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Entrepreneurship is a game of chess, says Uber CEO

A student fixes a mobile phone on a selfie stick as Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of Uber, Ronny Screwalla, and IIT Dean Soumyo Mukherji (right) look on.— Photo: Shantanu Das  

Travis Kalanick, the 39-year-old founder and CEO of Uber, said entrepreneurship was like a game of chess. Founders should know the game well and be ahead of investors, he added.

The Uber chief was speaking at a fireside chat with serial entrepreneur and investor Ronnie Screwvala at IIT Bombay. The event saw a jam-packed venue with 1,800 students and budding entrepreneurs.

Mr Kalanick, who was in India to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s StartupIndia event, made a brief visit to IIT Bombay, the place from where its rival Ola was founded.

“Do not wait for your investors to tell you everything about entrepreneurship. You (founders) know your moves well; they have no idea how you are playing the game. Just be a good listener to them (investors),” Mr Kalanick told his audience at the premier technology institute.

“Put everything that you have on the field, every ounce of energy, every ounce of passion that you have. And when you get knocked down — because inevitably you will — get back up. And if you put everything in and keep getting back up, it’s very hard to fail,” he said, citing the example of the point when he was bankrupt and had to move in with his girlfriend without prior notice.

Another piece of advice from him, which had the audience in splits: do not reply to investor mails when the going is not easy. “Sit on the mail for a few days till the investor forgets about the question,” said Mr Kalanick, who failed and almost got sued for his first venture.

He also said entrepreneurs should not be scared of failure and to put all their energy into the venture they were passionate about, despite setbacks.

“On the other hand, if the venture causes mental and physical stress they should quit,” he said.

India is one the fastest-growing markets for Uber, in which it has seen its market share increase to 40 per cent from four per cent in January 2014.

Answering a query on Uber’s expansion in the Indian market and its strategy to tackle competition, Mr Kalanick said the company was ready to double its investment if the market gave 5x kind of returns. In five major cities, the market share was over 50 per cent.

Mr Kalanick said he cannot predict where the company would be in the next five years. In 2015, Uber announced that it would invest $1 billion in India to improve operations, expand into newer cities and develop new products. It was also setting up a huge development centre in Hyderabad.

On challenges in the Chinese market, Mr Kalanick said subsidies and cash burn was a Chinese invention as it was a highly restrictive and competitive market. “No Internet (foreign) companies have succeeded in China... but we want to try to be that one company who can crack that market and make it happen.”

On Uber working culture, he said that the company conducted a slew of jam sessions wherein anybody could walk in with ideas and problems at any time. Mr Kalanick used to hold such sessions at his place prior to setting up Uber in San Francisco.

He logged-out by giving a shout out to all the IITians who wanted to drop out of college as well as those graduating. He shared his email ID and asked them to write to him in case they needed a job. “I am also the chief recruitment officer at Uber,” Mr Kalanick, a dropout from UCLA, said while taking selfies with the audience.

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Printable version | Oct 12, 2021 6:51:37 PM |

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