Huge Hurts: Demand Prediction in Uberland


Last Thursday night was huge for Uber. As we mentioned on Twitter and this blog we were involved with Samasource and their GiveWork Gala in providing rockstar style transportation to the event. The event went off without a hitch and ended up being very lucrative for the charity (some of Uber’s investors contributed to the auction). Although the night was Uber successful, we did experience some growing pains and came to the conclusions that huge can hurt. I wanted to share some of those lessons with you all.

Our business is one of connecting users and limo companies, pretty simple at its core. We work hard to make that connection in a fashion that you, the user, say “WOW”. Not only did we wow you with how quickly the driver arrived, but also the quality and level of service along the way. In order to make that happen we must measure supply and demand in real time, and figure out how to make sure that when you request a ride, we can coordinate a driver NOW. We’re always working to minimize pickup times and we can do that by having either more cars on the road, or by more intelligent positioning of the cars we do have. We do both.

However, last Thursday night we saw a HUGE spike right at the beginning of the Samasource event, and it hurt us a bit. We had extra cars on the road of course, but still saw an unpredictably high number of ride requests all at the very same time. Basically, you (users) surprised us with how much you wanted Uber and we couldn’t provide for a lot of you. This is personally agonizing. Yes, this is a good problem to have, but we need to do a better job making sure you get a car when you want it.

You’ll see from the graph below that we satisfied demand very well the rest of the night. But, as a huge number of requests were made between 7 pm and 8 pm a spike occurred that we just couldn’t fulfill. We just wanted to show you what we deal with, and publicly make a commitment to work on this issue and promise to make it better.

When people looked for a car, but couldn’t find one.

When you see “Sorry, but there are no cars available” on Uber, it kills us!  However, it also serves as incredible motivation to keep cranking to solve this problem.As it happens in the future, which it inevitably will, bear with us. Understand that we’re working on solving this problem, and with intelligent technology and operational excellence you’ll continue to have the WOW experience that we strive for everyday.

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