If We Can Make it in India, We Can Make it Anywhere: Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber

Uber considers India a huge opportunity to hone and test its products for other developing nations

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"India is very important to Uber. And I think Uber is also very important to India, and that comes with responsibility," said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber at Times Bridge's first annual i3 Summit. Times Bridge is the global investment and venture arm of The Times Group.

Summit Screenshot

Speaking at the virtual summit, Khosrowshahi shared his experience of traveling to India in less than a year after becoming the CEO of Uber in 2017. "India is such a dynamic market. It's so full of possibilities that it became quite apparent to me that I had to go see the market on the ground to truly understand it. So, that was the first time I visited India and it was a just an incredible experience for me personally as well as professionally," he said.

Riding Unique India Market

For Uber, India was a shoestring market with its huge population, which is young and connected. However, it also knew that it was a difficult market to compete and succeed at scale. "The Indian consumer is extremely demanding, in terms of price, quality and service. So, you can look at that in one or two ways, which is oh my god, there's going to be a hard market to get into, etc. Or the way that we look at the market and the Indian consumer is that if we can make it in India, to some extent, we can make it anywhere," he said.

Khosrowshahi also tells other global players that if they come in with the attitude that they are a global company, and since their products work in the US and Europe and a couple of other countries they are just going to work in India as well, then they will not be able to survive. "Because of the demanding nature of the Indian consumer, you really have to build locally for India. Obviously, there are benefits to being a global company and having a service in many, many countries. But if you try to be average in India, you're about to lose. And so, our approach has always been to hone our products in India," Khosrowshahi said.

He also shared a piece of advice for those looking to build or compete in India. "You got to play the long game. The market is enormous. The opportunity is huge. There are going to be many competitors in any segment of significance in India. And you have got to be willing to reinvest, both in terms of capital and in terms of talent to build in India," he said.

He also added that building local partnerships is incredibly important to the business front, including the public sector, that is government regulatory authority partnerships. "And again, those partnerships and that trust take time to develop, which goes back to my first piece of advice, which is you have got to be in the long game," he said.

Taking India Innovation To The World

Uber considers India a huge opportunity to hone and test its products for other developing nations. "India is a testing ground for us to hone our local products, not only because it's such a large market and such a large opportunity, but also because it's such a demanding market. And then some of the innovations that we build in India, we then take global especially to other developing and emerging markets as well," he said.

India, the CEO feels, has been a real innovation for the company as it relates to new products. "So if you look at, for example, our rentals products, you can push a button and rent a car on Uber. That was a first that we introduced in India, and we have expanded across the world. We have a product in India, it's quite common to rent a car to go from city to city. That's not a behavior that you see in the West. It's certainly not a behavior that you see in the US, but it is a common behavior that you see in India. So our inter-city product is an example of a product that was uniquely Indian, and we are looking to expand around the world as well," he said.

Indian Leaders for India

One of the most important factors that relate to success in India is if you want to make an India-first product and a truly first-class product on the ground, you have to have teams on the ground, he said.

"For us, we have always had a very strong culture of general managers who are on the ground in basically most cities in which we operate. The GM of India is essentially a mini CEO, and is thinking about all of the different ways in which a product comes together and really has to bring together many teams such as marketing, product, engineering, data science to work as a team and really orchestrate all of the different efforts that are happening across the company locally so that they work for the Indian consumer on the ground," he said.

Wrapping up the talk, Khosrowshahi said that to win in India, one has to build a truly great product, which for Uber has translated into having innovation on the ground, especially engineering innovation and having its own employees take pride in the product.