How Uber is growth hacking in Spain despite regulatory roadblocks

Taxi drivers in Spain are protesting against ride-hailing apps Uber and Cabify today, holding strikes in multiple cities and a protest march in the capital. Early reports suggest 20,000 protestors took to the streets in Madrid.

Meanwhile, both companies are continuing to recruit drivers — using another Spanish startup, Jobandtalent, to help them do so. For example, the below ad running on Facebook in Barcelona says the recruitment firm is looking for 140 private drivers in the city this month, with applications for the roles ending on June 2.

And while the ad does not specifically mention Uber or Cabify both firms are using this route to help staff out their platforms, according to the recruitment firm running the campaign.

The two on-demand apps only offer private hire vehicles with professional drivers in the Spanish market. That’s been Madrid-based Cabify’s model all along, which has generally focused on the corporate market rather than actively trying to compete with taxis at street level; while Uber reversed course after a successful legal challenge by local taxi associations in 2014, going on to relaunch in Madrid in 2016 offering only licensed driver Uber services .

City regulators in Spain do cap the number of private driver licenses available — the regulated ratio is supposed to be one private hire vehicle per 30 taxis. But the number of licenses available has been increased in recent months, according to Jobandtalent co-founder Juan Urdiales.

This follows moves by the National Markets and Competition Commission to encourage a relaxing of licensing rules — which in turn has triggered protests from the taxi industry over what they perceive as unfair competition and changing regulatory winds.

Urdiales says local rules allow for two drivers to be staffed per private driver license on average, while licenses are typically tied to companies rather than individuals — thereby allowing Uber and Cabify to be able to recruit more drivers (via these third party license holders), and for recruitment ads such as the one pictured above to signify growth, not merely driver churn on their platforms.

“Those companies work in exclusivity for Uber or for Cabify,” he says of the clients Jobandtalent is running the ads for.

“They are growing a lot at the moment,” he adds, noting also that Jobandtalent is, in turn, the only company working with the third parties that are providing Uber and Cabify with drivers “staffed on-demand”.

Part of Jobandtalent’s business pivot last year was to switch focus from enterprise recruitment to mobilizing hiring for SMEs with faster staff turnover needs — meaning it started competing directly with recruitment agencies like Adecco. But the pivot also evidently positioned it to align with the hiring needs of gig economy platforms like Uber thirsty for enough staff to power their own growth.

Urdiales says it’s now “acting as an on-demand staffing marketplace” for its clients, managing everything from recruitment to payroll to payments of the workers — and describing it as a “full transactional marketplace” at this point.

In the case of Uber and Cabify using third parties in Spain to grow the number of drivers available for their respective businesses, he says: “The way that it works is that [third party private driver companies] come to us asking for 140 drivers and they get those drivers from us in 2-3 days prepared to work (the candidates sign their contract into our app and we manage all the paperwork).”

For Jobandtalent, Urdiales reckons there’s “huge potential” in the gig economy to feed growth of what is ostensibly a SMEs-focused recruitment platform at this point, telling TechCrunch: “We are seeing a huge potential in the gig economy with this type of clients and we are getting a lot of traction with companies like Cabify, Glovo, Delivery Mates, JustEat, some Amazon suppliers, etc.

“Traditional players like Adecco or Manpower can’t serve their demand as they are not used to their pace (they are too slow and not digital), and job boards are not efficient enough for them because they require a lot of internal effort, they really need a special platform for that.”

The startup, which raised a $42M Series B round last summer led by Skype founder Niklas Zennström’s VC firm Atomico, is also claiming there are signs that gig economy-style hiring is now making waves in corporate recruitment too.

“We are also seeing a big trend in the corporate world with more traditional companies starting to move to a more flexible workforce and applying some of those gig/on-demand principles,” he says, adding: “We have started to work with companies such as Santander or France Telecom to manage their temporary staff and we see that this is something that has just started.”

So, if all goes to plan, Jobandtalent’s pivot might actually end up coming full circle — returning it to the business of enterprise recruitment via the fractured lens of gig economy flexibility.

Depending, of course, on how the regulatory winds blow.