver shortage led to a reckoning and company-wide shift, which included increased on-the-ground attention from folks who didn’t already work on the driver app everyday,” the spokesperson said. “To illustrate that further, there are now four times as many Uber employees driving or delivering than there were before the pandemic.” 
Alex Kantrowitz, April 14, 2023, bigtechnology.com