Following on from its growing presence in Africa YPO spoke to Alon Lits, General Manager of Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa about its expansion plans, which this month saw it launch in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Accra, Ghana. 

As part of the inaugural YPO Innovation Week (May 9-13), an event featuring Alon Lits, General Manager of Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa, took place in Johannesburg with more than 30 members of YPO joining the discussion and interacting with the man leading the team in charge of expanding Uber across the African continent.

Lits joined Uber in October 2013 as its first General Manager in Africa and since then has witnessed the technology company’s rapid expansion in less than three years. The service is currently available in over 70 countries and more than 400 cities. Even more impressive is the “urberfication” effect that the company has had since its launch, with several startups copying its business model and adapting it to different industries. Lits shares his insights on Uber and its ongoing expansion in Africa.

READ MORE: Safaricom’s answer to Uber 

What are the key innovations that Uber brings to public transportation?

Thousands of economic opportunities [for drivers] are created through the platform and we are able to provide data-driven information to our partner-drivers to enable them to make better business decisions. Drivers also choose to drive with Uber for the flexibility and control they have. They choose when they drive, for how long, and can dictate their own schedule, day-to-day, week-to-week.

In addition, while most brands protect supply in order for a product to scale, Uber believes that increased supply leads to more reliable services, which, in turn, leads to more demand.

Uber’s fare is based on a combination of base fare, trip time and distance travelled. Maximising the time a driver spends earning on the platform is key to Uber. A driver who is logged into the Uber app is doing one of three things: Sitting idle while waiting for a trip, on their way to pick up a rider or carrying a rider to their destination. The third scenario is the only time a driver is earning a fare. Lower prices boost demand so more people are requesting more rides with Uber, meaning drivers will spend more time with riders in the backseat and less time sitting idly waiting for a request.

What is the next innovative offering from Uber globally?

Some of the innovations we are working on bringing to South Africa include UberPOOL, UberRUSH and UberEATS.

With UberPOOL, riders share a ride — and the cost — with others who happen to be traveling along a similar route. On any given day, many Uber trips have a “lookalike” trip — a trip that starts near, ends near, and is happening around the same time as another trip. Most of these trips transport one to two people, leaving two to three empty seats. With UberPOOL Uber can match those lookalike trips together. Riders share the cost between them while adding only a few minutes of time per trip. In addition, drivers spend more time per hour earning money on longer trips—without the downtime between passengers.

UberEATS delivers the best meals from favourite local restaurants in 10 minutes or less. Rather than standing in long restaurant lines, trying to find parking at your favourite restaurant or dealing with unpredictable delivery times, UberEATS brings you a delicious meal on-demand with none of the hassle.

UberRUSH is an on-demand delivery network that provides the fastest, most reliable and cost effective way to deliver items within the cities in which it is available. UberRUSH is designed to help the businesses that power our cities by offering a faster, simple and more affordable delivery solution. Now, any business can access an on-demand delivery network at the push of a button.

How has African expansion progressed?

When Uber launches in a city, they do so with a launcher who is tasked with growing supply of drivers that we partner with and data analytics to ensure that we can effectively match demand with supply. City hubs (e.g., Johannesburg) assist the launcher with marketing, creating demand in the marketplace. You can achieve huge efficiencies with this structure but we know in order to succeed we need to adapt to the local markets because one size does not fit all — local insights are very important. We are also able to leverage the global Uber network and expertise in the rest of the world to help provide best practice locally and scale each city efficiently.

How do you advertise in Africa?

We use a non-conventional approach and find this to be most effective. On-demand activations such as UberYacht, UberChopper and UberHealth (a partnership with Discovery) all create talkability for the brand. UberHealth saw driver-partners and Discovery accredited nurses deliver flu shots to riders across South Africa requested through the Uber app.

What are your current priorities?

Africa is our most recent expansion priority. Currently expansion is underway in Uganda, Ghana and Tanzania.

Closing remarks?

Innovation is driven out of necessity, so we send our staff on work-cations and host regular hackathons to create solutions for many of our country’s needs. Through standardising and automating processes, we can successfully replicate the Uber experience in other markets.