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Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News

Innovation08.22.14

Uber’s Latest Moves Are a Stretch

Hiring veterans and opening up it’s API. Will this really make a difference for the company?

When seemingly everything a disruptive company touches is fraught with challenges, it’s time to call in the big guns. Specifically Uber, the online transportation company, is looking to makeover (at least a little) its controversial image, in favor of one that plays nice, while keeping its focus on growth. Like many optimistic midmarket companies, Uber is planning to spend on developing new tech and recruiting to get there.

But Uber’s case is unique. On the heels of multiple accusations of underhanded business practices, including several from competitors Gett and Lyft claiming their drivers were victims of multiple book-and-cancel calls coming from Uber employees, Uber is opening its application programming interface (API) so that businesses can integrate the car service into their own offerings.

While still in beta testing mode, Hyatt Hotels signed on. This allows travelers to schedule a ride to take them to the hotel after they’ve booked a reservation. Likewise, OpenTable users can make a restaurant reservation and also hire a car in advance to shuttle them to and from the eatery of their choice – especially handy when one has indulged in a few too many cocktails and is potentially unable to drive.

CNET reports that developers have access to built-in features such as fare estimates and trip history on Uber’s API. Uber is also testing tech for its Garage and Corner store features. The latter sends drivers to the user’s store of choice for pick up and delivery of goods.

All that tech doesn’t convert new users if the company’s getting a bad rap, though. That’s why Uber just installed David Plouffe. A former chief strategist for Barack Obama, Plouffe is coming on as a senior vice president of policy and strategy.

This is a critical appointment as Uber attempts to coexist alongside traditional taxi and limousine services, even as they and their political allies are fighting hard to prevent them from doing business. Several taxi commissions have filed suits against Uber and its competitors in the U.S., while last month in Seoul, South Korea, the government sought to ban Uber outright, claiming that the company was charging customers while avoiding the regulatory process. The service is currently available in 40 countries and counting.

Plouffe said in a statement, “To the extent that there are barriers, then we have to have a strategy to eliminate those barriers. So much of that is making sure people understand what Uber is all about. What’s the motivation of those who are trying to protect the status quo? Where’s that coming from?”

While Plouffe plots his strategy to educate and to eliminate roadblocks, Uber has stepped on the gas to hasten expansion. A lengthy list of available positions from accounts payable in San Francisco to a host of jobs simply titled “community manager” available from Ho Chi Minh to Wellington, New Zealand, to another mysteriously dubbed “Asia Expansion” hint at a larger plan to grab as much market share as possible – and deal with the regulators later.

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