How a poor refugee from Vietnam became CTO of the billion-dollar startup Uber

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Next Shark (by Ryan General):

Today, Thuan Pham is the successful Chief Technology Officer at Uber, the most valuable ride-sharing startup in the world worth over $62 billion, but as a child, Pham struggled to survive as a poor refugee boy escaping a war-ravaged Vietnam.

Pham was among the tens of thousands of refugees who fled from the Vietnam War in 1979.  The 10-year-old Pham, his mom and his siblings were crammed with hundreds of other Vietnamese refugees on a 60-meter boat on their way to an uncertain future.

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The refugees endured a perilous journey with their boat being raided by pirates twice.

“We would not panic. In fact we would be calm and surrender ourselves,”  Pham told Tech In Asia. “That’s the way a startup journey is. Even if you lose all one day, you can build all over again if you retain your calm.”

Their boat landed on the shores of Malaysia but they were immediately rejected as refugees. Instead of returning to their country, his mother took a chance in taking her children on another boat to Indonesia, where the family stayed for 10 months.

Living on the island of Letung, young Pham would swim to the nearby town to buy candies which his mother sold in the refugee camp to earn money.

“We used to make 10 cents of profit a day, and that would be a luxury,” he recalled. “We could buy fresh fish.”

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Pham’s life began to change after his mother’s asylum application in the U.S. was approved. They relocated to Maryland, where his mother worked as a ledger keeper at a gas station during the day, and as a grocery packer at a supermarket at night.

While studying in American schools, Pham struggled initially as he didn’t know English and had to start from scratch. He also wore donated clothes and shoes and found work at a local car wash station.

“I remember wearing girl socks for almost two years in oblivion, until someone pointed,” Pham told Tech in Asia.

A persistent and hardworking student, Pham graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s in computer science in 1991.

“I strongly encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to educate themselves, even if they don’t wish to graduate,” he said. “College education opens doors for you.”

After MIT, he found work at HP Labs, Silicon Graphics, DoubleClick and VMWare. When Pham joined Uber in 2013, it was already present in 60 cities with 200 employees. Currently, the company has an estimated net worth of $62.5 billion, has a presence in almost 400 cities and employs thousands of employees around the world.

As the Uber CTO, he has helped improve the Uber app which was prone to crashes in its earlier versions.  To ensure that the app is responsive and crash-proof, Pham has developed innovations that enable its architecture to keep running even if something goes wrong.

“Now we don’t crash, because we have done that in our early journey,” he said. “Entrepreneurs should fail fast in the early days.”

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Growing up with hardship and the constant threat of death back in Saigon, which today is Ho Chi Minh City, Pham was forced to overcome fear at an early age, but that trait still stick with him today.

“It taught me that life is ephemeral,” he said. “I advise young entrepreneurs to treat their startups as a learning experience. Even if it all fails you can rebuild it again. You’re in a free world.”

What will happen to Uber in China? Car-sharing app faces uncertain landscape and well-funded competitors

 ChinaFile:

Ride-sharing app Uber has expanded around the world at a blistering pace, launching in a new city every one or two days. At first glance, China would appear the ideal fit for the Silicon Valley startup. Most urban residents in the world’s second-largest economy rely on sclerotic local taxi monopolies whose numbers have failed to match the country’s breakneck urbanization: the population of the capital Beijing, for example, has grown by nearly 50 percent to 20 million in the past ten years, while its taxi fleet of 66,000 remains the same size it was in 2003. The potential for a better way to get around town is clearly immense.

But on December 23, Uber suffered a setback when local authorities raided its office in the large southern city of Chongqing, a sign the company may encounter regulatory scrutiny in China similar to what it has encountered in other countries. Uber’s Chongqing travails initially appear to be yet another case in the recent string of large foreign firms finding themselves in the crosshairs of Chinese regulators—often to the benefit of domestic champions. It may come as a surprise, then, that Uber’s local competitors have come in for their share of official scrutiny as well.

Foreign and domestic ride-sharing apps both brush against powerful vested interests here, meaning that app makers, riders, and drivers all need to prepare for a bumpy ride.

China’s ride-on-demand market has been so ripe for the picking that when Uber launched there in February this year, it quickly found itself a small player in a market dominated by existing alternatives. These include “black taxis”—low-tech drivers peddling rides outside of the official taxi system—as well as two domestic taxi-hailing and ride-sharing apps backed by deep-pocketed local Internet firms: Didi Dache (roughly “Honk honk, hail a cab”), which is integrated with social network titan Tencent, and Kuaidi Dache (meaning “Quickly hail a cab”), funded by e-commerce giant Alibaba. (On the same day Uber was raided, the U.S. firm also announced it had secured backing from a third internet giant, search engine firm Baidu, a move that Uber hopes will give it more resources to battle the local players.)

Both Didi and Kuaidi got their start as apps helping riders to hail traditional taxis from the local monopolies, allowing users to entice cab drivers with tips. The apps’ tech giant backers poured money into promotions and bonuses—which included literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps—to drum up supply and demand. The strategy has succeeded; taxi-hailing apps now count 154 million Chinese users. Didi alone boasts100 million users and 900,000 registered taxi drivers spread across 178 cities, with more than 5 million rides booked every day. Even after a decline following the termination of the major promotions, the apps remain in heavy nationwide use, appearing to vindicate the apps’ early, money-burning tactics.

Having conquered the taxi-hailing market, over the summer both Kuaidi and Didi separately rolled out secondary services for riding in private cars that compete more directly with Uber’s bread and butter. These offerings provide tiers of service, with car models going all the way up to high-end Audis. The private car services are still new, but Didi and Kuaidi and their deep-pocketed backers have made clear they aren’t afraid to spend lavishly on early promotions and subsidies to build the market.

It would appear that China’s ride-on-demand market is Didi and Kuaidi’s to lose.

Those apps’ private drivers are less sanguine. One told me that although business is good, “Didi is still new, so who knows if the government might ban it later?” It’s a line that illustrates the difficult relationship that firms on the cutting edge of business innovation often have with Chinese authorities.

Even before Didi and Kuaidi launched their private car services, their taxi-hailing functions already encountered considerable scrutiny and the occasional bans from city governments for most of their two-year lifespans. That has led to different regulatory regimes in different cities. For example, Didi’s ability to attract cabbies with the promise of hefty tips was still functional on this author’s recent trip to the regional capital city of Changsha, while as of late October, that option had apparently been removed in Shanghai, China’s largest city. Rumors swirled that authorities here were trying to protect traditional taxi reservation hotlines, or were attempting to prize the city’s taxis from the grasp of a smartphone-wielding technorati that had grown used to luring drivers with tips, leaving the elderly and other riders who still hail cabs the old-fashioned way coughing in the dust.

But another theory goes that Didi and Kuaidi removed the tipping function themselves, in order to push well-heeled riders to consider their new Uber-like private car services, which still allow tipping. But private car services also have seen their share of sniping from interest groups and regulators, in many cases well before the December raid on Uber’s Chongqing office. By adding private car services to their existing taxi-hailing functions, the apps have gone from helping traditional taxis secure riders and tips to cultivating competing services that step on the toes of local taxi monopolies, which are often state-owned and constitute influential vested interests. Cab drivers in some cities already have complained that private car services are eating into their business, with cabbies in the large city of Nanjing threatening to boycott Didi’s taxi-hailing app if the firm did not remove the private car function. Local governments have also come down on these native apps on grounds similar to those countries like Belgium have cited in restricting Uber: i.e., the cars act like taxis but aren’t licensed like taxis, making them technically illegal. The large industrial city of Shenyang has already banned the private car service, and others like the major seaport of Dalian have questioned its legality too.

I used Didi to ride with several private car drivers, and found them understandably concerned about a potential ban on their new business. A Shanghai native surnamed Wang drove for Didi’s private car service full time, and was thus most vulnerable to any future regulation. Like all drivers I met, Wang was aware of the potential for a government ban on Didi and its competitors, but called it a double standard, noting the government had “allowed fleets of ‘black taxis’ to operate around Shanghai’s train station and other hubs with impunity for years.” Called “black” because they are illegal, black taxis have been a mainstay of Chinese city streets before smartphones even existed, taking advantage of the surplus demand created by limited taxi fleets. They offer rides to the impatient or desperate for unmetered fares that are bargained on the spot—usually to the disadvantage of those unfamiliar with the city.

If the authorities could turn a blind eye to black taxis, asked Mr. Wang, shouldn’t they be lenient towards Didi’s more professional private car service as well? After all, his clean Volkswagen SUV offered standard Didi features like bottled water and a charging port, and his friendly service and metered fares tallied by Didi’s app added up to a far better experience than that offered by the rundown black taxis with their shady drivers. Wang may have answered his own question.

Since the apps are far better organized and provide superior service, they represent a more significant threat to traditional cabs than black taxis ever could, which has inspired a stronger protectionist response.

Not all drivers were bitter about the threat of government action. One cheerful Didi driver, also surnamed Wang (no relation), came from the city of Xi’an and drove for the app as a lucrative sideline to his day job running a boxed-lunch business for office workers. He acknowledged that his part-time work probably infringed on taxi drivers’ territory and was resigned to the possibility that government action would put an end to it, but he was happy for the extra income while it lasted.

Drivers continue to participate in Didi’s private car service despite the uncertainties in part because Didi pays generous subsidies to drivers who receive high customer ratings, a gambit that echoes it and Kuaidi’s earlier promotions for taxis. (In an attempt to curry rider favor, some drivers even go beyond the app makers’ basic requirements like bottled water, providing extra touches such as medicine for carsickness.) Mr. Wang from Shanghai told me he was earning about $1,600 per month, thanks to subsidies and bonuses, more than Shanghai’s average white-collar salary of about $1,180. Wang’s father had been a cab driver and drove crushing hours, sometimes from 7 o’clock a.m. until midnight or later, without weekends; the younger Wang felt his hours were much easier. Bonuses fluctuate daily, but at their best can let drivers pocket double what passengers pay in fares, with Didi making up the difference. Given that Didi and Kuaidi battled for taxi-hailing market shares earlier this year by literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps, this latest subsidy scheme appears to be an effort to flood the streets with private cars at key times, making the service more convenient in the eyes of riders while also undercutting less well-funded competitors.

Uber may in the future find itself ensnared in more regulatory troubles with local Chinese authorities, but it won’t be alone. Didi and Kuaidi’s private car services have already upset the old system, in which traditional cabs dominated and black taxis mopped up excess demand without providing any real competition. Kuaidi has expressed confidence that it has the market knowledge and official relationships to ride out the initial wave of government scrutiny, though only time can tell if that is the case. In the meantime, drivers and riders can enjoy the services’ financial generosity and convenience—while they last.

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You can now hitch a ride from Optimus Prime with Uber

 

Image of You Can Now Hitch a Ride From Optimus Prime with Uber

In a prime example of cross-promotion advertising done proper, ridesharing service Uber has teamed with the Transformers franchise to make a childhood dream a reality. During the weeks prior to the film’s official premiere on June 27, Uber will have an Optimus Prime-custom Western Star semi ready to be hailed as your chariot. Requesting a ride is made easy by simply choosing the “AUTOBOTS” option within the mobile app, then selecting “ROLL OUT” to get picked up for a short, yet sweet 15-minute ride.

Unfortunately however, this service will only be available between the times of 1 pm and 7 pm in Dallas on June 16, Phoenix on June 19 and Los Angeles on June 21.

 

Check out this link:

You can now hitch a ride from Optimus Prime with Uber

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What’s Uber’s strategy for gaining customers in Asia? One word: Puppies.

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Uber is spreading rapidly throughout Asia and around the world, and as it attempts to conquer new markets, it must ramp up its marketing to attract attention.

But in this day and age of constant distraction, in which consumers are unceasingly bombarded with calls to action from any number of consumer tech brands, what can a startup do to ensure it gets noticed?

We should all know the answer by now. Puppies.

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Today, Uber Taipei launched a promotion in which users aching for some puppy love could call for a vehicle that would deliver puppies on-demand to a specified location. Playtime lasted fifteen minutes, and required a NT$ 300 (about $12) donation to the Taiwan Life Caring and Animal Rescue Organization.

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We like to track Uber’s savvy marketing efforts because the company has mastered the art associating its brand with all-things-cute and all-things-hip. Last July the company delivered free ice cream to its customers in Singapore. It’s also offered promotions with up-and-coming startups in Asia, such as Korea’s Between and Taiwan’s WhatsTheNumber. Of course, these campaigns mark deliberate efforts to lure in early adopter-types and spread virally through social media. And in this case, users get the benefit of supporting a good cause as well.

Uber arrived in Taipei last June, and since then has expanded to Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The company is valued at $3.5 billion.

Check out this link:

What’s Uber’s strategy for gaining customers in Asia? One word: Puppies.