Uber to stay invested in India; looks to grow 10x: CEO
The Uber CEO said that he would not go by the advice of investors like SoftBank, who want the US-based firm to scale back to countries where it has a strong market position.
On his maiden trip to India, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi indicated that he would not go by the advice of investors like SoftBank, who want the US-based firm to scale back to countries where it already has a strong market position.
Refusing to disclose how much Uber has invested in India, he said, "it is a lot and that investment is going to continue."
For Uber, India is a loss-making proposition but it will continue to invest in the market because it believes in it, he said at a media round table at the start of his two-day visit during which he is likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders.
Asked if SoftBank, which is also an investor in rival and India's market leader Ola, has asked Uber to focus on the profitable market, Khosrowshahi said the company's strategies are decided by the board.
"While SoftBank may have an opinion, their's is not the only opinion in the room," he said. "And it is my belief that we as a company need to have a balanced profile in terms of growth and investment."
Developed markets like the US will continue to get investments and will be profitable but Uber should "actively" invest in markets like India and Latin America because of their sheer size, he said. These markets have "huge growth ahead" for Uber, he said.
Uber has some 3 lakh driver partners in 29 cities in India, he said. "We think we can increase by 5x, 10x over the next 10 years. That will require investment," he said. "In India at this point my firm belief is that the greatest value that we can create is to continue to invest and grow our product."
SoftBank Vision Fund, which recently became Uber's largest shareholder with the formal closing of a USD 9.3 billion investment giving it 15 per cent stake, has reportedly stated that Uber should focus on recovering its market share in the US and growing in key European markets, to have a faster path to profitability.
While India remains Uber's largest market outside of the US, it is also the biggest cost for the company.
Asked if Uber was subsidising rides in the country to capture the market, Khosrowshahi said, "anytime you are creating a market, you actually have to pay to build up liquidity."
For instance, Uber Pool, the ride-sharing platform where two more passengers share a car to travel to same or different destinations, is a losing proposition but the company believes in the product as it will help solve traffic as well as road congestion problems, he said.
"We are investing in Indian market because we believe in the long-term viability of this market... we consider it incredibly important market for us, the core market for us," he said.
The Indian market, Khosrowshahi said, is demanding in terms of pricing and if Uber was to succeed here, it can shape products globally. "India can essentially be a laboratory for us."
Uber, he said, accounts for less than 1 per cent of miles driven in the world, and is an alternative to taxis.
"What we really want is to be alternate to car ownership," he said adding problems of traffic and pollution that India faces can be solved with its pioneering share rides.
He said operations in India are not profitable but India accounts for more than 10 per cent of Uber's trips globally.
"I expect (India) to account for higher and higher trips going forward," he said.
Uber accounts for less than 1 per cent of the USD 5 trillion transportation industry globally and capturing higher share "requires investments in big markets with population, that have lot of growth ahead of them."
Uber CEO pledged to continue investing aggressively in Southeast Asia. "We expect to lose money in Southeast Asia and expect to invest aggressively in terms of marketing, subsidies etc," Khosrowshahi said.
"From a competitive standpoint we think we can improve...We are cautiously optimistic and are leaning forward to invest," he said.
Khosrowshahi, who took the helm in August after former CEO Travis Kalanick was asked to step down amid a litany of regulatory problems, driver and consumer scandals and court cases, said a new work ethics code has been implemented in the company that has just one norm - "we do the right thing. Period."