The Romance of Uber

By Christos Tsolkas

I like Uber.

The app is easy. You can see how far away your car is before it arrives. There’s no hassle trying to hail a cab. You don’t need cash. The cars are clean and well-looked after. And the drivers are friendly.

I always ask, “Do you like working for Uber?”

Every driver says, “Yes!” Except one. “I don’t work for Uber,” he said. “My customer’s my boss.” That made me smile, and like Uber even more.

But in Europe, Uber’s not well liked. And I have a small theory why.

Europe the Old vs. Europe the New

I’m a citizen of Europe. I’ve lived in Greece, Switzerland, France, England, and Ukraine, and I travel everywhere for business. Uber claims it operates in about 40 European cities, but all I hear about is how much trouble Uber is in. Unions hate Uber and have organized mass protests. Governments are passing laws to shut it out. Newspapers are complaining about what Uber may be doing with its data.

I’m not surprised. Europe is almost a nightmare for start-ups. We are protectionists not entrepreneurs. We prefer stability over change. Data collection makes us nervous because we fear privacy breaches. Labor rights are very important here, too, while consumer satisfaction and customer care are not as all-important as they are in the US.

Personally, I love disruptive innovations. It’s fun to see how new technologies, services or business models can completely change a market and create explosive growth.

But in Europe, it can feel as though time passes slower than in other parts of the world. The economic cycles are longer, the discoveries are slower, the fruits of innovation are forever immature. So is that the reason why resistance to Uber is so strong?

Nope. In spite of what I just said about Europe, I can assure you that we have many innovative people here who want to build new businesses that create new jobs. We want more change and less tradition. We have embraced social networking compromising our privacy. And many of us in the very sizable middle class would be happy to both spend a little on conveniences that make life easier and bring in a little extra as “micro-earners” by working extra jobs or letting our apartments in the summer.

Wine and Dine

The issue, in my view, is that Uber didn’t enter Europe the right way.
Uber is a big, capital-rich company now but its tactics remind me of a typical renegade start-up. Sneak into the market. Don’t worry about rules or regulations. Establish a small group of passionate users who will lead your revolution. And if you make lots of people mad (especially the establishment) you’re doing something right.

Here’s a piece of a humble advice for Uber or any tech start-up planning a European invasion:

  • Don’t sneak into European markets and try to shake everything up like you’ve done in the US. Be more romantic.
  • Spend time understanding stakeholders and the consumer. Map them. Respect them. Analyze their behavior and interests. Win them over.
  • Before entering those markets, create interest in your services. Campaign and build desire to inspire passionate demand and make change easier.
  • Put thought into the potential side effects of your new service. What are the damages to stakeholders? How can the “social state” compensate?
  • Appreciate the powerful role of the media, trade unions, and legislators. Use experts to understand what they want and need to feel comfortable.

That’s the European way of introducing a new product, service, or idea. It takes time and sweat. And it’s not as daring in a Silicon Valley kind of way. But the yield over time is more sustainable and that justifies the extra effort.

It may be more pain. But it’s also more gain!

Photo Reuters

christos tsolkas

March ‘15

  • Post category:MY WRITING