Viber Co-Founder Sets Sights on Dethroning Uber

  • New service has recruited enough drivers to start in NYC soon
  • Juno sees competitive edge in fair treatement of drivers

With more than 100 employees in three countries and a fleet of drivers ready to go, Talmon Marco plans to take on Uber in much the same way his previous companies Viber confronted Skype and IMesh battled Napster.

“The advantage of being second is you can learn from other’s experience,” Marco said. 

In the case of his new ride-hailing company Juno, Marco expects better treatment of drivers will give him one edge over the market leader. He said the other advantages are technological but declined to reveal details.

Despite stiff competition from San-Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc., which began picking up passengers five years ago and is now valued at $62.5 billion, Marco said he’s confident that Juno’s focus on happy drivers will lure customers. Uber and Lyft have been criticized for cutting fare prices and booting drivers off their systems without warning.

“We have yet to see someone who treats drivers properly in the developed world,” said Marco, an Israeli-American entrepreneur. “But at the end of the day, in the U.S. the 800-pound gorilla to beat is Uber, and there is no doubt they are mistreating drivers.”

Uber declined to comment.

Juno, which began testing its services this month and will debut in New York in the spring, takes commissions starting at 10 percent for the first two years, less than half of what drivers pay Uber, Marco said. Subsequent hikes in fees will be made in consultation with the drivers, he said. The company also plans to allot shares to drivers every quarter for the first 10 years, so that they eventually hold half of the founding shares, creating “a real partnership between us and the drivers.” 

Looking to the future of autonomous cars, Juno also plans to allow drivers, as shareholders, to own their own self-driving automobiles, offering them a path in which they are not made obsolete.

Juno didn’t appear on the startup radar until research firm CB Insights wrote about it last week. It’s not clear what advantages Juno’s app could offer over more established rivals, such as Gett Inc., Lyft Inc. and Uber, but Marco is optimistic.

“I’m sure some people at Yahoo said the same about Google,” he said. “It’s just a search box. But maybe providing relevant answers could help? And I’m sure some people at Myspace felt the same about Facebook.”

Having sold Viber to Rakuten Inc. for $900 million two years ago, Marco isn’t in immediate need of cash, but he doesn’t rule out fundraising. After all, the ride-hailing business is expensive. Uber has raised more than $10 billion since it was founded. “There is always a value in raising money,” Marco said. “It keeps you honest, and you spread the risk.”

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