Ryerson MBA Speaker Series: The Future of Uber

Ian Black, General Manager of UberOne day after Toronto City Council voted to regulate Uber, many in Toronto questioned whether or not the company scored a victory. But at the Ryerson MBA Speaker Series on Oct. 1, Uber Canada’s general manager Ian Black told Ted Rogers School of Management students that the city’s decision was “a great development” for the controversial tech/transit app.

“The bottom line is, the city is moving forward with regulation,” said Black. “And I think now, cities around the country are starting to adopt the mentality that, ‘We aren’t turning back technology. We aren’t going to just pretend this isn’t happening. It’s now our job to keep up and hopefully get ahead with rules that enable innovation.’”

Though city council requested that Uber cease service of unlicensed vehicles until regulations could be put in place, the company has often faced harsher feedback. Uber allows customers to book car service with a phone app, from a network of drivers who use their own cars and share in profits. Criticism from taxi companies for unfair competition, and by governments for its lack of taxes and licensing fees, have led to legal challenges around the world and faced bans in Spain and parts of Germany and India. At Tuesday’s Toronto City Council meeting, hundreds of Toronto taxi drivers appeared at council chamber to protest the company.

Calling Uber “a disruptive model,” Black told students, “You certainly don’t celebrate the effects of that disruption. It is tough on a lot of people, and you need to recognize that. But you can’t universalize the idea that a company needs to be responsible for all disruptive impact it has. It’s the role of government to choose whether or not it gets involved in those sorts of situations.”

He added, “Hopefully anyone who’s had their job or their life disrupted by new technology or changes in the industry can then find a new opportunity – and in the case of Uber vs. taxi, a better-paying, more flexible opportunity. But we see our responsibility as doing that: creating new opportunities.”

Black also warned that attempts to stifle Uber could have wider repercussions, citing conversations he has had with other “disruptive” tech startups. “Those people say, ‘You know what? I would launch in Toronto, but look at how the City of Toronto has responded to Uber. I don’t have the deep pockets for that – I’m going to go do it in a place where I’ve got a higher chance of success.’

“When governments turn their backs on disruptive or innovative technologies, they send a pretty clear signal to the marketplace that they don’t want innovation and they don’t want new engines and they don’t want new business models.”

Though Uber has faced public relations challenges, Black also told students about how Uber could position itself in the marketplace as the more socially conscious alternative to taxi companies.

“The under-40 consumer set has less political affiliation and less community affiliation than any previous generation, but still a ton of hunger for social interaction and social content, but they do have high engagement rates with companies. So as a company, if you can be giving them contents and stories around social engagement, people actually buy into your company more because you’re presenting that face.

“When a company like Uber – which is very local by nature – presents stories of local families earning money on the platform, people read those emails and people engage and people believe in the product even more than they did before.”

Original article from Ryerson Today, written by Will Sloan: