"In­dia Accounts For 10% Of Our Trips Glob­ally": Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber Tech­nolo­gies

DARA KHOSROWSHAHI, CEO, Uber Tech­nolo­gies

India Business Journal - - CONTENT - STUTI ROY

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.

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