April 24, 2014

Why Uber worked, and Hailo didn’t


Travis Kalanick is on the TIME 100 list. He is described as “driven” and I chuckled. He is the founder and CEO behind the most talked about app of this year: Uber, the mobile taxi ordering and tracking service. Uber is everywhere – I’ve personally been completely astounded by how many people, on a daily basis, are plugging it and singing it’s praises. Literally every single one of my best friends endorsed it, loved it, used it – “get a room with Uber!” I would cry. 

I have always been interested in, and intrigued by, word of mouth recommendations and the seemingly “old-school” marketing tactic of essentially just getting people to talk about your product, organically, willingly. No shitty, intrusive ads, just pure unadulterated unsponsored endorsement. I can’t remember which brain-box first said it, maybe it’s my own words (LOL) but it’s the golden rule: get people to love your product and they are doing their PR and marketing for you. Your product IS your press. If your product is actually good, you obviously need to do a bit of groundwork and then boom, sit back and watch the magic happen. Like how I imagine Snoop Dogg would look if he reclined on a sofa.

So when Uber popped up in my work inbox, colleagues doing the round-robin of “please use my promo codes!”, then recommended by friends down the pub, then all over Twitter like chicken-pox and then when the look of sympathy appeared whenever I told anyone I’d paid full-whack for a black cab, it’s fair to say that I soon realised was a new “trend” in town. Message successfully logged: if you’re not Uber-ing, then you’re losing grip on what the modern world has to offer, my friend.

But, what’s the catch here? Why didn’t all the other taxi apps beat Uber to the race? ‘Cos there were many.

The answer here seems quite simple: Uber gave their users an incentive to sign up. I can’t remember all the different offers but I know the most recent one was that a friend would send you their “promo code” and then the new person would get £10.00 for their first ride. The person who shares their promo code also gets a top up. WIN. WIN. Stuff like that spreads like wildfire. This added with Uber linking your bank card to your account, omg, THANKS UBER, now I don’t have to be the cash-monster. Or be worried about forgetting one’s pin number and getting shouted out by an angry cockney-rhymer. No one is a cash-person these days. We just want to be pissed and roll into a cab and have it paid for (even if it from our own bank accounts)- we want it to be like those rare times in a posh restaurant in the first week of payday when you “don’t need to see the bill”. Of course the next day it is a different story – but if you’ve already spent £100 on cocktails then who gives a shit about an extra tenner on a cab? Plus: IT’S NOT A BLACK CAB. You can give yourself a big slap on the back, because that is the blackest of all sins. Pun intended.

So let me talk about Hailo. The app that could have been. I actually reviewed Hailo last year, I got a few quid for free to try out. The concept was there – it really was. But it didn’t have the wow-factor. It was buggy. I ordered a cab, and on the Google map style layout I could see my car was on its way but there was a problem with the map so we all got confused. The driver called me but he still couldn’t find me. It was also bloody expensive, mainly because it is a black cab, and I don’t know about you but I find them really awkward and bumpy and creaky. It’s like going on a road-trip across the Sahara desert. With Uber, and the strapline being “your own private driver” you feel like you are getting a good service. With Uber, you can text the driver, they will find you. You can also rate your driver so they get a number of different “stars” like a hotel or an eBay seller. They need to treat you well! Black cab drivers can rip you off and leave you. They can toss you to the side of the road like a dog-eared issue of The Evening Staaaaaan’ad. Apples and pears, and all that.

So in a nutshell, I think Uber worked because it was a new service (no baggage with a “black cab” reputation); gave you a “premier” experience (everyone likes to be treated to a leather seat every now and again); friends can share with friends for a reason that is wholly mutually beneficial; you can get a discount for trialling the service; it’s MOBILE; it works; it links to your bank account AND it doesn’t rip you off.

Well done Uber, and Travis, for the TIME 100 win.


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