We continue our travel on startup ecosystem in Italy. Today we interview Benedetta Arese Lucini Italian country manager of the US-based startup UBER.
1. Hi Benedetta. How it is born the idea of UBER? How does UBER work?
UBER was born out of the need of the two co-founders to find a cab when they were in Paris. They thought “I can use my phone for so many other things why can I not click a button and get a car on demand”. The founders Travis and Garrett decided that they would try launch this service for them and their friends when they got back to San Francisco. They partnered with a few limo drivers and developed the app but made it available only for friends, as it needed a password that only Travis had. The word of mouth was incredible and at the end of 2010 the founders opened the app to everyone and from then on the journey was a roller-coaster. With the growth in San Francisco, Uber decided to start expanding on the East Coast in New York, Chicago and Washington DC. As the growth in users and the Uber Love was exponential, some of the cities started to face political battles. Uber though kept going on and moved their users to sign petitions and use social media to spread the message avoiding regulation being enforced against the service. The overwhelming support of the community as well as the continuos tenacity of the company to disrupt a very traditional market helped it win and provide classy transportation at an affordable price in cities around the US, Europe and the rest of the World.
2. Where Uber operates in Italy? How UBER will expand its activity in Italy?
UBER launched in Milan on the 7th of March, and soon after in Rome on the 9th of May. We have plans to expand around Italy as we believe there are a lot of cities with the need to have a new transportation alternative. And maybe the dream of having uberBOAT in Venice could become a reality one day!
3. Very recently some taxi drivers associations arraigned UBER of unfair competition. What is the UBER position on that?
The taxi drivers around the world have been used to be a protected category and no one for decades questioned why they were the only solution for transportation. With the new wave of mobile technology innovation it has now become possible to localize people and to collect data on city movements. UBER took this idea and created the first solution to disrupt this traditional and protected industry. We move people around the city more efficiently, in luxury cars, with a personalised experience and also give the customer safety and the ability to crowd monitor and improve the service through reviews. Is this unfair competition because it is better? I would just say it is competition, and it is something that they are not used to. Ultimately economics teaches that a fair amount of competition will ultimately provide a better service to the customer and drive down prices; they should tell me how fair monopolies are for consumers that have resulted in no security, high proces, low quality service.
4. Do you think that Italy is a place for startups? Any advice, proposal?
In light of the battle that UBER has been facing in Italy, I believe that there should be a stronger voice form the entities that rule this country to support the progress that startups bring even if their success means change (and this change in the short term could make some people unhappy). Nobody is arguing that there should not be a regulatory system in place that controls our society, but this has to be interpreted or improved to fit the innovations and technology of today. Other than the battles UBER is having to face, there is a general sentiment in the startup community that the infrastructure to help young entrepreneurs is still lacking in Italy, no incentives for startups, no angels, no real incubator and accelerator programs with successful exits. Everything is slower and more expensive and finding money is very tough, especially when foreign investors see how foreign companies struggle when they enter the market. Italy is one of the largest economies in the world but ranks 73rd in the “IFC and World Bank Ease of Doing Business Ranking” (http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings). Italy is known for its strength in the retail market but has been left behind in the development of successful e-commerce platforms in Europe. Until the regulatory and financing environment don’t change there is no possibility to believe that marketing initiatives around startups will ever make a difference. We have a huge opportunity in Milan with Expo 2015 but time is quickly running out and we need a radical change in the systems currently in place that can help bring startuppers’ sentiment back up. I am hopeful and maybe crazy that UBER will be hopefully a first step to change things but as Steve Jobs once said, ”the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”