Uber's Deng talks post-airport food delivery, stress relief

Uber began as a ride-hailing company, but its ambition to become the "Amazon of transportation" has pushed its leaders to experiment with bus fleets, transit and its growing food delivery business.

Peter Deng, who spent nearly a decade at Facebook before joining Uber Technologies Inc., wants to relieve riders' stress from their daily lives by unlocking more experiences through the Uber app.

The Associated Press recently spoke with Deng about how, as Head of Rider, he aims to offer rides tailored to every occasion and to localize the experience in more than 700 cities across the globe. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Uber has been prompting riders on their way home from the airport to order food through Uber Eats. How is that going?

A: Our orientation is to serve the customer, to make their lives easier. And that was the hypothesis of one of our product managers who was like, "Hey, I sometimes get hungry when I'm going home from the airport," and I'm like, "Oh my God, me too." You're going home to an empty fridge, it's not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.

Q: Where is Uber prompting airport riders to order food?

A: We've done small-scale tests in the U.S., and this is one of many ideas that we've tested of how we can serve our customers better. Depending on what we learn, we take those insights and build a better product.

Q: Does Uber coordinate in the background to time the delivery with the Uber arrival?

A: When you experience it, it feels magical, and let's just keep it that way. The time it takes to order and prepare and deliver food is for some folks the amount of time it takes to get home from the airport.

Q: You have a bus service in Cairo. What need are you aiming to fill with Uber Bus?

A: We're looking to satisfy people's daily needs, and getting to and from work, that commute experience, is a daily need. Getting more people into an affordable, high-quality bus with air conditioning, and getting people to and from work on a predictable basis, that's the need that we're solving. In Egypt, we believe we can provide a better experience at a very good price...taking that stress out of people's everyday lives.

Q: How does Uber Bus work?

A: A rider will open the app, they will type in where they're going. They will see in their options that you can take an Uber X, Uber Pool and you now have the option to take the Uber Bus. The Uber Bus requires you to walk to and from the stop, and it tells you when the next one is arriving.

Q: Are the routes predetermined? Or can the driver change a route based on an incoming ride request?

A: We have a lot of good insights into where people go to and from for work, because people use Uber. And from that we can optimize which routes are the best for us to run each of the bus lines.

We're doing the heavy lifting on the back end to figure out which bus driver to dispatch, and at what time, and over the day we might learn from our insights that there are better routes than others. When the driver has set out, after they've made their first pickup, there is a route we predetermined that they will follow, based on the insights I was talking about.

Q: At Facebook, you worked on the Events and Messenger features. Any plans to bring similar features to the Uber app?

A: It's really important that we stay focused on what we can do well and what unique value we're adding to people's lives, and for us it's getting people where they need to go. We are getting people who are hungry food. We are offering people modes of transportation like transit and scoters and bikes. That's where we want to play...There are plenty of apps in the world that accomplish these other cases really well.

Q: What about targeted ads? Uber is under pressure from investors to demonstrate a path to profitability. Why not advertise to riders with targeted ads in the Uber app, or in the back seat of cars?

A: We're focused on the rider experience overall, and the rider experience is an experience that — unlike a lot of other products in Silicon Valley — people pay for. And it's on us to make sure that when the customers pay and when we pay our drivers that all of that marketplace works out really well. It's really humbling to think of how many millions of people every single day are assigning Uber value enough to pay for the service, and how many of our amazing driver partners are able to make a living off of this. So that's where we're really focused, is making sure that this marketplace works.