5 Interesting Insights On Uber’s Accelerating Velocity In Kenya

2015-01-23 13.40.01Uber. Global. On-Demand. Controversial. Feared. Celebrated. Excellent. Disruptive. US$ 42+ Billion Valuation. These are the things that come to mind when I think about Uber, that wunderkind of the nascent and fast growing global on-demand economy enabled by mobile apps and the Internet. Uber was late coming to Kenya having only launched its taxi hailing UberX offering a couple of months ago.

I was probably one of the first to try out Uber in Kenya and have since then become a regular customer. Initially, they struggled with meeting demand as they slowly rolled out their service with only a handful of Uber Partners (i.e. Uber Drivers).

One of the major caveats for Uber in Kenya is that they did not launch with M-Pesa as a payment option and this riled many would be customers in the market – M-Pesa is, after all, a 20 million customer strong mobile money service making it de facto for a many Kenyans. However, that has not stopped Uber from growing like a weed in the last few months. Here are five key insights that I managed to glean from talking to Uber Partners in Nairobi over the last couple of weeks:

1. The Majority Of Uber Customers In Kenya Are Expatriates

Yes. I said it. Uber is after all a global brand even if its brand new in Kenya. The majority of Uber Partners have told me that the bulk of their customers are expatriates – that is like 9 out 0f 10 on average per day. This is not unexpected given that Uber has established a global brand that is trusted and consistent across many global markets. Its the same way we recognise brands like Coca Cola and KFC. For this very reason, many expatriates in Kenya have signed up for Uber. It could also be a factor that Uber does not take cash or M-Pesa (yet) and this could be a major deterrent for a good number of would be local customers.

2. Uber Partners Typically Do 10 Rides (Or More) Per Day

This metric is really interesting in that I recall talking to Easy Taxi drivers a few months ago and they were ecstatic when they did 4 or 5 rides per day? Therefore, Uber Partners are doing more than double the same. However, the major difference is Uber has signed up Taxi companies to work exclusively for them with a fixed monthly take for using their cars. From what I gathered, Uber pays taxi companies Kes. 60,000.00 per month per car to use them on an exclusive basis.

3. The Uber Partners’ iPhones Are Overheating In Kenya

Uber did the unusual thing of giving most of their Uber Partners iPhones to use their Uber Partner mobile app. Whilst this seemed like a good idea at the time and one that I found to be overly generous given that lower cost Android smartphones could do the same job, it seems to have backfired. The reason for this is that the iPhones overheat when they are affixed to the windscreens in Ubers and then they shut down completely which is not exactly ideal for a service that needs to work flawlessly. Therefore, Uber Partners are improvising and moving to more durable Android smartphones to use Uber – although their mobile app on Android is not as good as on iPhones for navigation precision from what they have told me.

4. Uber Will Be Launching M-Pesa Payments From May 2015

Uber will finally(?) be launching M-Pesa payments via their mobile app in Kenya from May 2015. This long overdue and much needed move was probably delayed due to the need for Safaricom to upgrade their M-Pesa platform before they could ‘plug-in’ into the Application Programming Interface or API for short. Credit card penetration in Kenya is relatively tiny so the move to M-Pesa has the potential to exponentially grow Uber’s footprint in Kenya going forward.

5. Uber Has 80+ Cars With Plans to Hit 200+ Very Soon

Uber has been slowly but surely growing the number of UberX cars they have available in Kenya. This is really evident since before it could take over 30 minutes to get one at any time of the day irrespective of where you were. However, lately, when you fire up the Uber mobile app you see them all over the place and most conveniently near where you are. Therefore, with 80 UberX cars available in Nairobi their service availability is improving. One thing that also gives them an edge is that the taxis used for UberX are exclusive and therefore are not used for off-Uber customer rides at the same time like Easy Taxi does.

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  1. guest
    April 25, 2015 at 9:18 am — Reply

    Great insight,
    I use uber daily for the past 3 months and I am very satisfied with it I think uber will be revolutionary in this market. I am a local not an expatriate, here are some points.

    1. There are 10m kenyans with debit cards who can use uber. So credit cards are not a barrier as such perhaps its about communication

    2. Uber is cheaper than regular taxis

    3. Uber drivers seem generally excited about the service happy driver = happy passenger

    4. Seems like most vehicles were run by tour operators who shifted their fleets to uber because of the tourism slump

    5. Uber is growing rapidly when I first started using Uber I would get the same drivers over and over
    But now I seem to get different drivers every day the challenge for uber would be to maintain quality of drivers and standard of vehicles used which I notice has become loosened quite a bit.

    6. Very refreshing when an uber driver offers you water or positively embarrassing when they stand outside and open the door for you.

    • April 25, 2015 at 10:49 am — Reply

      @muhanji thanks for the feedback. I was under the impression that debit cards do not work on Uber and hence one has to use a credit card? Please confirm if this is indeed NOT the case? If so, then there is major communication breakdown that needs to be addressed. I love the fact you also managed to capture other key elements of what makes Uber so great in Kenya – they are doing an excellent job!

      • May 8, 2015 at 6:06 pm — Reply

        Yes Moses debit cards do work. I use Uber and I have enrolled using my prepaid debit card. So have all the friends I have that use Uber. In the event one’s bill is not fully settled (since they are prepaid debit cards), you’ll have to settle it next time before you can request an Uber.

  2. Aidan
    April 26, 2015 at 9:09 am — Reply

    I am from Tanzania and use Uber whenever I am in Nairobi. I’ve used it in Johannesburg, Paris and Brussels. The service offered by Kenyan drivers is far superior to that given by the others as that legendary Kenyan hospitality comes shining through! Keep up the amazing work! And Karibu Dar es Salaam.

  3. April 26, 2015 at 9:11 am — Reply

    I wonder whether someone can introduce this concept to the matatu sector… ORGANIZATION, cashless and convenient…

  4. Yolanda
    May 1, 2015 at 9:38 am — Reply

    Had my first Uber trip yesterday. Mixed experience. The first car was going to be 20 minutes away, when the app said 3 minutes. Stuff in traffic. How was I to know? Only after I called and asked. Then cancelled. Next booking came in 5 minutes, and got to appointment in time – with a little help in traffic (back seat driving). However, 10 minutes into the trip, I pressed cancelled in error. Had to re-connect but cost me Shs 700/- and I have been unable to tell Support about this. When I re-started trip – the cancel button disappeared (as it should) and I was On My Trip. Driver could not help. Return trip was great. Offered water and mints. WIll use it again, but only if Support sorts out my cancelled trip fees.

  5. Caroline Congo
    November 1, 2016 at 5:18 pm — Reply

    I have a Toyota NZE salon car for year 2004.KBQ and in good condition. I would like to partner with Little cabs in the Lady bug category. Is it possible?

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