A designer’s first impressions of Uber’s startup-within-a-startup
My first week at Uber, I celebrated my new job with a bottle of champagne — literally.
To get a sense of what being a delivery partner at Uber was like, I signed up to try delivery myself. I downloaded the Partner app, grabbed my temperature-insulated bag and hit the “Go Online” button.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw that I had a delivery request. I nervously and excitedly hit “Accept.”
I headed to a neighborhood liquor store, greeted the owner and picked up a bag. A few blocks away, I used the app to connect with the lucky recipient: a friendly, scruffy gentleman who stepped out of his ad agency to greet me. He was super pumped — it turns out my delivery was a bottle of champagne from his sister to celebrate his 30th birthday. I checked his ID and handed him the gift. It made his day, and I felt like a bit of a hero for it.
A startup within a startup
I work on the Uber Everything team, which is best described as a rapidly growing startup within Uber. While “Uber for X” has become shorthand in pitch meetings and investor rounds across the world, Uber Everything is “Uber for X”, except for actually made by Uber.
Uber has a network of over a million drivers in 500+ cities. The Uber Everything team aims to leverage that network for more than just transportation. We want to give our partners more ways to earn, and make delivery and logistics more efficient, affordable, and better for the environment. When people were first introduced to Uber, what our customers loved was the magic of pushing a button to get a ride. Now with that same magical ease, they can get a hot meal on a rainy day with UberEATS, and with UberRUSH, they can receive a bouquet of flowers from a local florist or get cough syrup on a sick day without having to leave the house.
Designing for a new kind of Uber partner
Uber partners are a diverse group of people with a broad range of lifestyles and goals — from college kids looking to make some extra summer cash to parents feeding families. As a one-time business owner myself, I really respect those who pursue the dream of working on their own schedule and value the flexibility of being their own boss.
With the formation of the Uber Everything team, the work and our partners doing it will become even more diverse. As we grow new products like UberEATS and UberRUSH, our product design team is working to make sure we are building a sustainable, scalable app for these new partners.
Some of our unique challenges include:
WHY DO DELIVERY
To design for the diversity of our markets, designers and researchers embed in the field with ride-alongs, interviews, and solo deliveries, in cities throughout the world. We also learn and validate our learnings quantitatively through our massive network and collaboration with data scientists.
In order for delivery partners to choose to work with Uber, we need to articulate the opportunity. Uber has a great deal of research that has informed our understanding of why our partners choose to drive with us. Delivery is different than driving people. To dial in exactly in what ways it differed, we spoke with real people — many of whom were unaware that delivery was an option with Uber, most of whom had never tried delivery, and all of whom wanted to have a flexible way to earn and were open to something new.
We learned that delivering with Uber means you’ve got the same flexibility and autonomy as driving riders, but you’re also stretching your legs, exploring your neighborhood, and helping local businesses in a very tangible way. You’re bringing smiles to people’s faces with things they need, and — as I found out with my inaugural champagne delivery — it feels amazing when you make that connection.
As a result, we’re evolving the design of Uber’s onboarding experience to help raise awareness about delivery, help partners find inspiration in delivery as a unique way to earn, and help them to decide whether to drive people, deliver food, or in many cases, do both. We’re testing and iterating on these onboarding experiences at a global scale to create a set of global design principles with the ability to customize the actual messaging and other localized operational nuances at a regional and city level.
THE FASTEST WAY TO EARN
At Uber, no designer is an island. Subject matter experts from business to data to driver operations are brought into the fold for design sprints, critiques, and generating creative solutions to business problems. Designers also build extensible patterns and platforms that other designers can then leverage and evolve.
One area of our team’s focus is how to make delivering with Uber the fastest, easiest way to start earning. The design team is working with product management, marketing, business, legal, vehicle solutions and city teams to present a broader range of options for how partners get from A to B. With delivery, unlike driving riders, your car doesn’t even need to have 4 doors, as long as you safely transport the goods. You don’t even need a car — we can either help you buy, lease, or rent one, or depending on the city, you can deliver with a bicycle, a scooter, or even deliver on foot.
To make this a reality, we’re building software to help partners select from a range of vehicle options available to them based on how, when and where they want to work, and how much they want to earn. We’re also empowering them to get a vehicle that will allow them to drive people AND deliver things people love, and use the Uber Partner app to decide what type of work that want to do at any given moment. During busy lunch hours, partners can opt to do delivery. With a few taps, they can switch to taking riders on busy weekends or on their way home (another research-driven feature which lets partners finish their day close to where they live). Our goal is to help partners understand how, when, and where to work to maximize their income and minimize the effort.
HELPING PARTNERS WORK EASIER & BETTER
One important area of our team’s product focus is helping delivery partners access the information they need to complete trips with confidence. We do a great deal of research with delivery partners to better understand both what they love and what could be improved about using Uber. For delivery, we heard that pickup and dropoff means not only knowing your way around the streets, but knowing your way around the inside of buildings for both pickup and drop off, which can be tough.
For delivery partners to successfully complete trips, they need to know exactly what they need to do next and try to anticipate tricky situations and provide helpful solutions. For pickup: where do I need to go? Who do I need to talk to? Is it one order or a batch of orders? For dropoff: will the customer come down to the curb or should I go inside? What if it’s a business? A hotel? What if I can’t find them?
The team is building some innovative solutions to arm delivery partners with information relevant to answering these questions in real-time. A feature we’re building allows restaurant managers to take photos and annotate them with a mobile device, showing delivery partners where the best places are to park, enter a building, and find the pickup point for food. Another feature will make that information available to delivery partners as they arrive at pickup locations.
Small Company Thinking, Big Company Resources
In my 12 years as a product designer, I’ve gone from working with very large companies to very small companies to Uber. At larger companies, I was often part of teams looking to shake things up with new ventures and experiments. When I first worked with scrappy, fast-growing startups about 6 years ago (including an early-stage Uber), I fell in love with the rapid experimentation, learning and iteration. I loved solving big, multi-faceted problems (vs. small pieces of a larger problem).
My ten weeks at Uber have shown it to be the best of both worlds, with startup-like products across the organization powered by the resources, talent and rigor of a large company. In the short time I’ve been with Uber, I’ve already grown my outlook as a product design leader by engaging in multidisciplinary collaboration at a breadth and depth far beyond what I’d experienced previously.
I am constantly humbled by the smarts and generosity of knowledge shared by other teams who have tackled similar problems. We are all standing on each others’ shoulders, helping everyone to reach higher. And the heights scaled have already grown quickly: in its six years, Uber has grown a lot and learned a ton. We’re in 450+ cities. UberEATS and UberRUSH are in fewer than 50, but at the rate we’re going, we’ll be caught up in no time. We’re launching new cities in every continent each week — not little cities, mind you, but the world’s biggest cities from Tokyo to Hong Kong to Mexico City. This means that for a new team like Uber Everything, we have a lot to learn from Uber’s growth thus far, and plenty of new terrain to explore.
A New York Lens on Delivery
Though many people think of Uber as a Silicon Valley company, Uber has offices throughout the world that leverage regional strengths. Our New York product team takes advantage of the density and diversity of America’s biggest city to learn first-hand about the range of challenges and situations a delivery and logistics service might have to face. Like the song says: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
Ten weeks into my tenure at Uber, I recall a new colleague my first week teaching me a new phrase: “Uber Years”. “Uber Years” are like dog years, in that time feels compressed. Uber is a place for people who are excited and invigorated by growth and change — a week’s worth of activity can feel like a month at another company.
If all of the above sounds inspiring to you, we are always looking for people who are up to the challenge. The team is growing, with plenty of roles in NYC, SF and beyond. To see current open positions for our team (and others), check out the Uber Design Careers Page.