Uber isn’t braking on business development despite some serious growing pains.
El Segundo tablet maker Fuhu Inc. announced last week that it would partner with the San Francisco ridesharing giant to provide its child-friendly Nabi tablets to certain Uber vehicles.
More than 400 tablets are in use in the majority of Washington, D.C.’s UberFamily cars, vehicles equipped with child car seats that are operated by drivers who have been vetted by Uber and undergone child safety training.
Both Fuhu and Uber said the in-drive entertainment is aimed at creating an experience unique to the car service that keeps children engaged and parents relieved.
The initiative could also prove financially beneficial to both companies. The exposure of the product to families could lead to tablet sales and monthly subscriptions for Fuhu’s multimedia cloud library Nabi Pass, which launched at the end of last year and offers parent-approved videos, apps, games and e-books.
The partnership also helps boost the visibility of Uber’s family-friendly car service, available at an additional cost of $10 a ride. UberFamily, which launched less than a year ago, is officially in just Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Neither Uber nor Fuhu would say when Nabi tablets would surface in other UberFamily markets.
Fuhu Chief Executive Jim Mitchell declined to specify the terms of the deal, but described it as a true partnership. And while Fuhu tablets aren’t necessarily exclusive to Uber, Mitchell said it was smart to align his company with the leader in the ridesharing space.
“Uber is constantly looking for new technology solutions to help enhance the experience of their ride service,” he said. “And I think what we wanted to do with them is really change it from a service to a full-fledged experience for the family.”
The Uber-Fuhu deal marks a significant collaboration between two dominating forces in the tech world. Fuhu not only topped the Business Journal’s list of fastest-growing private L.A. companies last year, the tablet maker was also declared No. 1 in the country, according to Inc. 5000 rankings. The company’s revenue grew from $1.6 million in 2011 to $189 million in 2013.
Uber, on the other hand, closed a $1.2 billion funding round in December, reportedly valuing it at more than $40 billion and making it the highest-valued venture-backed private startup in the world.
But Uber has faced resistance in markets, new and old, as it takes on regulatory agencies and taxi services in cities worldwide, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Soon after Uber’s monster financing, the two California cities jointly filed suit against the car service alleging misleading business practices. That case is still pending.
Those legal issues appear to have little or no effect on investor interest and potential partners are also nonplussed.
“Regulation certainty definitely helps in doing business, but it’s never really been a major barrier for us,” said Zuhairah Washington, Uber’s general manager for Washington who oversaw the Fuhu deal. “The partners that we work with are visionaries and understand that this is the wave of the future and that the process of legislation and rule-making sometimes has to catch up with that.”
Fuhu’s Mitchell said his company would happily roll out tablets to vehicles operating in Uber-sanctioned cities. And as for those places that have yet to work out their regulatory issues, Fuhu would evaluate the situation case by case.
“Remember, these are two separate companies,” he said. “Uber is working through their business model and we’re working through ours.”
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