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Maintaining Startup Velocity While Building Mature & Reliable Systems- Thuan Pham, Rory Cellan-Jones

Thuan Pham
CTO at Uber Technologies, Inc.
+ 1 speaker
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2020 Startup Grind Global Conference
February 12, 2020, Redwood City, CA, USA
2020 Startup Grind Global Conference
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Maintaining Startup Velocity While Building Mature & Reliable Systems- Thuan Pham, Rory Cellan-Jones
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Thuan Pham
CTO at Uber Technologies, Inc.
Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology Correspondent at BBC

Rory Cellan-Jones has been a reporter for the BBC for thirty years and has been Technology Correspondent since 2007. His weekly radio show Tech Tent on the BBC World Service is the essential guide to big tech news and trends

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About the talk

A Fireside chat with Thuan Pham, CTO at Uber + Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent at BBC talking about Ways that Startups can Maintain Velocity While Building Mature & Reliable Systems.


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Thank you very much. Finn and Finn has done an amazing job that because he came to my surname which turned out to be the big a linguistic and he cleared the extraordinary job of making waves around the world. I come from London where excitement and controversy for many years question. So Ubers magic Source the very basis of the business the very basis of the Innovation is the eye which connects with the customers and I'm going to be ready now even say that that was created before you arrived at the continual one of the very few still run

with a very early Employees of the company developed years ago we have to do is keep it to all my family members say ever since I joined a company you seem to work what I need you for. So yeah, but my my answer to them into everyone is it just like you look at the the iceberg right the stuff that on above the water line is only about 10% of its right most of the mass that I spoke as on underneath the water line in file Technologies stock. It's very similar. If you

look at the app, it's really cool and sexy. It's very intuitive, you know, you'll understand how things work for your push the button you got a car to push a button, you know food that deliver to you all that but underneath that to make that work Beyond. Gerald. That app is a lot of Technology. Uses of the witch by think this is incredible and very quickly they get used to it and say hey those little cause of assessing around then aren't really that this is not happening constantly as a Spice

Girl go to improve. Well when you open the app and we basically show the the nearest eight cars around there with the position. They are always a little time. Was the last time we could be somewhere they actually are but they actually deaf in the vicinity and what happened is underneath all the technology needs that they are. The first thing you see is the epicenter of the car the matching right who are the rider where the person is located. Where are the nearest car

and it's not just of nearest car in Tums update the flying distance, but actually based on routing you could be the nearest car but heading Play from that. Passenger on a one-way street that will take much longer to look back. So that's the hours and fix a cat all of that stuff in lately. We even have featured where we match. Drivers and Rider based on safety criteria right to increase the safety off a platform as well. And then beyond that. There's routing right and a is tracking up the trip as it may can prioritize my progress. Then you have to I have billing

and payment you have to build the writers and pay the drivers. Then you have all the analytics behind Doctor do fraud detection. You do already saying all this about acknowledge that should make just that very simple app really work what's complicated about the business drivers customers investors regulator? Yap your core audience is you going to make it better for because the balance between drivers and customers is incredibly important to the drive-thru with profitability. I have to we even and

Technology team have to serve multiple Masters. They clearly the writers and drivers are very important to us right without the drivers. I'll direct customers because they are the ones who try to the platform generating revenue on the platform. The rider is a technically their customer right where do market-makers the platforming between that actually make that facilitate to make the transaction happen. Of course, we operate in all this many cities around the world hundreds hundreds of cities around the world and we have to always be mindful of regulations that we have to comply with. So

we have to serve that interests as well. When did you got it wrong in terms of the as well as a felt that you know the balance with a game set. Well, I'm not sure if it's the the app. Where do we have wrong? I think one of the things that we do is sometimes we we have a product such as black car with drivers really love at a time. And then when we release the next level product uberX, it's much cheaper price at endochondral as part of their data premium product that we had and it's some driving unhappy and

and also depends on times of day the prices fluctuate based on your data that never go to market, you know, some drivers feel like they are making really good money at sometimes and not so much other times. I guess a lot of these fluctuation that's very hard to put a pin on it and the feedback which obviously this is constant come to you in the technical feed when when people think it's it's keeps going wrong. The balance is wrong I got there. I mean there are waves of you can see it on Twitter customer dissatisfaction. I I I I order the new Theory

cancelled I'm being deceived by the company while I don't think the company ever deceive anyone about W look at the toilet. But if you look at the I can't come in at any specific Twitter message, but if you look at the amount of volume that we have does does that does that feed by come through to the team designing the absolutely right now customers cannot get a ride because of me I'll drive a cancellation or when circuit too high and that's going to price them out of that.

Right and I we certainly feel that pain and we certainly engineer the system as much as we can and some the product features reliability so that we we optimize is that to ensure that as many people can ride as possible. And as many people can drive as you earn as much as possible that with that time. Now that you're facing increasing competition in my city again in London. The Indian app is just arriving to what degree do you think the quality of your app versus the quality there app will be decisive.

I think in the long run, let's say if you subtract out all the incentive right then the the the product which is the app and a service behind that. I think they in the long run the the one with the better product and better service would win in a long run. Right and he's got forced into short-term. You can always buy market share by giving a lot of incentive and then drive up your your Market position Yeezys that I look back some years to Halo which is

really good and people said that was fantastic. That was a company that raise a hundred fifty million dollars in the UK. I'm not was seen as an extraordinary amount of money. Then who became a long movie that ended up raising something like 8 billion dollars actually the difference the shield weight of capital behind you that you don't have What you you were given more time to be to be the winner technology. If we had that. We had to 8 billion dollars that we did not build the right product. People wouldn't use us down. Right? So, I think I remember the competition

where I would Halo as far as I know right people in in in London really like the Uber ran over service and we'll rise and that's why we had very significant bro there and you know just I believe fundamentally competition is actually very healthy. We have to compete fiercely everywhere that we are right here in the US and India in London in Europe and Middle East in Submariner. Yeah. We have to go back out of that such as China and Southeast Asia after Fierce competition, so I think ultimately competition is actually healthy because actually benefit

the user off the service most a ride as a driver side. Do you think you going to have to give up on some other markets you already? I hope not. I think I'll see you. I basically have been very public about how strong we are. In order of the market that we currently are and we intend to compete that well, and we intend to either Venom or number two and all the markets. Maintaining startup velocity is the title of this section moving fast and breaking things

kind of sums up what happened in the early stages of I'm not cause a lot of problems you had a very public change of leadership has that affected what you do now you are you less inclined to break things now that maybe you were under the leadership of Travis kalanick. Wow, every company gross. Under da ra number one Mantra and cultural norm is we do the right thing. So if you look at does that imply that right now so really I mean, I'm a technology-focused most of my time on Building Technology with

the engineering team. And yeah, we basically put out hard and so and then skills into building the rice products at do after service customer. Now, if you aren't a very early stage and you have to disrupt your marketing industry every disruption require challenging some existing norms and rules read that are Antiquated. You didn't look back at the civil rights movement and he's any kind of disruption dropped out of school a little bit now, some of it might be right song with might be wrong, but I'm looking forward to the asking a question about you know, do it. I know I'm

not doing the right thing. The data we have to have been extremely rigid and careful about following the rules and regulations and do the right thing by writers and drivers and policymakers and that's what focus on butt from the technologies that point we still move incredibly fast and right lot of things all the time when it comes to the products and write it look really, on the service because you open the app and it seemed to work all the time, but we are launching in a thousands of. Changes to. Life site every single day and what that kind of velocity what does

configuration change the code changes our future Launches on experimentation and many of those things that don't work well and break but you have to learn from that breakfast and you move forward very very fast and and Costa Rica understand what those things are completely invisible invisible today to the public about the use of service and for us in technology, we still moving very fast and and then we do breakouts out. Time time sometime multiple times during the day the key message from Erica lately has been about the path to profitability.

Is that is that depending on what you do is a technologist or is it more depending on on biggest the TG decisions about for instance you take from drivers that kind of area. What's what countries you put ounce of is technology going to take you to throw a fit absolutely technology is one key part of that right now. It's for a company this diverse and this large there is no single bullet. I think that many parts of the company has to be part of that solution. For example,

if you give us a wake if you give too much incentive than you burn too much money than you look very far away from profitability if you don't offer any incentive at all that you do Right. So that's on the business side and on the operation side how efficient you are how much more you can do with what you have increase the effectiveness of paper towel Levitz write and improve our line and find the product and Technology perspective incredibly important because getting to profitability alone is is not the only thing we worry about we are worried about getting to getting to

profitability while driving sustained growth for years and decades to come and that has to come from product Innovation. What product is can we invent that open New Market at bring a cheaper Monica nautical way to four people to move around the world beyond what we have today that we have today is carpooling is the cheapest one. Well, can we do you know higher capacity vehicle like Boston can we partner with Transit agencies around at the cities around the wall to actually help with that? They are many many things that Experiment with that could potentially even open up the market for

girls because what were you looking for is not simply profitability, but with no growth is not. All that after we want one day you might be preferred learning by sharing. We already demonstrate that. We are profitable right now. The other part of this is that ice fast-growing sale that we have to find that's a company that. Cause us to be over all not quite profitable yet. But we already put the marker down where daughter already promised the world that buy the car Q4 of this year 2020 for that quarter. We will reach

profitability and what am I looking beyond that is how do we get to that point and continue to grow in a forever? And that's that's will require a lot of Technology there. A lot of innovation is a couple of years ago. It seemed that the message from UVA is the profitability would actually depend on On effectively taking the driver's out of the equation. I don't believe removing a huge amount of cost. That way. I know you it seems strange that you but you are not responsible for the whole tournament vehicle project is

the only path to profitability. I don't recall who said why but I don't think that the only path to profitability has to be to drive us car and your opinion I have on my driver's license. I'm not responsible breakfast from the perspective of a casual, you know, amateur Observer, right? So I think in the future of autonomous vehicle, it could be however many years down the road 5 years and years were going to reach scales in and all that the it could bring in the whole new level of you know,

A nu tatt2 open lock and unlock the new generations of transport mode Ryan possibility that is very very cheap because you know, these vehicle can be utilized at all hours of the day and all that but I think that's future is is still pretty far away, but that cannot be the only pass that that we all get to profitability. In fact many of our company in this space is already, you know, getting close to the profitability of the cool Mission getting the basic technology

which makes the whole system take more smoothly leadership company to make the proper unit investment allocation. And then from the technology staff for the the duck or the company ride-sharing food delivery all that. I think we have to fish and resources to How important at more broadly is is AI machine learning in in what you doing it as big as the last five years. I have not been a single company. That doesn't pay I is cool to its business quite often those claims seem to be pretty hot

Aryan pretty hot but work these days. We we do employee machine learning techniques in many parts of our products the products that in some ways that is actually not very important but not visible to the public right? For example, we use our machine learning technique to do lots of fraud detection because that's a lot of fraud that happen on a platform as large as ours when we doing your 20 25 million transactions a day write money is changing hands and all that stuff. That's a lot of crap after I know we use machine learning to how to help with

that we use machine learning to help us optimize routings and then all that's up to you and I hope to always aiming to decrease you know pickup time that I improve customer experience then you know that all these things that we can do but it's not the whole company is not about we using AI Josh enhance what we do and I was talking to somebody sausage and a very well-known AI company it a few days ago and he said back in 2010 you could get a eye experts for the vet very little money because they would still emerging from

now everyone 6 pick up starting salary is that another right Talent well I think there's certainly a bit of a price premium on people with really deep AI expertise I got lots of engineer who claimed to walk in the eye with a date That's a little bit of a try and they have gone to resume but for the people who have really deep expertise and yes, it does cost a little bit more but I think it's worth it because I could open up new techniques for us to really improve performance capabilities in a way that

can a weed wasn't the TiVo before and what are you looking for? Are you attracting haven't we seen in Silicon Valley people move from Google to Facebook to Uber as each company has become fashionable these. Still we have a tremendous a great time and a very high tollin bar that Rivals some of the best companies in the Indus Valley or anywhere. So we really proud of that and we can. At this point still can Ava still able to recruit very good talent. Are we do also lose some right to get all these are coming at you mention as

well. But I think that's just the nature of the valley. People these days actually move around quite a bit more than when I was growing up and listen to show you a couple decades ago when growing feature of of why people choose to certain companies is reputation. Now Hoopa much admired him. Anyways, why do friends know the company? That's love how important is it to you? But people should love fupa while course. I love people to use the leftover. I think that people love the service right now. I'm

certainly because we see a lot of users about product engineer when they interview with us, really really love that team in the company. I can say that undercover place, right? That's why we are retention rate is really high. I'll tell him I was really high school recruiting is very very effective and a lot of them because we actually do Bill a very good strong and you're in culture with great talent that people actually Emma Attic and then help with each other and and they have really meaning for work that I do why we all shows up every day voluntarily

because why we can go anywhere anywhere else because the commission that we are on is really important. What we do is impacting 20 25 million lives a day, right and then prove it for the better than people have the convenience of being push a button and go anywhere they want to do in a moment's notice it food delivery to the people who are in between jobs or underemployed. Can you get on a platform and drive all these thing? We feel like we actually bring a lot about you the people do what we do and that's the part of the stickiness. We're running out of time to the final

question. Are you personally proud of working for Uber these days than you may have been 5 years ago that has been the coach of changes. Do you feel better about the company now than you did then? I feel just as good about a company now than I did. Then write the company went through many faces that I'm equally proud of the the early stage will just make things work when the product markets it was so good at then you have to type of growth and then when you get to the global expansion at a very rapid Pace. Requires a different set of learning a difference of the problem, we have

to solve a scale with very little time even the crisis yet. It was a lot of learning that to write testing all of our commitment and resiliency, right and Grit, take it to the Limit and then the rebuilding face from 2017. The daughter arrived to the moment of the IPO is I not a very interested in your face of gallons in a company for dove learning at least for me and for many Indians died in the organization, and now we are embarking on this the new phase PR where how do we get to profitability and sustain growth or decades to come? Right? And what kind of innovation do we do to a can

unlock that so that we got as far as to be the next in Amazon of the wall. That chapter is yet to be written and ivory. I'm incredibly excited about this and every every face of the company. I would not have trade this for anything else. Great to hear from you from from thank you very much into you.

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Thuan Pham
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