When it comes to ride hailing, Uber is not the only horse in town. As the market leader suffers from negative headlines and regulatory crackdown, its main competitors are vying to pick up the slack.
Among them is Gett, founded by Israeli entrepreneurs Shahar Waiser and Roi More in 2010. It’s known for its versatility and corporate focus, tailored to the 100 cities it operates in, as well as counting Volkswagen among its major investors. Revenues hit $500m in 2016, and the Israel-headquartered firm showed its ambition last year by swooping for New York hailer Juno at a rumoured $250m.
Gett partners with professional drivers, and claims that half of London’s black cabbies run on its service. MT talked to UK boss Matteo de Renzi about how he sees Gett navigating ride hailing’s tricky terrain in 2018.
MT: Gett’s main draw is that it is a ‘driver first’ company. What was behind that?
De Renzi: The market needs a high quality service for transportation. What we realised is that having the superior technological platform isn’t enough. I see technology as more of an enabler of a service that is still ultimately delivered by the person driving the cab. At the end of our rides, you have the chance to rate it, and when we survey our customers, seven out of ten give a very high score.
This means that in our ecosystem the relationship can't just be Gett and the customer – the driver should play an integral part.
MT: The received wisdom is that services becoming more efficient and cheaper, the more users and drivers you have. Does that mean ride hailing is winner-takes-all game?
De Renzi: Not really. There are big examples of very good second players that came later and are now growing a lot faster than Uber. Our business in the US under the Juno brand is the fastest growing service in New York for example.
Going into a place where Uber is dominant and playing exactly according to their rules – which means good technology but very low prices, a little bit less focused on quality and being ubiquitous at all costs – then it would be very difficult. But instead, it’s possible to play in markets where Uber is very dominant by offering something different. That's what we do.
MT: What do you think is going to happen to Uber in London, and will Gett step into its shoes?
De Renzi: My opinion is that they will find a way to keep operating in London. I don't think it's reasonable for a company of their size to not make every possible effort in order to make it work. I think they will [recognise that] they started and ran operations in a way that was disruptive on the level of breaching regulation. I do see them changing their approach, at least in words. I also expect them to build proper governance around management of drivers, doing the proper checks, and putting more robust measures to ensure their users are protected in the way that they deserve to be.
All of these things will lead to an increase in their operational cost. I don't think they can pass it onto the drivers, at least in London where they already live barely above the minimum wage. I think they will be passed to the customers and we’ll see an increase in the tariffs. It will make the service little bit less competitive than it was before, especially for customers that are particularly price sensitive.
The role of Gett in that respect is being the real good alternative to Uber, given the fact that we have been investing and doing the right thing from the beginning: selecting and working with the best drivers. Our drivers in London are rated 4.85 out of 5: it's one of our unique selling points. We have full transparency on prices, we do play by the rules, we do work with TfL in order to ensure that we are sustainable and generate value for the community. So I think that the gap will fall away in the next few months.
MT: It’s been over a year now since Volkswagen invested $300m into Gett. What has its involvement been in the company?
De Renzi: Volkswagen and Gett are both mobility companies, but we are different sides of the equation. Volkswagen manufactures cars and we move cars around, so it's a nice combination. We are working on providing data for them to enforce future decisions around mobility. Volkswagen is also able to supply some of the vehicles at a special rate for Gett drivers all over the world, so there are many different ways we can collaborate.
MT: The industry is changing rapidly, with lots of companies and investment. Where do you see things going in the near future?
De Renzi: There are studies saying that by 2025, 50% of miles travelled over the world will be done using an on demand service, which is incredible.
I do expect some consolidation to happen, not necessarily at the very high level like Uber, Gett, Didi [Chuxing] and the others, but one level below, where I do see the M&A activity remaining quite active. It’s clear this market is becoming very competitive, so companies that didn't manage to make the first big step already will struggle in the future.
In terms of technology, the two things everyone is looking at are driverless cars and exploring other dimensions of transportation – forgetting about roads and thinking about what flight can offer.
Both offer extremely interesting challenges. Driverless cars have massive issues that need to be tackled about who will own and be responsible for the vehicles, who will insure the vehicles, up to even more fascinating things about how a vehicle will decide what to prioritise between things like time taken versus the safety of passengers. In flying, we might even see some early adoption in countries that open to that in the Middle East mainly.
MT: How is Gett looking at all of these things?
De Renzi: In London we have a partnership with Citymapper, where we have a service that allows commuters to travel around London at peak time in a shared taxi. If you think today, more than 70% of the people that are travelling in a car in London are loaning, you can imagine the potential if we find an intelligent way to group people together on the same route. We're not the only ones involved in that but the early signs very promising. So short term: sharing, integration, focus on the platform. More long term: driverless, flying and even underground stuff like Tesla.
MT: There seems to be an arms race in R&D. How do you keep up?
De Renzi: It's the nature of our business. If we don't grow and keep on changing, we die. Innovation is one of the areas where we spend the most of our resources. We have a separate business unit that is trying new services like our shared solutions that allows them to really experiment with new things in a new way. We have hundreds of developers in our headquarters in Israel and every week we add new features that support the efficiency of the system. It's a never ending improvement machine: the day we stop, we have an issue.
Image Credit: Gett