'Technology is Synonymous with Progress and Growth': Uber Chief Jambu Palaniappan
A tech-chat with the Indian-American head of Uber, the luxury car-for-hire service
Over the last few months, Uber, the luxury car for hire service has caught on among Dubaiites in a big way. Uber is a smartphone application which allows users to request a private driver at the click of a button! Currently operating in over 80 cities around the world, what has made it such a big hit is the ease of use. The technology uses your phone’s GPS to detect your location and connect you with the nearest available driver. The result: you can get picked up anywhere, even if you don’t know the exact address. Available on iPhone, Android, Blackberry 7 and m.uber.com, the advantage of this app is that you can track the driver as he approaches the pick-up location, get an image and details of the driver on your phone and also be free of carrying cash as payment is automatic and charged to credit.
The advantages of living in a ‘smart’, digital world are many but how will this service make inroads for a traditional, not-so-tech-savvy user? We spoke to Jambu Palaniappan, the Indian-American head of EMEA/India Expansion of Uber Technologies for plans to attract the desi community to the service and his own fascination for gadgets.
Uber is a fairly recent entrant to Dubai. How do you read the Middle East market so far?
We fundamentally believe that there is tremendous opportunity for Uber in the Middle East. Across the region, there are challenges with transportation, coupled with strong usage of smartphones and a population that values reliability – this makes the perfect environment for us. This region is truly the crossroads of the world, and our early results in Dubai and the Middle East have been very encouraging.
What strategies have you adopted to attract the Asian community in the UAE towards the service?
We’ve focused on partnering with Asian community events as well as outreach to bloggers who target the Asian community. We’ve found that the reliability of our service is particularly important and relevant for all people in Dubai. We’re also kicking off a new outreach initiative to the Asian community in the UAE, to help show how Uber can improve their quality of life.
How would you explain the use and benefits of Uber to traditional, conservative or non-tech savvy consumers?
Uber is easier, more reliable, and more convenient than most other forms of transportation. There’s no need to wait on the street outside of an office or shops to hail a cab, and no need to carry cash because of payment being integrated into the app. There’s also a safety aspect to knowing the driver’s name and phone number and seeing a photo of the driver that allows for peace of mind in the experience.
You have grown up in Silicon Valley. How did the experience of your formative years change you?
My experience growing up was shaped by the Indian experience abroad. We spent lots of time with family, with strong connections abroad, and balancing the culture of heritage with the modern, American environment that we lived in. I reflect on the time as having the best of both worlds, and that has certainly benefitted me tremendously today.
When did your fascination with technology innovation begin and how has it evolved over the years?
For me, technology was synonymous with progress and growth. That’s evolved from someone who viewed technology from the outside, to now being part of a technology company. I think technology is society’s way to improve itself.
What are the five gadgets you can’t do without whenever you travel?
I’m pretty standard in what I carry: a Macbook Air and a few iPhones. I don’t read enough, but have a Kindle. I also like the Jawbone Up fitness tracker, and need a Mophie mobile power pack to make sure the phones stay charged!
Can you tell us more about your roots in India? How often do you travel to India?
My Dad grew up in Chennai and my mom in Mumbai. We spent a lot of time in India as kids visiting family. It’s been very interesting to see India from a different lens over the last twelve months as Uber has launched there. We are now active in five cities – Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai – and I’m usually in India once a month.
Aside from work (and gadgets) what are your hobbies?
I enjoy travelling, trying to learn some Arabic and try to follow current affairs.