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MoneyUber gears up for expansion of Toronto operation

17:01  21 may  2019
17:01  21 may  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Uber is shedding some of the secrecy around its forthcoming engineering hub in Toronto , revealing its location and new priorities for the company. The San Francisco-based tech giant will vacate three offices in the city to move most of its Toronto workforce to the top five floors of 121 Bloor St. E.

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Uber is shedding some of the secrecy around its forthcoming engineering hub in Toronto, revealing its location and new priorities for the company.

The San Francisco-based tech giant will vacate three offices in the city to move most of its Toronto workforce to the top five floors of 121 Bloor St. E.

It will dedicate several floors to its first engineering hub in Canada, which will develop at least two new areas for the company: grocery delivery and internal financial-technology tools.

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The office will initially house 200 workers, but eventually accommodate 400 employees, including some currently being hired, engineering hub site lead Kare Kjelstrom revealed to the Star.

“The Toronto tech office is going to build software that is going to be used by Uber worldwide,” he said.

“We are creating a synergy effect ... and opportunity here, so I am pretty sure that as soon as it’s known that Uber has a strong tech presence in Toronto, it will attract Canadians abroad to come home.”

The move comes after trouble befell Uber’s initial public offering. The company, valuated at $120 billion (U.S.), went public in early May with shares priced at $45 each. They quickly sank to about $41, landing Uber a market capitalization of about $69 billion.

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Despite the debacle, Uber is determined to move forward and is now turning its attention to Toronto, a city with which it has strong connections. Toronto was the company’s first Canadian market to host its ride-sharing service and later became the birthplace of its popular UberEats offering and the home of its only autonomous research hub outside the United States.

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi further solidified his commitment to the city last September, announcing Uber would invest $200 million over five years in its Toronto operations and build an engineering centre — now its 11th globally — there.

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The centre, Kjelstrom indicated, will focus on the company’s highly-anticipated grocery plans, shrouded in secrecy since Uber quietly posted a job in November seeking someone to “fundamentally evolve how people purchase their groceries.”

That person has been hired, but Kjelstrom declined to provide details or reveal if Uber will source its own products or partner with grocery chains.

“It is something we will have more about relatively soon. We are still hiring for the team and ramping it up,” he said. “We are investigating various opportunities, figuring out what markets we go to first, (and) who will be our partners in the space.”

The hub will also build fintech tools, a new area for Uber, which wants to help its finance workers determine whether decisions make sense.

“It is an area that we don’t have that much in right now, so the team is currently investigating the use cases that are the biggest pain points for our people and once they know that, they will know more about what we will target,” Kjelstrom said.

Uber will also relocate some engineering work associated with marketplace health — typically tools ensuring enough drivers in areas or food couriers during peak times — from San Francisco to Toronto to take advantage of talent.

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Kjelstrom, who relocated three weeks ago to Toronto after more than five years with Uber in Denmark, said the company settled on the city because of finance and artificial intelligence skills.

The new office will unite workers split between a building at King St. W. and Dufferin St., an Eats space at Scotiabank Plaza and a temporary engineering site. (Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group office, which handles self-driving vehicle efforts, will remain at MaRS until its new home at the Bathurst College Centre is ready in the coming months.)

“We have been spread around the city up until now, but going into the new office space will allow us to come together,” Kjelstrom said. “It will allow the engineers to get a deeper sense of the business side of Uber ... It will also give the business people and the people on the office side insight into how the engineering team actually works.”

Their office will feature 468 desks, 60 conference rooms, 13 phone booths, two terraces, a library and pantries on every floor.

“I think there will be a ping-pong table and foosball table on the 16th floor,” Kjelstrom said laughing. “It is an engineering office. What can I say?”

Tara Deschamps is a Toronto-based journalist and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tara_deschamps

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