Tips and tricks by Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick for start-ups in India

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Mumbai: The chief executive and co-founder of the world’s most valuable start-up Uber Inc., Travis Kalanick, is in India to kick-start the government’s Start-Up Initiative. The 39-year-old American entrepreneur, whose company Uber is today worth over $60 billion, talked about what it takes to succeed in a business venture and what start-up founders must do to crack a market like India. Here are some interesting points that Kalanick made during his recent visit to India.

1. Customization: The company launched cash payments in the Indian market last year. Nowhere else in the company’s 58 markets did it accept cash and, in theory, it went against its so-called frictionless customer experience. In India, the way payments are done is very different. That has been a big area to change on how we do things. The move came after Uber ran into trouble with India’s regulatory requirements which needed two-step credit card authentication for making payments as against direct payment to Uber via credit card details stored in the app.

2. Make magic: The success lies in doing little things for the customers but impacting their lives in a big way. In Uber, we talk about four dimensions of magic—give people their time back, bring calm to their daily lives, bring people joy and help them save money or help them get a lot for their money. It’s a simple way to gain customer loyalty and expand base through word of mouth, he said.

3. Find something broken: Entrepreneurs should be like math professors who love problems. The passion for looking out for problems and the knack to solve them makes for a good entrepreneur. In my case, my co-founder and I could not find a taxi one evening in Paris and we wished we could press a button to get a ride which led to the launch of Uber, he said.

4. Don’t sit back: Also, one must never get satisfied after a problem is solved. The key is to keep looking out for problems and upgrading the whole system, otherwise you will be beaten by competition.

5. Be analytical but with a creative instinct: It’s not just about coding the right product but doing it in a creative manner, Kalanick said, narrating how Uber runs an ice-cream truck on demand for its customers once a year and how its Uber Chopper scheme provided helicopter rides on Father’s Day. Creativity can inspire people and bring joy to their lives and can make you a game-changer.

7. Be Jugaadi (hustler): How can you be in India and not talk in the Indian lingo? Kalanick advised entrepreneurs to be hustlers. It is all about making things work with limited resources.

8. Don’t get knocked down: Kalanick said there will always be hard times (in fact most part of the journey is hard) and founders will get knocked down, but they will have to try again and then it gets impossible to fail. Failure is only when conviction fails.

9. Take risks: It is important to learn how to assess risk. Smart founders should know that if their idea doesn’t work out, there will be a thousand other companies that will hire them, but they will still be way better and way smarter for having tried something that nobody else tried. Years of fun begin only after five years of sweating, money can’t buy happiness but can pay for therapy.

10. Get a co-founder: The journey of entrepreneurship is very lonely. Having a co-founder helps, specially in the hard times (that come very often in the initial years). Having someone to share, ideate is a good thing, but this also depends on the personality of a founder, some people don’t feel the need to have a co-founder. On the other hand, having a lot of co-founders is not a good idea.

11. Play the game of chess: Building a business must be thought of like a game of three-dimensional chess, where the founder should know the layout of the board and should always be five to six moves ahead. When investors put down a question, the founders must tell 1,800 ways of why what investors say won’t work and give them 3,650 reasons on what the founder believes will work. Investors should not be telling the founder what the next move should be because they don’t even know how to play the game.

12. Burn cash, knowing RoI: Subsidies and burning of cash is a Chinese invention which makes it difficult and fiercely competitive for founders who are used to running profitable businesses. While playing the cash-burn game, founders must spend every single rupee or dollar more efficiently than the rival. There should be an investment thesis that determines the return on investment (RoI). It’s not worth competing if there is no RoI.

13. Move on: Putting all efforts into making an idea work is important but if this process of always trying to make the business leads to physical or mental damage to the founder, it is time to just move on to something else.

Talking about Uber’s investment in India, Kalanick said that if investing $2 billion would give the company five times the return on investment, he will make that investment in India.