"India Accounts For 10% Of Our Trips Globally": Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber Technologies
DARA KHOSROWSHAHI, CEO, Uber Technologies
Global ride-hailing app Uber Technologies recently sold off its business in South-East Asia to its rival, Singapore-based Grab. This has fuelled speculations in India that the company, which is among the world's most valued startups, may adopt a similar track in India. This view has gained more traction after SoftBank - one of the major investors in Ola with over 30 per cent stake - bought a 15 per cent stake in Uber recently - the Japanese company is the largest shareholder in both the cab aggregators.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi skirts the issue of a likely deal with Ola. Mr Khosrowshahi, an Iranian American, took over as Uber chief last September after the exit of its controversial CEO, Travis Kalanick. Mr Khosrowshahi, the former Expedia CEO and electrical engineering graduate from Brown University, shares his views on the Indian operations and adds how the country serves as one of the core markets for Uber.
How would you react to speculations about a merger between Ola and Uber in India?
We are focused on driving growth, and any company has to build up its capabilities both in terms of organic and transaction-driven growth. That said, we will be more focused on organic growth in the markets that we are operating in. We want to be the top mobility platform for customers around the world, and that means building up the very best in product, technology and service. The great news about our Grab deal is that it allows us to double up to invest aggressively in our core markets, and we consider India very much a core to Uber's success. We will, of course, look at any deals that can add value to our partners and shareholders, but we believe in controlling our own destiny in India.
Is it true that SoftBank wants Uber to focus on Latin America, Europe, the US and Australia and not continue its prime focus on India?
SoftBank is a respected investor, and it may have an opinion. But that is not the only voice or opinion in the boardroom. If all you do is focus on your developed markets, then at some point you hit a growth wall. You have to take profits from developed markets and put them into growth markets, such as India, the Middle East and even Africa, and that's exactly what we intend to do. And believe me, Masa (SoftBank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son) likes growth!
Is there pressure from SoftBank on Uber to turn profitable in India by next year or else merge with Ola or exit from India?
I think that it would be a mistake to show profits in India within a year. It would mean that we aren't investing enough. Prime Minister Modi is leading a growth machine, and we want to participate in it. We are confident about our competitive position in India. The sentiments of our drivers and riders and the quality of our service are all leading, and we intend to build on that lead.
Would it be correct to assume that the deal with Grab will mean more funds coming to India?
Yes. Our deal with Grab will let us compete with real focus and weight in core markets, like India. It will also let us ramp up investment in our products and technology as well as fast-growing new businesses, like Uber Eats.
"Our deal with Grab will let us compete with real focus and weight in core markets, like India. It will also let us ramp up investment in our products and technology as well as fast-growing new businesses, like Uber Eats."
Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber Technologies
How much of funds would be earmarked for the Indian market?
We will invest whatever we have to in order to succeed in India. We have no cap. We will increasingly build up our product to be leading not only globally but also focus on specific functionality and make it purpose-built for our Indian customers.
What is being done to build trust around the brand following a recent rape case involving Uber?
None of it should have happened, and there is no excuse for that. My job is to set the course for the future of the company. And while I can't erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we have and will continue to learn from our mistakes. We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.
How long do you think it will be before you can actually start making money from the Indian market?
While I can't put a number or a timeline, I can tell you that India is a key component of our growth plan. In fact, it is one of our healthiest markets in terms of growth rates. We have over 3,00,000 active drivers, and we currently do over 1 crore weekly trips. We think that we can increase that by five to ten times over the next ten years. That will require investment, but as you mature, you also want to combine that investment with eventual profitability. We think that we're on a good road there. We just don't have a specific timeline in mind. If anything, we're leaning forward in India.
What are the challenges that you see in the Indian market?
We need to do more to get the app working for all Indians. Outside the US, we know that many riders have lower-end devices and are in areas with poor networks. Historically, we've not done a great job building for riders with those needs. That is changing, and we are committed to doing more. We are not here to build the 'cool new thing'. We want to work on making the most impact on the widest possible base, and for this, we are hiring engineering talent from and in India. We are investing heavily in research and resources. For example, Call To Ride, a feature being piloted in Pune, lets people make a voice call to book a trip from popular locations by providing a code displayed on a sign at a booking point.
Would you start looking at electric vehicles (EVs) in India, with your rival Ola already experimenting with them?
We're excited about the potential of EVs bringing many benefits to drivers, riders and cities. We've done some good work on EVs in the US and the UK. In India, it's something that we are actively exploring. But there are some hurdles that we have to get over in terms of infrastructure requirements before we can go live.
What is the place that India would take in Uber's global pecking order?
India is one of the top-three markets outside of the US, accounting for 10 per cent of our trips globally. For me, India is a core market that we are going to really focus on, going forward. I'm really excited by the opportunity ahead for Uber in India in the years to come.