Ever since the #DeleteUber movement in response to the company’s reaction to the taxi cab strike at New York’s JFK airport, the fact that users of the ridehailing app so eagerly declared their intent to delete their accounts and switch to a competitor has underlined a big problem for the industry. Ridehailing companies offer an easily replaceable commodity, and if the price is right, it’s incredibly easy to take your business elsewhere.
For those who don’t live in more competitive ridehailing markets, such as Austin, that leaves just one option for unhappy Uber uses, Lyft. And indeed, Lyft downloads in the App Store outnumbered Uber’s for the first time on Monday, according to analysts.
But in New York City, the switch may have given a boost to a relative newcomer trying to reshape the way that ridehailing works, or at least offer contractors a better deal. Juno, currently only available in New York, takes a lower commission from drivers and offers them shares in the company, among other benefits. Can they continue to parlay a more favorable deal with drivers into big business?
Founder and CEO Talmon Marco, an Israeli-American entrepreneur who made his fortune with the messaging app Viber, and now operates Juno in a post office on the 84th floor of One World Trade Center, says Juno was “built with drivers in mind.” That differentiator has helped fuel pretty rapid growth. The service, which started offering rides in May of 2015, now provides more than 20,000 rides in the city per day (for comparison, Uber logs nearly 10 times that much). And as the company’s current promo—30 percent off all rides in NYC—suggests, they’re continuing to aggressively seek new customer in a bid to become a more enlightened alternative to more commuters.
Analyst and writer Harry Campbell, who runs The Rideshare Guy, a publication that provides driver’s-eye view of the industry, has spoken to thousands of drivers, as well as logged hours a driver himself. He believes that in an industry so dominated by price points and the network effect, Juno can swoop in with discounts and build up market share.
“The apps are all pretty much the same,” says Campbell. “It’s pretty much a commodity product.”
What is different, however, is the way that companies treat their drivers. According to Marco, the company formed in 2014 when the founders noticed reports of unhappiness within the ranks of ridesharing drivers. To see if that was true or not, they held a series of focus groups with drivers and came to realize it was a real problem; Marco himself has said that Uber was, “in its heart, truly evil.”
The solution to that problem is now, in effect, Juno’s main selling point. The company takes the lowest commission in the industry, and has save half of the founding share to distribute to drivers to give them an equity stake in the company. That, along with a 24-7 hotline for driver and rider support, and the ability to ask to never be matched with a specific rider again, has helped them actually live up to the hype, according to Campbell. With many drivers circling the city with multiple phones mounted on their dashboards, cycling through whatever app gives them the best chance to make money, Juno makes a strong case to click.
“They really did their research,” he says. “I’ve found there’s a pretty big disconnect between what it’s like to be a driver and how the people working at Uber and Lyft view it; they don’t have a grasp on what it’s like to be a driver, and don’t care to fix the issues. A lot of the features and core tenants of Juno seem to really cater 100 percent to drivers.”
Juno’s worker-friendly approach makes it easier for them to poach drivers, especially since Uber has created a pool of qualified, experienced drivers. In New York City, a more regulated market, all drivers need to be licensed, so it’s easier for Juno to pick up an existing driver then sign up a new one. It’s a classic late-mover advantage: Marco says new drivers just need to show up at the office at the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel with at least 100 rides with Uber or Lyft under their belt and a Uber rating of 4.65 or a Lyft rating of 4.70.
“Uber has done all this work to sign up the drivers, so all drivers need to do is sign up for Juno, and the company can steal drivers for almost no cost,”says Campbell. “It’s an advantage for that type of company.”
Juno has hinted at further expansion plans on its Facebook page, but for the time being, hasn’t publicly released any new markets and is focused on New York City.
“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere,” says Marco. “We expect to break even in the New York market in the not too distant future.”
Campbell is convinced that the company can become a national force, and that there’s room for two or three major players. As this past weekend’s trending topic suggested, users of ridesharing are a fickle bunch, and installing a new app isn’t difficult to do. As long as Juno can give new drivers an incentive to give them more time, and eventually use Juno more than Uber, they can build their unique business model into something better.
“With the way it treats its drivers, Juno has a big advantage,” says Campbell. “Even if they paid drivers the same that Uber does, drivers would still favor them. They don’t even need to be better that Uber for the customers. They just need to be as good.”