Ride-sharing app Uber officially launches in Hong Kong

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Hailing itself as everyone’s private driver, Uber helps connect users to private chauffeurs within minutes of pressing a button on their free smartphone app. Whether it be a luxurious Mercedes Benz S-Class sedan or an SUV for a family outing, CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick promises on delivering high quality experiences with the fastest response time from local chauffeur companies. Nick Chan speaks to Sam Gellman, General Manager for Hong Kong, on Uber’s success story and expansion plans in Asia.

For those uninitiated, what is Uber and who are your target customers?
Uber is everyone’s private driver. Before we came to Hong Kong, chauffeurs only dealt with high profile clients, celebrities and hotel guests. With Uber, we make use of unutilised gaps in their bookings and make the service available to a much wider audience. All you have to do is download our app, tap the button to indicate your location and, within minutes you’ll have a luxury car driven to your doorstep. Upon arrival, you simply walk out the door, with your credit card billed through our app. It’s a straightforward experience – the beauty is in the simplicity.

Where did the idea behind Uber originate?
The story goes with our two co-founders, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, on their way out of a technology conference in Paris. There were no cars available and they desperately wanted a service where, at the push of a button, a car would instantly arrive – which is the basic premise for Uber. This idea stuck with them and they decided to buy 10 Mercedes Benz sedans and a garage for their friends and family in San Francisco. Word of mouth spread and people began asking what this amazing service was. Four years later, Uber is now on a global platform with over 140 cities represented around the world.

When did Uber launch its operation in Asia?
We officially began in January 2013 and we’re currently in 25 cities around Asia.

Did you encounter anything surprising while expanding in Hong Kong?
What’s amazed me about launching in Hong Kong is how quick the growth has been. In all our time internationally, we’ve never had a city that has embraced Uber as quickly as Hong Kong. I think there are several reasons behind this phenomenon. It’s a fashionable city that wants a lot of choices – whether it be restaurants, clothes or hotels. For me, transportation is no different. If transportation were a restaurant, you could either go to Café de Coral or you could have your own private chef. Essentially, Uber is filling this niche for those willing to spend a little more on luxury and convenience.

Do you feel there is any competition with local taxi drivers?
I certainly don’t feel that way given our service is around 70% higher than that of a normal taxi fare. As I said earlier, we’re providing an option in this market. If you’re a family of five wanting to go to Ocean Park for example, taxis are out of the question. Uber is simply offering this family, and many others, the option to rent out different kinds of vehicles.

What are some of the challenges that face Uber when starting up in a city?
Primarily it’s the doubt that comes with Uber and the challenges that arise from government groups. There will always be a voice saying their city doesn’t require Uber, despite a relatively positive user response ever since our launch. It’s one of those things that needs getting used to. Once people realise it’s just another option, they’ll come to the conclusion that Uber isn’t actually competing with current transportation options.

How does Uber promote itself?
The best thing about Uber is that riders themselves do the PR for us. [Laughs] Word of mouth through social media such as Facebook and Twitter has really helped propel our service to those looking for something new and exciting. Once a person has a great experience, they instantly tell their friends about it. We also provide an incentive that gives out $50 credit every time you get your friends to join Uber. In doing so, we get genuine reviews from customers who help do the storytelling for us. Ultimately, having a product that people want to grow for you is our key to success.

Technology is an important aspect to Uber. Do you feel it’s important for business start-ups nowadays to embrace social media?
Technology is finding its way to more and more industries and it’s impossible to neglect social media as a means of reaching out. The whole point of Uber is connectivity and social media is a convenient way for both the provider and user to bridge connections and get meaningful feedback.

Where do you see Uber in the next five years?
Our goal is to ensure that we have maximum citywide coverage in every city we’re situated in. In Hong Kong for example, we primarily serve Hong Kong Island and parts of Kowloon for the time being, but we hope to cover every district in the near future so that more users can connect with us. Of course, we also hope to situate ourselves in every major city around the world with China and India being our main priority. 

For more details visit uber.com/cities/hong-kong or download the app, available for free on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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