Austin, among other cities across the world, may have banned Uber, but the need for car-hailing apps has been clearly proven.
Such services help prevent drunk driving, and in some cases, even subvert racism and bias from taxi drivers against certain types of passengers. They also make transportation more widely available to residents of cities with limited public transit systems. And these services are universally valuable, not just in the U.S.
I pulled out my US phone, with my Chicago number, on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria a few weeks ago and hailed an Uber. It was a powerful moment for me because I realized just how much technological advancement had occurred in Lagos since my previous visit just a few months before. It meant that Google Maps functioned in Lagos like most other cities in the world (Google had mapped 75% of the world in 2013). It meant the cab driver had a smart phone (there are more mobile phones in Africa than cars or toilets in homes), and that mobile networks and payments systems are functioning well.
There were a few quirks to the experience that may reveal why companies like Uber are thriving in markets their competitors are afraid to enter. I needed to change my phone number to a local one (no cab driver wants to pay to call an international number) and I was able to pay with cash (credit is still not widely adopted in Lagos).
Understanding local context is the key to success in any market, the beauty is that technology across African countries is helping to reduce the cost of customization. Exciting times are upon us.