by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A few hours before Uber’s Nov. 12 launch in Budapest, Austin Geidt , the company’s head of global expansion, made time to talk through the process at a San Francisco cafe. A $17 billion valuation will do a lot to soothe jangled nerves.
Geidt, a 29-year-old with one employer on her résumé, helped Uber roll out in a dozen cities two years ago. Now it’s adding one every other day. Budapest marked the 100th foreign city on six continents where Uber rides are available and made Hungary the 46th country where it operates. (Uber is in about 140 cities in the U.S.) While Geidt’s team used to agonize over data on competition and demand in different cities to decide where to expand next, “At this point we go so quickly, I wouldn’t say that it particularly matters,” she says. “If we’re not there now, we’ll be there in a week.”
Geidt oversees what Uber calls its “launch playbook,” a list of business strategies and operating guidelines that have been compiled by an internal team of about 40 employees. It doesn’t cover everything: During a Nov. 14 dinner with New York journalists on the guest list, Uber’s senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, suggested the company spend $1 million to hire a team of researchers that would target critical reporters. And Uber said on Nov. 18 that it was investigating Josh Mohrer, the head of its New York office, for tracking rides taken by a BuzzFeed reporter. The playbook includes a blueprint for expansion that begins with three people, mostly locals, in each new city: a marketer, someone to recruit drivers, and a general manager who deals with area authorities and competitors and reports to Geidt. Despite the consistent regimen, she says she tries to view each city operation as its own startup.