Eli has been a professional taxi driver in Tel Aviv for 17 years, and he’s been professionally employed by GetTaxi for the past few. The on-demand car service was founded there in 2010 and currently employs 3,500 drivers like Eli.
But lately, a competitor has been mucking with Eli’s and Gett’s business.
On Aug. 25, Uber launched its taxi line in Tel Aviv. In the months leading up to the launch, Gett says a few Uber employees have been using its service to schedule hundreds of rides collectively. During the rides, drivers say, the Uber employees have been trying to recruit them.
At least 15 drivers, including Eli, have told Gett they had passengers who were Uber drivers. This prompted Gett to send an email to all of its drivers asking them to choose: Uber or Gett. All Gett drivers received a text that roughly translates to: “Drivers that will be found working in parallel with Uber will be disconnected from the service immediately. That decision is based on the effort to keep the taxi industry as is, which is against Uber’s values.”
Two weeks later, Gett closed an estimated 100 to 160 Gett driver accounts because it thought those drivers had switched over to Uber. Uber doesn’t have this policy. Drivers can choose multiple services to work with besides Uber, including Lyft and Gett.
The smart yet somewhat invasive tactic Uber allegedly uses to recruit from competitors is internally called Operation Slog, according to a report by The Verge’s Casey Newton. Leaked documents Newton received suggest Lyft is Uber’s primary poaching target. But abroad, where other services like Gett reign, Uber has been allegedly been targeting other competitors in a similar fashion.
For example, two weeks ago, Eli says he was surprised to find Uber’s Tel Aviv marketing manager in his car.
We interviewed Eli and Gett Tel Aviv manager Iris Hermon about what it’s allegedly like to get ambushed by an Uber recruiter. Here’s how they explained it to Business Insider.
On Aug. 11, Eli received a destination address from a potential passenger in Tel Aviv. Eli had never been to the destination before, but it was only a 5- to 10-minute drive. So he accepted the trip and went to pick the person up.
Eli didn’t realise at the time that the Tel Aviv address he had been given was actually Uber’s new headquarters.
“Right away, I felt like I was being grilled,” Eli says of the passenger. The passenger asked how long Eli had worked for Gett, if he was happy there, if he wanted to work for Uber, and if he had any friends who might want to work for Uber, according to Eli.
Eli says he politely declined to answer questions posed by the passenger, who soon introduced himself as Uber’s marketing manager. But the marketing manager kept asking him questions.
“He kept trying to recruit me,” says Eli. “He kept trying to tell me I should leave GetTaxi and that I should come to a [recruitment] meeting. He said Uber would be so much better.”
Still, Eli says he declined the verbal offer. No Uber forms, kits, or wads of cash were thrown at Eli to entice him to switch. Gett says the marketing manager didn’t use a fake credit card or burner phone to schedule the pick-up, like The Verge’s report on Operation Slog had suggested. Instead, Uber’s marketing manager gave his real contact information. When Eli arrived at the destination, the Uber marketing manager paid on the app and got out of his car. Eli hasn’t heard from him since.
But soon after that incident, Eli had a strange thing happen. He can’t say for a fact that Uber is behind it, but he has his suspicions.
One day while trying to log in to Gett’s tablet app to accept rides, Eli found his account disabled.
Gett had received a tip that Eli had joined Uber, even though Eli rebuffed the marketing manager’s offer. Neither Gett nor Eli is sure who gave false information to Gett.
It could have been a friend of Eli’s who knew about the ride, or it could have been an Uber employee calling anonymously with Eli’s information. Gett passengers are supplied with drivers’ real names and numbers once they book a ride, unlike on Uber where passengers are given temporary numbers for drivers.
It also could have been Gett’s aggressive policing against Uber’s recruitment that caused Eli to miss a day of work. Other taxi drivers in Tel Aviv have reported Gett workers allegedly hailing Ubers and cross referencing the driver’s first name and photo with information in Gett’s database to reveal which drivers are working for both companies. Gett denied this claim to Israeli publication Calcalis. But a driver also told Calcalis that Gett representives have hovered outside Uber’s headquarters to see which Gett drivers are going in and out of the building.
Either way, the miscommunication cost Eli a full day of fares before Gett let him back on its service.
Here’s what an Uber spokesperson had to say when asked to comment on this story: “As we have spread the word about Uber to riders and drivers in Tel Aviv, we have received a tremendous response in a very short time. Tel Aviv is now one of the 205 cities around the world where Uber delivers unmatched economic opportunity and flexibility to drivers and safe, reliable rides to users.”
Eli’s experience with Uber and Gett isn’t the first time the two companies have butted heads. In January, Gett says it received 134 cancelled rides in New York from Uber employees within a 3-day period (see chart above). Documents reviewed by Business Insider at Gett’s NYC headquarters this week seemed to confirm the cancellations. That’s contrary to what Uber wrote on its blog this week about Operation Slog:
“We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living — and that includes never intentionally cancelling rides.”
According to Gett’s internal records, Uber’s New York Manager hailed a ride from different locations all across Manhattan on Jan. 14, each within a couple of minutes of each other. To do this, Gett speculates that the Uber employee dragged his icon across the mobile map on Gett’s app to fake numerous pick-up spots repeatedly. Gett says he used multiple names and a fake credit card for one of the accounts to make the bogus requests.
“It was likely too aggressive a sales tactic and we regret the team’s approach to outreach of these drivers,” an Uber spokesperson said at the time.
Gett says it doesn’t mind the competition. And it’s actually smart for Uber to scope out its competition, learn how the experience works, and find like-minded individuals (competing drivers) to hire.
“Most of the markets we enter or are in now are very competitive, and our philosophy is to compete,” Uber’s head of expansion Jambu Palaniappan told Bloomberg. “I’m fully confident we will be relevant in Tel Aviv.”
Gett does mind when its drivers are made to feel uncomfortable.
“I felt very uneasy,” Eli told Business Insider of his ride with the Uber marketing manager. “I’m working for GettTaxi. It damaged [my reputation with Gett]. I was cutoff and I couldn’t get work because I was under suspicion…I never approached Uber or expressed interest. I was happy with my work with GetTaxi. If you’re happy with where you work, why do you have to look elsewhere?”
Hermon shares Eli’s sentiment. “It was uncomfortable for us as well. In simple words, it made a big mess in our system.”
She adds, “We welcome every competition. We think it’s great that users get more options, just as long as you keep the game going using the official [legal] rules and you respect each other.”
Disclosure: Business Insider executive editor Joe Weisenthal is the spouse of a Gett employee. He was not involved in the editing of this story.
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