Uber’s Plan to Repair Its Relationship With Drivers
Aaron Schildkrout, Uber’s head of driver product, came to the office a few weeks ago for a Q&A. It was right after Dara Khosrowshahi had been appointed CEO, and we had a pretty frank conversation about a company trying to undo months of damage from PR missteps including a video of its former chief, Travis Kalanick, berating a driver (he later apologized) and a passenger boycott promoted on social media.
In an effort to woo drivers, Uber launched an initiative called, 180 Days of Change — a campaign that aims to make “meaningful changes and improvements” to the driving experience. The most notable change came when Uber released its in-app tipping option in July after resisting it for a number of years. Other changes include a shorter cancellation window, driver injury protection insurance, and increasing driver’s takehome pay for UberPool trips.
Previously, Schildkrout founded a dating app, meditated “full time” for two years, and taught at a charter school. Now he spends his time addressing driver complaints around earnings, stress, support, and communications.
Below are the highlights of our conversation. Note that answers have been edited for clarity and length.
FORTUNE: Tell us a little bit about your career path. How did you end up at Uber?
SCHILDKROUT: I spent the first part of my career in education, mostly as a high school teacher at a charter school in the Boston area. I spent two years meditating full-time totally off the grid. And then I shifted careers into tech and started a [dating app company] called HowAboutWe. I ran that for about 5 years before selling it to IAC. I thought deeply about what I wanted to do next — should I start another company? Should I join a company? I decided to join Uber.
SCHILDKROUT: It really felt like of all the companies in the world that had transformed my daily life, Uber was very close to the top of the list.
Uber is left picking up the pieces after a tumultuous 10 months. In June, you launched 180 Days of Change. What was the genesis of this campaign?
SCHILDKROUT: Around the turn of the year, we talked to thousands of drivers in various forms — one on one, in groups, through surveys — to get a deeper understanding of how we were doing. What we found was, frankly, we weren’t doing that well. There was a deep need for change. Based on that research, we kicked off 180 Days of Change.
Can you give me an example of the type of feedback you received?
SCHILDKROUT: When we talked to drivers, we found again and again some very clear themes. Drivers didn’t feel like we were listening enough. Drivers didn’t feel like the support was there. Drivers weren’t satisfied with a number of key aspects to their earnings. There were parts of our platform where we offered flexibility, but we weren’t fully delivering on that promise.
Walk me through the things that you have implemented thanks to driver feedback.
SCHILDKROUT: The first thing we did was work on earnings. The No. 1 most requested feature that has ever existed at Uber was tipping. And we had long-resisted launching it. In our first chapter of 180 Days of Change, we launched tipping. But we also launched a series of other changes to the earnings experience that we felt like would address a lot of the fundamental questions drivers had about earnings.
In your time at Uber, what is one product initiative that you worked on that didn’t pan out as planned?
SCHILDKROUT: UberPool has always been in some ways an emblem of what ridesharing is all about. Using every single available seat in every car in order to reduce congestion, reduce the prices of moving around a city, really make transportation in a city as smooth as possible.
But when you ask drivers about UberPool, you get a very consistent extremely negative response, and there are reasons for that. We really hadn’t invested in the driver side of the Pool experience. Passengers love the low price, they love the efficiency, but for drivers, it’s actually a lot of work and often quite stressful. So we’ve got some interesting ideas of how we can fix that and improve in that area.
Uber operated without a CEO for several months. What was the staff’s reaction when it was announced that Khosrowshahi was selected for the role?
SCHILDKROUT: Some things I’ve noticed early on is that this is a person who seems to be truly about team. This is a person who knows how to compete, how to run a business, and how to think about the future. That ambition and that sense of wanting to build something great is exciting and very much in line with Uber’s DNA. I think after he joined there was pretty universal excitement and a strong hope of where we’re headed as a company.