Sarah Jordi, Uber Switzerland’s first employee

In 2013, Uber, an American transportation service start-up decided to launch a branch in Switzerland, starting with Zürich, considered a major hub in the European market.

By the time it got launched here, Uber was already in 38 countries.  For those of you not familiar with Uber, it’s an app that enables people to reserve a private ride in minutes. This concept basically completely disrupted the “taxi” way as we knew it and caused (still does) huge debates and controversy around the world. It has become a “Love and Hate” love affair.

So given this short synopsis and what you already know about the company, imagine my thrill when I got to sit down with Uber Switzerland’s first employee, Sarah Jordi! Sarah has had a very interesting course especially given her young age.

How did you get involved with Uber and and when?

About 2 1/2 years ago I set up a Twitter account just to have one. I basically only had one follower. Maybe they were more interested in my title “Community Marketing Manager” than my message! I decided to check them out and found out it was a car company. The site was really bad and I had no interest in the car industry so I forgot about it.

A couple of days later a friend of mine told me that a new American company was coming to Switzerland and she was invited to their launch party. She met the American launcher who set up the team here and was told that they were looking for people. She told me about it and when I checked them out I realised that they were my mysterious Twitter follower! It was the Uber Switzerland account, which explained why I had not recognised them. I didn’t quite understand the concept because it was not known here in Europe at all and even the London team only had two people. Nobody really knew what Uber was all about. But the job description seemed interesting and when I researched a little more I found an article about Austin Geidt, one of the first employees who is now the Head of Global Expansion. Just reading about her sounded so exciting that I wanted to know more about it.

I applied for the job, met with the team and went through a very long and demanding process which became more and more exciting to me. At the end I think it was just another candidate and I. I wasn’t as experienced as her but I still got the job because according to them I was more excited about the job than she. They said that you can learn all the basics but you cannot learn how to be excited about things. And that’s how and why I got the job 🙂

What is your job?

I started as the Community Manager which by the way is pretty much the same thing as I’m doing now but they just changed the title of the role because people associate Community Managers with social media.
The Community Manager at Uber is responsible for a multitude of things like social media, social manager, customer support , driver support, locating drivers, train them the Uber way, interview them. I also handle all the marketing campaigns, event partnerships. So in the beginning I was a Community Manager then it changed to Marketing Manager because they changed the title globally and today, 2 1/2 years later, I am the Senior Marketing Manager.

How is it to work for Uber compared to other companies you worked for before?

I don’t think I can compare because I’ve never heard or seen anything similar to Uber. And that’s not just my experience but I also hear it from other people. I don’t think any other company has a learning curve as steep as a Uber does. You learn something new every single day and I never had this at any of my previous jobs. It normally takes about 1 to 3 months of training to get used to your new role then you kinda learn what you’re doing and maybe after a year you start learning new things. You do what you do best and become very good at it but you never really learn something new.

But my role here at Uber is constantly evolving. We were a start-up before but now we are a big corporation even though in zurich we’re still a start-up. The company has changed so much since its beginnings and I changed and improved with it and that is the most exciting thing about it because I feel like I learn something new every single day.

I guess because it’s such a disruptive model that everyone, including the founders and CEOs have to also learn every day and roll with the punches.

Yes and that’s also why I’m so proud to work for Uber. Each time something bad happens or a bad decision is made, whether locally or in a big city you always see the immediate learnings. We discuss it and we try to find ways so it does not happen again. Whenever something bad happens you can make sure that within the next couple of days or even hours there will be a huge follow up email with learnings and ideas for the future. We all make sure the same mistake doesn’t happen again and do better next time.

It looks like Uber is being scrutinised constantly. Some people seem to want it to fail. How do  you deal with this?

I think a lot of people actually like the idea and convenience that Uber brings and genuinely like Uber as a product but not as a brand. And that is where we made a lot of mistakes in the past and we need to get better at telling our own story. We grew so fast that we didn’t have time to focus on the story. Somehow it got lost along the way but today we are working very hard at making it better.

Unfortunately most people who aren’t familiar with our brand don’t like it because of the false information shared in the media. Instead of getting angry at the media, our job is to work on our story and provide people with the right information. For example: how do you become an Uber driver, who can become an Uber driver and who cannot? How safe is it to use Uber? How does Uber use your credit card information? etc..

 So what is your story?

“Transportation as reliable as running water”.  And that can be transportation of people, food, or goods. There’s so much more that can be done. We’re all about efficiency.

How about Uber food in Zürich?

Right now we are testing our different markets then when we will roll out in our bigger markets. We definitely are thinking about doing this in Zürich but first the city has to reach a certain point and has to grow a little bit more. We will need more drivers, more trips and more demand. When we do it, it has to be done right.

Are you all over Switzerland?

We are in basel, Lausanne, Geneva and Zürich at the moment. Our goal is to expand everywhere else in Switzerland. It just takes time because we want to make sure that we learn as much as possible especially in the smaller cities so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Do you use Uber yourself?

All the time. But I also use SBB trams and trains every day.

How about all the Me too’s?

More and more companies especially taxi companies are now copying Uber.
Uber is about the whole experience, the ability to order directly through the app. If you ride a cab and your experience is bad no matter how it’s fluffed it will still be a bad experience. I’m not saying that all taxi rides are bad but we all know that sometimes they are. And if they launch their own app they still have to make sure that the rider has a great experience and I hope they do that.

Why does Uber not accept tips?

The way the price is calculated ensures that the rider never has to worry about tipping. It’s not included in the final price but it’s accounted for to make sure that the driver makes enough money. Tip is inconvenient for the rider. How much to give? What if I don’t have the cash? We just want to make sure you don’t have to worry about these things and enjoy your ride.

Are there any funny or sweet stories you can share?

There are many sweet driver stories. Some drivers who didn’t have a job or the money to support their family prior to joining Uber show up at our office with gifts just to say thank you. Thanks to Uber they have been to able to pay off their debt or take their family on a vacation for the first time in years. Stuff like that is just amazing because it reminds you of why you do this job.

No juicy story?

We sometimes get emails from riders asking us if we could look into an account and tell them where the last ride ended. When we realise that the name and email address they are asking us to check don’t match the one we have, we ask them to email us from the email on file. We cannot just look up any email address and forego the privacy issue. They reply saying that it’s not their account but their boyfriend’s! They think he’s having an affair and want to know where he went last night. Stories like this happen all the time. Obviously we cannot give out the information!

Do you apply the Uber way everywhere or do you adapt to each market?

We definitely think global but yes as an American company there are things we cannot apply in Switzerland. For example the tip culture is very American. Or when it comes to marketing initiative campaigns we stay very local and make sure that whatever we do makes sense with our market. For instance we always hire local people when we launch in new cities.  It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. We are definitely very local and wouldn’t just take any American idea.

Do you do partner up with brands or companies?

Yes as long as it benefits our community. We do a lot of On Demand stuff where we deliver something before a big launch or as a marketing incentive. One project I am very proud of happened this past weekend as an incentive for last minute voters to take action and cast their vote because the outcome could change the face of Switzerland forever. We gave a free ride up to CHF10.

What advice would you give someone who has an idea for a business which is very destructive and people discourage him or her?

First talk with your friends about it and see their reactions and how seriously they take you. Then start working on the very first draft of the business case and share it with a mentor.
If people don’t get your idea it’s probably because you’re not explaining it well. Uber for example, took off right away. People should not be afraid of trying and failing. In Switzerland especially, people are always afraid of failing and think that mistakes are not allowed but this mentality will keep them from learning and growing and will hold them back.

What do you think is a probable future for uber?

Over the next couple of years I hope that we can expand to more cities to make sure everyone in Switzerland has access to Uber and I definitely hope we can launch different products such as Uber Eats and Uber Rush.

Closing thoughts?

Especially for our DOL readers, Uber will offer a free ride up to CHF15  using the following code!

Code: DISCOVEROUTLOUD (valid for a first trip in Switzerland for new users only)


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