Kehlan Kirwan talks with Kieran Harte, regional manager of Uber Ireland, UK, and the Nordics, about the recent 300 jobs announced for Limerick and the firm’s incredible growth in five years
What is it that Uber does?
We’re a technology platform that provides passengers with drivers of various vehicle types. For example, if I was wanting to get a taxi ride I would, via my smartphone, tap a button on the phone and within minutes there is somebody to take me off to my destination. This is all digitally done, so at the end, when somebody reaches their destination, the passenger and driver are able to rate each other and you will also get a map reading of your route and receipt as well. The security side of it includes a photo of the driver as well before the car arrives.
You must be pleased with the expansion plans?
We’re thrilled to make the announcement of the new Centre of Excellence in Limerick. It is the only one of its kind outside of the US, and we’re chuffed to be able to bring it to the city. The IDA did a terrific job in explaining why Ireland was a great place to have a business of our size and our growth potential working from there. Plus the supports of having other global tech companies there added value to the proposition.
Why Limerick in particular?
The team down in Limerick did an amazing job. They showed not only why it’s great place to start a business today, but also their vision for what they want to achieve with Limerick over the next decade. We saw that as pretty cool and they have a vision for becoming not just a national, but a European tech hub. They have an economic strategy that impressed us and merging in with real benefits which are on their doorstep. They have some very impressive third-level institutions which are pushing top level graduates, which Uber is looking for.
So not the corporation tax?
No not all. Look, there are lot of other European countries who have similar or even lower types of taxes. We chose Ireland because we needed a country that could handle English language customer service problems. That puts Ireland ahead of the vast majority of European countries. As I mentioned already, Ireland has a huge amount of people who are educated to graduate level. So Ireland sits upon a great opportunity for well-skilled, tech savvy people. Plus, the country’s mobile phone penetration is massive and a huge amount of the populace have smart phones. It’s a great fit for our business.
There have been some controversies with Uber around the world, not least from taxi drivers themselves. How have you alleviated those concerns for the Irish market?
We’re one of the fastest growing companies in the world. We’re in six continents and over 330 cities. We’ve done that in just five years. That’s huge huge growth. What we’re finding is that we are challenged by some regulations which have been around for a long time. In some cases the regulations have been around long before the mobile phone was invented, let alone the smart phone. So we are finding those challenges where those regulations are not suited to or have in mind the use of smart technology as part of transport services. What happened in Ireland in the 2000s was that the market was liberalised, that is something that hasn’t really happened in a lot of cities around the world. We’re looking at places that just don’t have enough cars on the road to facilitate all of their actual customers. That issue isn’t here in Ireland. We are able to work with taxi drivers to scale up that need and use our information to bring a service to cities that can have equal demand and an equal number of drivers to match that demand.
How do you explain Uber’s massive growth without necessarily losing the ability to conduct your business properly?
I’ve been with Uber since March, but I’ve been really impressed at how a business that grows so quickly can make sure that its culture at the core is kept. We’re lucky in that we invest a lot in making sure that everybody who joins the team gets a sense of the Uber culture. Our headquarters in San Francisco does a great job in making sure that everybody around the world is up to speed on things that are happening. But we find that we are constantly moving, the product is constantly being upgraded and releasing new products. So we can have a suite of products, that means we can pick out certain products that work in certain cities and it then becomes easier for that growth to happen. So while we grow fast we can match that growth with our product offering and in the skills of the people that work for us.
So how does Uber chose what cities are right for their product?
Well, we’d like to be able to say that cities choose us. We have the ability to be able to see where people are opening up our app, where they are downloading it. That gives us a view of what kind of cities are using our product but also which cities are looking to our product. We can see where the demand is growing. We also look at the demographics of a city, what its transport system is like and what the density of the city’s population is. So we draw up an overall picture as to what the city is looking for.
What kind of jobs can we expect to see at Uber in Limerick?
We’re looking to fill 300 within the next 18 months. So the roles specifically for the Centre of Excellence will be managerial, some will be administrative. We’ll be looking for data analysts and processing engineers. But most of the roles will be for tech-savvy problem solvers. So we’re looking for people who want to come on board with us and handle customer service requirements. Alongside of that they will be looking after our driver partnerships and problems solving with drivers as well as customers of the drivers. Limerick will be looking after our English language travels from across Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. So we’ll be looking for people who have the ability to really get in and solve those problems. We are a data and technology company, after all, and they will need to be able to use that data to solve problems which can arise.
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