SoftBank investments won't change dynamics: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi at a Press Conference in New Delhi.
Uber Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dara Khosrowshahi on Thursday called India a “core market”, putting to rest all speculation that had gained currency ever since SoftBank, the largest and the newest shareholder at Uber, had said it should concentrate on markets such as the US and Europe for profitability. 

“If we can succeed in India with our product in terms of price and quality, it will be a laboratory for the next six billion consumers who will have access to our products,” Khosrowshahi, who is in India for the first time, said.

On a two-day, whistle-stop visit, he is getting used to having packed lunch in the car so that he can have his meetings on time. Responding to SoftBank director Rajeev Mishra’s statement advising Uber to concentrate in the US, Europe, Latin America, and Australia, the CEO told journalists, “SoftBank is a respected investor and they may have an opinion, but that is not the only opinion in the room. The decisions we make and the strategy we undertake are driven by me with the board.” 

He said that the company must balance growth and investments. “We have to invest in markets like India and Latin America, which are huge with large populations. We account for only 1 per cent of the $5 trillion global transportation business and we want that business.” He also said the company would invest aggressively in Southeast Asia. 

SoftBank’s statement had sparked concerns that Uber might close operations, merge or sell its business in India and Southeast Asia. And, there was a buzz that Uber could merge with Ola, which also has SoftBank as a shareholder. 

Khosrowshahi said the company had invested “a lot in India” and would continue to do so, as it currently constitutes for 10 per cent of its total trips globally. “I expect this share to go up and up. We have 300,000 driver partners and there is no reason that this will not grow by 5x or 10x in the next 10 years,’’ he said. Uber is planning to offer end-to-end transportation and position itself as a mobility platform, which apart from taxis will include autos, food delivery, freight and even flying cabs. 

The CEO is not keen to expand aggressively. “We are (there) in 29 cities. The mistake companies make is try and expand before they have perfected their product… If you ask me whether we will scale up after three years, the answer is: Yes. But, now, we are focused on improving quality.” Uber’s rival, Ola, operates in more than 110 cities. 

India is not making money, but in new markets, the key is building an equity so that demand meets supply, he said. And that requires investing and paying to create it as long as there is a long-term sustainable and viable business, he said. 

On whether having SoftBank as a common investor would change the business dynamics in the country, Khosrowshahi said, “No, we are not expecting competitive dynamics to change. We have a lot of respect for Ola and competition is good for both of us.” 

Meanwhile, Uber has stepped up dialogue with regulators and governments across the globe, especially in countries where it faced challenges. The dialogues would encompass “going back and forth and also compromises”, he said. 

On whether founder Travis Kalanick would make a comeback, he only said, “He’s a valued board member and he is looking at entrepreneurial opportunities. He has been helpful to me, I am changing the direction of the company and he respects that.” On scandals, he said, “We changed the values of the company. We went to the employees and asked them what kind of company they wanted Uber to be.” 

On a lighter note, he said: “I do not seek spotlight, but it is part of the job.” 

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