Imagine being hired at age 25 by the second biggest venture-backed company of all time, which in 4 years reached a whopping $ 18.2 billion valuation. The company – Uber – is based in San Francisco, has been a real revolution in the world of transport and is starting up in Switzerland. It is the object of a media frenzy and everyone seems to want a piece of its pie: investors who would like to bet on its success (and they aren’t yet able to), competitors, college students with startups dreams. Imagine being appointed marketing and communication manager for the whole country. Oh, and being female and not looking any older than you are. This is what happened to Sarah Jordi.
If I could bottle Sarah’s enthusiasm for life and for her job, I could make millions. I am almost double her age and I feel like a schoolgirl, when visiting her in her office. The good vibes here are contagious, even though Uber hasn’t been immune to criticism too and Sarah has regularly experienced an initial distrust when people meet her and see how young she is.
Beatrice – Chicoverdose : How exactly do you see that some people judge you too young for your role?
Sarah: Well, it’ s never a problem if we communicate via email o by telephone. People respect me and treat me as a peer, but when we meet sometimes the attitude changes all of a sudden. They look surprised or disappointed and start to treat me with arrogance. I have learnt how to deal with this, and with a bit of time I can play along with it, until things improve again.
Beatrice: How did you get your job?
Sarah: Like anything in Uber, it was quite fast. I was working at a Social Media agency and I wasn’t quite happy with it, but I didn’t have the courage to make a change. One day I noticed that I had a new follower on Twitter. Shortly afterwards, a friend told me that Uber was hiring in Switzerland. I didn’t know the company so I did some research and decided to send my application on a friday at 3pm. 45 minutes later Jamie from London – an Uber recruiter – asked me if I could Skype. I had just handed in my thesis and I tell you, I didn’t look at my most groomed at all. So I answered “sure!”, rushed to comb my hair, cleared my room at the speed of light by moving everything so the camera wouldn’t show the mess, and had the first job interview wearing pyjama pants underneath the desk…but at least I did look presentable on the part on display! Then I quit my job even before Uber offered me the position. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Beatrice: It sounds like you need to be flexible, to be able to work here…
Sarah: We have to; we need to adapt the product to a country which is very different from the United States. It’s the “Think global, act local” philosophy. It can also be quite overwhelming, at the beginning. Rasoul Jalali, our general manager – had to do a television interview on his second day of work! That’s how crazy it is here. One thing I appreciate is that we communicate a lot with our headquarters and have continuous feedback and guidelines, but we enjoy a great deal of independence. They trust us, they always hire locals exactly for this reason. I give you an example: Halloween is a big event in America and Uber organized big events in the States. We, instead, did something much smaller: We put goodie bags with Halloween candy in the cars and, if people found them, they could choose to take them or not. Swiss people don’t like to be pushed, they want to take time and decide themselves what to do. Marketing has to be fun, and not too aggressive.
Beatrice: Fun in what respect?
Sarah: We don’t do regular advertising on papers, for example. Regular advertising is boring. We prefer to spend our marketing money on something that is fun for the user. For example before Christmas we delivered mulled wine – “Glühwein” – to offices one afternoon, as a sort of grown up celebration after a day of work. One could order it in the app, and the wine would appear in the office in minutes. I was sitting in one of the cars and had great fun too. Or we offer some vouchers to start trying our service.
Beatrice: Let’s talk about the part which is not fun at all. The criticism you guys received in the media, which accused you of “stealing” work to taxi drivers.
Sarah: Yes, that was often manipulated by the media, who kind of started the so called “Taxi War”. In the last couple of weeks we had a huge media push for that reason, and our numbers went through the roof, almost exploded. Still, there have been some confusion and misunderstandings. I would like to clarify: Uber Zurich is 100% legal and every driver is licensed. It is natural to compare it to taxis, but it simply is a different service. We are making the market bigger, by targeting different users. People who never used a taxi start to use Uber because it is also sort of a lifestyle product. With the Uber App you don’t need to call or look for a car in the street, you see on your screen where the closest car is and you can order it. There is no cash exchanged, because you pay by credit card, on the phone. There are different Uber services: UberBlack is a high standard car, a professional driver smartly dressed or wearing a suit, English speaking if needed. He will have water in the back of the car and will open the door for you… We deliver good quality and a high end service at a great price. The other product we just launched, uberX, is instead about 30% cheaper than UberBlack. Some mums have downloaded the app to their kids telephones and receive all the confirmations and bills on their credit cards. So they always know what’s happening. Both UberBlack and uberX have been very successful.
Beatrice: How do you see your future?
Sarah: For sure I want to stay in Uber. It is such a great job and I love my team and the company philosophy. I also regularly hear very good feedback – something not that common in Switzerland. I must say I gained confidence with time, and now I feel very much at ease.
Beatrice: It wasn’t like that from the beginning ?
Sarah: Not really… In my old job, if someone criticised me (and even if I felt that they were wrong), I always felt insecure and even on the verge of crying. I thought things like: it’s my boss, I can’t disagree. Today I feel much more confident and answer back – when I think I am right – or accept a failure better. Sharing knowledge is very important as well, and sharing failures and understanding what went wrong always proves interesting and insightful. All this made me more creative too; at the beginning I struggled because I thought I wasn’t creative enough compared to the crazy Americans. J
Beatrice: Would you agree that there is a perfect job for everybody out there, and one needs to keep looking until one finds it?
Sarah: Absolutely. I have been lucky, but I also took a risk and tried. If you are unhappy at work, you shouldn’t be afraid of changing it. You can do it gradually, but do look around and take a chance. In this country we are privileged and we have opportunities. When you find something that suits you, you will feel it in your guts, I am a great believer in this. I actually think that I was hired exactly because I felt so enthusiastic about the job: For example I texted the Uber guys a lot while still in the process of being interviewed and I had some ideas of things to do before I was hired. I went on holiday between one round of interviews and the other, and I sent some articles and comments to the local launcher. I felt it was the right job for me, and I couldn’t explain why. Trusting your intuition is much more useful than analysing too much or complaining.
Beatrice: I totally agree. Ok, I see it’s time to finish our talk, thank you for the interview… Can you say hello to Rasoul, when he comes back from London, please?
Sarah: Sure, but where’s the problem? You can tell him yourself (she Skypes him and he answers immediately – they do look used to ongoing communication! I take some pictures and chat about my weekend at the Montreux Jazz Festival).
Sarah: Oh I love the free concerts there… I played there myself once.
Beatrice: You did?
Sarah: Yes, with my band. The Ladybirds.
Beatrice: Of course, why am I surprised? Anything is possible when you struggle with being creative enough…
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