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Google will reportedly launch buy buttons on its search-result pages in coming weeks, pitting it more directly against online marketplace rivals, including Amazon and eBay.
Uber Exec Tom Fallows on the Company’s Culture, and More
At a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco last week, Tom Fallows, Director of Global Expansion Products at Uber, talked with us about what’s important to Uber right now, why Uber sees the fight for India and China as far from over, and the various ways that Uber and Google differ culturally. (Fallows was hired away from Google late last year. He’d previously spent five years with the search giant, developing, among other things, the Google Express delivery service.)
Fallows couldn’t answer questions about Uber’s funding situation or its reported bid on Nokia’s mapping business, but he was refreshingly forthcoming when answering others. Our chat, edited for length, follows.
Explain what you do.
Obviously, we have the mainline business of offering transportation to people; [my job is largely looking into] how do we expand into new opportunities. Uber for Business is one of my projects, for example, and that’s just building an enterprise version of Uber so that companies large and small can use it for their business travel.
Is that taking up the majority of your time? How many initiatives are you working on at any one time?
It is taking up the majority of my time. I have six different teams that are working on new projects all the time, and in a healthy ecosystem way, projects that aren’t working get wound down or swallowed up and resources [are] diverted.
Can you point to something that’s been shut down recently?
Nothing since I’ve been [at Uber]. But I remember while at Google, reading about Uber testing a concept [to deliver common convenience store items to select customers through a pilot project] in Washington, D.C that no longer exists.
What can you tell us about how some others of its initiatives — including delivering food and packages — are doing?
I can’t discuss any numbers, but as the press has reported, the Uber Eats [food delivery] product has expanded into several more cities and I think the market has been pretty strong. We’re doing well with Uber Rush, which is a [bike] courier service [that Uber rolled out in New York a year ago].
What do you make of the argument that not everyone wants Uber to deliver both their food and their transportation — that people want different relationships with different brands?
I don’t think consumers inherently care about how their item is getting to them so long as it’s getting to them effectively and quickly.
You founded Google Express. The service has been portrayed in the press as troubled recently, including because the head of Google’s commerce businesses, Sameer Samat, has left to join Jawbone as president. Is that fair?
I can’t speak to recent stuff, but when I left five months or so ago, but it was doing well. I think it’s the wrong conclusion to draw that [Samat’s departure] is a reflection on the commerce business. It’s a big driver of growth, and a big driver of profitability [at Google]. I don’t know anything but I suspect this was a poaching situation.
The problem we had at Google Express was that we didn’t have enough capacity. Like every single delivery and on-demand service out there, we had such product-market fit that we just couldn’t keep up with demand. At Uber, that causes surge pricing. At Shopping Express, that caused sellouts, and that was always the pain point that we were dealing with.
Can you confirm that Uber is currently raising $2 billion more from investors at a $50 billion valuation?
I read about it as you guys did [in the audience]. I have no idea.
If the company were to raise $2 billion, what would its top priorities be? Expanding domestically? Competing more aggressively in India and China?
I don’t in any way tie this to a fundraising. I literally don’t know anything about it and don’t know if or why we need more money, but the company had said in the last funding round that there are big global opportunities that we’re going after, and in our type of business, for anybody building liquidity and network effect and going into new markets, it can be very expensive.
India and China are obviously big battlegrounds. How do you compete with regional taxi app companies that have something like 99 percent of the market?
China and India are huge potential markets and places where we really want to participate and where we think we can offer great service. [And] although the alternatives in China are very big, the majority of the business is in the taxi ride hailing, which isn’t a business, it’s purely a matchmaking business. They take no fee whatsoever. They have, similar to us, black car and Uber X [type] businesses, but they aren’t nearly as big, so it’s not . . . an open-and-shut case.
One thing that’s interesting: The transportation business is truly, inherently local. At Google, of course, we could do localization, and we had sales teams in each country, but we didn’t have tech teams or custom features in that many countries, whereas at Uber, you really have to serve every single city independently — even within the U.S. We consider it a strategic advantage, our ability to operationalize at scale the management of these locations that need custom technology and custom solutions.
What are some other differences between these two powerful companies? We know you joined Uber just five months ago, but are there early impressions you can share?
Well, the first, strange [observation I made] when I walked into Uber was that one out of three people is a former Google colleague. There are also lots of people from Facebook. Top to bottom at Uber, it’s [top-notch employees].
The biggest difference at Uber is that, at heart, it’s still very much a startup with an action bias. In my first couple of weeks, we’d be talking about a new feature and inevitably in that conversation, the question would arise: How long would this take to get out? And someone would say, “I think it’ll be two to three . . .” And in my head, I’d just default, think weeks. And they’d finish, “…days.” And I think, what? [Laughs.]
It’s a combination of a couple things. It’s much younger technology stack. Also, we’ve all had that experience where something needs change and you just change it and 12 minutes later it’s in the world, and Uber is still on that continuum versus my experience at Google, which, I absolutely love the people and I have nothing but great things to say about it, but it’s not necessarily known for its nimbleness and speed. One of the challenges I had with Google Express was how do we launch and iterate in an environment where you have multi-week review cycles, and all for good reason. Everything had a justification behind it. It’s all part of being a big company. But it’s inherently slower.
You get the feeling that nearly everything trickles up to Larry Page at Google. At Uber, whose sign-off do you need?
Very explicitly, the rule inside is: nobody needs to sign off.
(For more of our interview with Fallows, click here.)
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Aliada, a 10-month-old, Mexico City, Mexico-based marketplace that pairs consumers with housekeeping services, has raised $800,000 in seed funding from regional investment firms Capital Invent, Variv Capital, and Dila Capital. TechCrunch has more here.
Cyber adAPT, a year-old, Half Moon Bay, Ca.-based real-time network-based threat detection platform, has raised $4.1 million in Series A funding from Alvin Fund, Granite Point Capital Partners, Griffin Fund II, and Fundamental Capital Management.Decorist, a 2.5-year-old, San Francisco-based online platform that’s aiming to make interior design personal, affordable and easier, has raised $4.5 million in funding from Lowe’s Companies, the Women’s Venture Capital Fund and other angel investors.
Drizly, a three-year-old, Boston-based on-demand alcohol delivery company, has raised $13 million in Series A funding led by Polaris Partners, with participation from First Beverage Group and previous backers, including Suffolk Equity Partners. The company has now raised $17.8 million altogether.
EasyStack, year-old, Beijing, China-based OpenStack startup, has raised $16 million in Series B funding led by RuShan Capital, with participation fromYingDong and earlier backer BlueRun Ventures. The company has raised $18 million to date.
Kapost, a five-year-old, Boulder, Co.-based content marketing software company, has raised $10.25 million from investors, including Access Venture Partners, Cue Ball Capital, Iron Gate Capital and Salesforce Ventures, as well as earlier backers Lead Edge Capital and High Country Ventures. The company has now raised at least $18.45 million altogether.
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Miaxis Biometrics, a 15-year-old, Hangzhou, China-based developer of biometric software, has been acquired for $40.6 million by the point-of-sale terminal and e-payment solutions provider Xinguodu Technology, reports Reuters.
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Veterans of Google‘s PR team — including Elliot Schrage,Anne Espiritu, and Rachel Whetstone — now run communications at many of Silicon Valley’s most prominent companies. Forbes takes a looks at what’s become the “farm team for the Valley’s spin machine.”Eric Nuzum, the former vice president of programming for NPR, has joined Amazon-owned Audible.com as it looks to move further into the world of podcasting, reports GeekWire. Nuzum — who developed some of NPR’s biggest shows, including “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” — is joining as senior vice president of original content.
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Yale is seeking academically inclined founders and investors to teach entrepreneurship on the faculty at Yale SOM. There are two openings.
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Axact calls itself Pakistan’s largest software exporter. The New York Times calls it a “fake education empire,” that’s “obscured by proxy Internet services, combative legal tactics and a chronic lack of regulation in Pakistan.”
David Letterman, revolutionary.
The Chewbacca hoodie. [Takes helmet by the brim, holds it in the air.]