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Gadgets & Apps

Taxi app Uber coming to Kenya

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Uber, the rapidly growing taxi app, is preparing to launch in Kenya. The company has advertised three vacancies for the Nairobi office on its careers site, an indication it may be starting operations in the city in the coming months.

Uber is already operational in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Cairo and Lagos and in over 200 other cities across US, Asia, Australia and Europe.  The ridesharing company will have to contend with Brazilian start-up Easy Taxi, which is already in Nairobi and in 60 other cities.

The company is looking to hire a General Manager, Community Manager and an Operations & Logistics Manager to run the Nairobi office. Filling the three positions is the HR modus operandi for Uber in almost all the cities it has launched and comes immediately after a reconnaissance team that assesses the transport network, structure and policy of a city.

Uber is disrupting the cab industry as we know it by conveniently connecting drivers with customers in the same area, significantly cutting transit times. Started by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009 as a luxury taxi service in San Francisco, Uber has diversified into the affordable segment allowing the company to expand rapidly in the last two years.

Uber’s model allows users to share rides and customers pay for the services using their credit card directly to the company, which then remits a percentage to the drivers.

Fuelled by venture capitalists and investors – including Google Ventures and Goldman Sachs- Uber’s latest funding raised $1.2 billion, valuing the firm at a whopping $40 billion. Part of the cash, according to Kalanick, will go into hiring at least 1000 personnel in the expansion markets.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride for Uber. The company has faced resistance mainly from taxi associations in at least 20 cities in Europe and Asia which accuse the firm of circumventing taxi regulations and unfair competition. This week, Parisian taxi operators are planning to block main city roads to protest the decision by a commercial court not to ban Uber Pop – a taxi pooling off-shoot that turns private cars into taxis.

Malaika Judd, Principal and Mentor at Savannah Fund sees other challenges for taxi apps: pricing and mode of payment.

“We pay in cash or M-Pesa. Local taxi startups like Maramoja and Easy Taxi have been quick to integrate with M-Pesa and cash payments but I’m betting bigger players, such as Uber and EasyTaxi will also adopt the M-Pesa model,” says Judd.

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“The real challenges are training local drivers to understand and use the app dispatch and payment system and protecting smartphones against theft.”

In spite of the challenges, it seems the startup is not about to step on the expansion breaks as it seeks to ‘move people conveniently’.

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