Providing free, ad-supported Uber rides

Andrew Chen, famed startup investor, advisor, and mentor, reached out to me to help with a particular project he was working on — free ad-supported rides on Uber! If you don’t know who Andrew Chen is, it is worth doing a bit of research and discovering all the great content he’s put out over the years. So definitely, as a follower of his work, getting the chance to work with Andrew on a small project was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up!

Project goals

  • Provide passengers with free rides.

  • Develop concepts for sponsorships.

  • Design a seamless experience for ridesharing apps.

My roles and responsibilities

  • design (all aspects)

  • copywriting

  • production design

The Why

Who is the customer?
Uber has built a broad customer base in many markets across the world. When you have such scale, it is difficult to pinpoint just a single persona. The feature itself, to use ads to subsidize rides, can apply to all of Uber's customers. It's the specific ads themselves that would have to be targeted.

What are their goals?
In general, Uber users are trying to get from point A to point B, without taking their personal vehicle, or using other forms of mobility. The big benefit of ridesharing services is that it's also on-demand, so people don't have to wait for particular times, or fit within a schedule.

What are their pain points?
Simply put, ridesharing is expensive! Especially when surge pricing is in effect, the prices can be astronomical.

The What

The first thing to do of course was to sit down and discuss what he had in mind. At the outset of any project, you need to know some fundamental things to help get the creative juices flowing. As part of this is also trying to gather some basic requirements. I mainly try to get enough info to get started and help focus the brainstorming activities.

The basic idea was that ridesharing services (like Uber) could offer free rides by sponsoring someone’s ride and show advertising in the app. After meeting with Andrew, I went right into brainstorming and sketching on my own (Andrew is a busy guy and couldn’t stick around too long). Waiting too long to generate ideas may mean that important contextual information gets forgotten. So it’s best to brainstorm ideas when everything is still fresh in your mind. When sketching I always start with rough ideas and concepts, and move to more specific things later on.

Of course not every idea makes it from brainstorming to mockups, and it’s better to focus and zero in on the right concepts. So I decided to focus on simplicity to help design something appropriate for ads on mobile devices. Furthermore, visually, the ads shouldn’t appear as something different. They should look like they’re part of the app, designed with right intent.

Also, the more I worked on the visual design, it became clear how I could use consistency to help focus the interface on the right things. The visual design went through a few iterations. I sent earlier versions to Andrew for review, and I just kept working and iterating on it till things got more simple and straightforward.

The How

After sketching, I pretty much just jumped right in to mockups. This was primarily just a concept for Andrew's blog, so not much more needed to be done to make it an actual product...

Conclusions and take-aways

It was really great getting to work with Andrew on developing this concept, and creating some visual aids for what he was writing about. The blog post went out on schedule and I gained some additional Twitter followers (hey, social currency is better than no currency… :P). While I don’t recommend doing unpaid work in general, when someone prominent that you admire asks for your assistance, it’s a good idea to find ways to work with them! I even got a shout out in the blog post!

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