Former Uber exec: Always focus on the customer

Courtesy of Christopher Michel/CreativeCommons

Entrepreneurs must analyze customer feedback at every stage of their company’s development — from pre-launch to scaling into a multinational corporation — to have a chance at success, a former Uber executive said.

“You want everyone in your company to be customer-centric,” said Frederique Dame, who served as product and engineering manager at Uber from 2012 to 2016, during a time in which the company expanded its ride sharing service from 14 cities to more than 400.

Dame gave the keynote address Wednesday evening at the Evening of Entrepreneurship, organized by EnterpriseCorp, the entrepreneurial division of the local chamber of commerce, Greater Louisville Inc.

Dame said that entrepreneurs cannot start a successful business without customers, cannot grow without their customers in mind, and cannot scale successfully without keeping in touch with their customers.

The co-founders of Uber started the company to address a problem with which they personally had experience: Finding a taxi in big cities can be challenging. But the company would not have grown into what it is today if the entire company had not obsessed on the customer every day, Dame said.

“You cannot build a good product if you’re not obsessing,” she said.

Entrepreneurs often think they have a good idea for a product or service, but by the time they are ready to go to market, nobody wants to pay for what they’re offering, Dame said. Entrepreneurs have to listen to their customers especially in the early days.

Talk to customers, observe how they use your product and address their “pain points,” Dame said.

For Uber, that meant sitting down with drivers and realizing that many could not sign up for the service because they did not have iPhones and because the company’s website was optimized for Chrome and Safari browsers, whereas many drivers would register in internet cafes in which the computers ran Internet Explorer.

“Be aware that not everyone thinks like you,” Dame said.

Measure, analyze, iterate

Angel investor and former Uber exec Frederique Dame listens to a question at Wednesday night’s Evening of Entrepreneurship, organized by EnterpriseCorp. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

The tech investor also said that companies need to measure every metric they have identified critical to success and rigorously must keep track of the data.

“Data is king,” Dame said. “You need to know at every single point in time where you’re at.”

Uber could tell where in the world people were opening the app, which provided key insights into where the company should expand next. Uber also had a dashboard for every city that could provide information about trips that customers were taking and searching for, how many cars the company had on the road and how many trips were going unfulfilled. And, Dame said, everyone in the company had access to that data.

Data also allows entrepreneurs to make the right decisions when it comes to prioritizing what to do next and how to improve their product or service.

If a feature in your mobile app works, for example, and you’ve met your goal, data will tell you with confidence that you can double down on your goal — or that the app is not working well and that you should work on something else instead.

And, Dame said, while companies improve their product or service, they also continually must iterate their processes.

For example, Uber changed the way it expanded every time it entered a new city. It analyzed how and where it could sign up drivers more easily and how it could make sure they stayed with the company long-term. The process always evolved, and increased launch preparation times from one city in two weeks to several cities in one day, Dame said.

Look at your process so that you can figure out how to optimize it, she said.

Dame also said that regardless of company size, leaders must continue to focus on communication to make sure that they can adopt best practices as they iterate their products, services and processes.

She said that some company leaders, even of small ventures, tell her that they do not routinely communicate with all employees because of various challenges including that some of them work off-site.

However, Dame said, if you don’t share what’s happening in your company with your 60 employees because it’s difficult, “you’re not going to listen to your customer.”

“Make it happen,” she urged.

And, she said, regardless of how well a company is doing, their leaders must give employees a chance to experiment, because one of those experiments might just turn into a company’s most profitable business line.

For example, Uber received great feedback for its Uber Ice Cream deliveries, which, Dame said, taught the company about logistics and spawned the idea for UberEats, a food delivery service that has become the company’s most profitable business line.