Uber considers India the innovation gateway into the developing world, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told NDTV in an exclusive interview. He said moving out of Indonesia will allow Uber to be more aggressive in India. He also told NDTV's Prannoy Roy about his love for India, the future of the company and how Uber is changing the way people move.
Here is the full transcript of Dara Khosrowshahi's interview with NDTV:
NDTV: Dara, thank you very much for joining us. It is very inspiring to be here. It's really great and I don't know how you spare the time but actually you don't have much to do, right? So actually can you spare the time?
Dara Khosrowshahi: I have been a bit busy lately, but we wanted to have you here, because certainly the Indian markets are super, super important markets for us and it is great to have you here at the headquarters where it all happens.
NDTV: Yes, I've just been noticing that the work atmosphere is so good here and there are a lot of Indians and they are working hard. How to get an Indian to work hard? I don't know how you do it? How do you manage that?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Indians, they actually work hard
NDTV: Yes they really do actually
Dara Khosrowshahi: But the great thing about the employees that we have here, the engineers, the product people, is that they are building products that are changing the face of urban mobility 5-10 years from now and that is great motivation.
NDTV: Yes it really is changing the world and I must tell you a story. We have really great car and bike show you know, and a really popular anchor. He walked into my room the other day and said, 'I've got a problem. Youngsters are not watching my show.' So I asked why? He said they don't want to buy a car, they don't want to learn to drive, they are using Uber, because Uber is freedom. In our generation a car was freedom.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes, yes
NDTV: Now a car is a millstone around your neck and Uber is freedom.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Mobility for us is an opportunity and I think in general this new generation we have is moving from stuff and ownership to experiences. And I think that Uber, travel etc, life is about experiences and that ownership of things is a millstone, it keeps you grounded versus freeing you up.
NDTV: I have to look after it, I have to, where do I park, you know? That's how Uber just solves it.
Dara Khosrowshahi: You push a button, then you go and you are done. Hopefully you tip your driver, that's very important and you can be done.
NDTV: Yes, yes.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Are you a user of our Uber?
NDTV: All the time, all the time, here and in India all the time, yes
Dara Khosrowshahi: Thank you very much, really appreciate it.
NDTV: But when you, you are amazing and you have lots of floors like this. But when you took over, you took over a company in crisis. What was it like? What was the underlying problem?
Dara Khosrowshahi: The underlying problem with the company was, this is one of the fastest growing companies in the history of technology and the history of business. And what I found with people, and is true with the companies, is that every super power comes with a weakness and the super power of the company was growth, growth, growth. And sometimes it was growth at all cost and some of the trade offs the company made to achieve growth were not the kinds of trade offs that you should make, didn't make sense for certain cities. We broke some rules and I think once you get through a certain scale there is a different kind of leadership required, which is its responsible growth, its growth
NDTV: Responsible growth
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes and sometimes responsible growth, it takes a little longer, you've got to negotiate. You have to think about your whole environment. But that kind of growth is more lasting and it's a bit more of maturity and we want to keep the go, go, go. Let's do, let's get it done, yes, done
NDTV: Hunger and the, but you want heart as well.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Exactly right, exactly right
NDTV: I mean one, somebody put it to me is that, I mean it is not only at Uber, it's a little bit in the Valley, the difference between can and should is mixed up.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes.
NDTV: What I can do, just do it and not whether I should do or not.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Absolutely, and it is the head and the heart. I've always said that the most important decisions that I've made in my life, I've made when the head and the heart have agreed. Sometimes when you decide just with the head it's not the right thing to do and sometimes if you just decide with the heart, you could be gambling. Oh I, you just feel something, let me do it. It's the head and the heart coming together and hopefully we can be that kind of a company. The smartest, our developers, our product people, but with more authority and heart so that we are always doing the right thing.
NDTV: Do you feel the change happening or do you feel you can inculcate the change? You had to take really tough decisions, right?
Dara Khosrowshahi: We have but the change is happening. I think what was interesting about this company is people come here to change a world, people come here because this idea of making mobility available to everybody, and also this idea of creating this new wave, work. Three million driver partners that can be entrepreneurs. This is really making the world a better place and I think people have been incredibly passionate about that mission. And I think folks knew that the company was moving in a wrong direction.
NDTV: There was an underlying feeling
Dara Khosrowshahi: They did. They did. And the perception of the company from outside was very different than the heart of the folks here. The company needed new leadership and I think we are off to a good start.
NDTV: I mean from all reports you are, but what remains now? What are like one or two key things that you feel time now has come to make those changes as well?
Dara Khosrowshahi: I think for us one key change for us is to think about our mission beyond just cars. Fact is that fifty percent of the world's population live in cities, that's going to be two-thirds of the world's population in 30 years and if all we are doing is putting more cars on the road, we are not serving our cities well. So we are now thinking of Uber as a mobility platform. We want you to come to Uber, we'll get your car, we will encourage you to share, hopefully we will get you an electronic vehicle, but we are also about bikes.
NDTV: I'll give you a bit of similarity between NDTV and changing the world. Whenever anybody comes to join NDTV for a job, we ask them - why do you want to join us? They want to be an anchor; I want to be a, we say no, you are not for us. The ones who come and say we want to make a difference to the society, change things out there, that's what you want.
Dara Khosrowshahi: That's when I talk with young engineers or folks who want career advice I would say, look for three things, one is look for smart people to work with or people that you respect, because who wants to work with folks that you like? You want to work with folks that you respect and you can learn from. Second is go to a place where you, as an individual, can make a difference, you want your work to make a difference. And the third is go to a place that is making a difference in the world and if you can solve those three things, great people to work with, you can make a difference. And if it's a company that is making a difference in the world, then that's the recipe for happiness.
NDTV: Perfect, perfect. World's big problems, when we met in Davos you would have noticed an underlying theme in Davos this time was kind of global trust deficit.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes, absolutely.
NDTV: Nobody trusts media, nobody trusts social media, companies don't trust each other. It's just a trust deficit. How do you manage, especially with something like say car pooling? It's a tricky thing to do in a trust deficit world.
Dara Khosrowshahi: I say there are two factors. One is from a corporate stand point I think that we live in a world of transparency now. I think the truth is going to come out one way or the other and I think there are companies that can resist that.
NDTV: You may get several stages of fake news but you will eventually get the truth.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Exactly
NDTV: But it is transparent, yes
Dara Khosrowshahi: We are engaging in transparency and as a company, for example, we are giving our data to the cities, our traffic flow, so we can actually help them going forward. The second for us on the trust stand point is our number one priority as a company this year is what we call standing for safety, because the technology companies who build platforms - and we are building a transportation platform - built it in an idealistic sequence angle. If we build a platform, we are not responsible for the content on the platform. We are just building a platform and then people, you know, work on the content and that does not work any longer, and for us the content on the platform or if the driver partners, are they safe, what's their background, are they really good drivers? We are really investing in their background checks etc and safety.
NDTV: Oh, I was just going to ask you about that, wow
Dara Khosrowshahi: Absolutely. And for example in the US if all launches go blue, we have a button on the app. If you are in trouble it's a 911 button, you click on the button and instantly your location is sent to a center, so it's like your location is sent, the licence plate of the car is sent etc. It's a big investment that we are making in safety so that we can get trust back.
NDTV: Will that be in India as well? Because that is one of the issues in India, the image. I am going to be kind to you right, comparing you with a whale, a shark.
Dara Khosrowshahi: I don't know where this is going
NDTV: There are about, sharks kill six people in the world every year, but every time they kill one it's huge news. So like when with Uber there is a safety problem, it's like huge. While frankly when it happens with a cab, you don't even hear about this, no news. So you have that problem, the shark problem.
Dara Khosrowshahi: We do and that is not going to change and...
NDTV: Because that is success, part of success
Dara Khosrowshahi: It is. Success comes with good and it comes with bad and when you do 15 million trips a day, which is what we are doing on Uber on a global basis, you become a functional society and that comes with a lot of good and vast majority good and some bad. And we have to recognise that. And I think we can use technology to help and we can use technology to potentially identify bad factors, for example drivers who are driving too fast. There is a lot we can do to make us aware, to make our platform a better place or a safer place and make the world a better place as a result. We are just getting started.
NDTV: I mean it is amazing if you are saying it is just getting started because it's had such a huge impact. And I remember you saying once one of the most impressive things about Uber is that it is a verb.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes absolutely and my father said that when you're asked to run a company that's become a verb, you say 'yes'.
NDTV: Wow, that's amazing. I hate to say it, but it reflects the part of the world that you and I come from where fathers matter.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Absolutely. Fathers matter, I think that's a good thing.
NDTV: Yes, absolutely
Dara Khosrowshahi: Mothers matter as well.
NDTV: Of course, yes, yes. Sometimes in India mothers are more important than fathers, but whatever, like it is both the same thing. Even today your boss is really...
Dara Khosrowshahi: Really, really my wife
NDTV: Hundred percent, hundred percent, no question about it. One of the things also, just about the challenges you are facing, is this antagonistic relationship with the cities. They say oh you are increasing the traffic, oh, deep down the citizens love you but the, how are you handling that?
Dara Khosrowshahi: We are handling by engagement with the cities and really rebuilding the relationship and the partnership. The fact is that...
NDTV: But you were not doing much earlier.
Dara Khosrowshahi: We weren't, we weren't and I think that we have viewed early on the regulations are a battle, but the fact is that we get to drive on the streets of the cities. We are the guests of the cities when we enter those cities and while heavy regulation isn't necessarily a good thing, dialogue is important. And where there are regulations we need to abide by the rules, but we also want to have a dialogue so that we can really understand what's the right regulatory framework going forward. So we are making investments with the cities.
NDTV: Like, we say in London, in London there is a real crisis there.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes, we are having a dialogue with London and I was in Paris last week. So this comes with the investment of time, being open, being transparent. For example, we do have an initiative of call movement, where we offer data to cities so that they can approve traffic flows and I know that is something.
NDTV: So it is kind of partnership with cities?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Absolutely. We can use our data to make cities better and...
NDTV: It's a different profile, it's a major positive I think
Dara Khosrowshahi: And we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in building our pool, which is a product where more than one passenger gets in the car, socially I think some people are...
NDTV: Passengers being worried about the other passengers. The trust deficit point
Dara Khosrowshahi: But technology can solve that. Or maybe you get to see who the other passenger is. There are a lot of potential solves here.
NDTV: Yes, yes, yes
Dara Khosrowshahi: The promise is real but the fact is that we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to solve a problem that will help traffic flows in cities. Bikes is another solution to that and the big solution, this is the big and the long term one, is ultimately taking to the sky.
NDTV: Flying taxis. Everything is fine. I mean at a certain point people say are you crazy, flying taxis?
Dara Khosrowshahi: You have to be a little crazy to innovate. You have to be a little crazy, but with flying taxis, what you have seen in cities all over the world, is that residential has gone at three dimensions. You see these, incredible, but by the way this is one of our flying taxis that you see
NDTV: Oh this is a flying taxi, wow
Dara Khosrowshahi: This is actually Gen 1. I think I can also show you Gen 2 if you want, but the generations keep changing, but the cities' residential construction is going three dimensional, right? These incredible high rises, commercial has gone three dimensional, but the transport grid is largely two dimensional. And I think you need to build a third dimension in order for the transport grid to keep up with how people are going to live and work, and that's what Elevator is about. It's a little crazy, yes it is, but it's the innovators who early on...
NDTV: I mean somebody with Uber might try this earlier, are you crazy? You going to do this? You must be mad. But somebody did it, but you give him a lot of credit still. I mean I know there are...
Dara Khosrowshahi: Absolutely. Like Travis created an extraordinary company. He scaled it to a level that I think no one else could. And the company is at a different stage, but you have to give credit where the credit is due, he was an extraordinary entrepreneur.
NDTV: Now you've been to India recently and don't be too diplomatic, but what did you like and especially what did you not like about India? That you can tell me off the record.
Dara Khosrowshahi: What I loved about India is the entrepreneurship and the growth mindset. This is an economy that is going to be an enormous economy. And Modi and team and you know, they want to be, they want India to be so much in a rightful place and you feel ambition everywhere. I think that's where India, my observation is that you've got to match the ambition with organisation and some of the structures and infrastructure work is behind the society. That I say you have to work on.
NDTV: So one of the, in fact I tell you when we get trainers too from all over the world, top trainers and they train in many countries, all say one thing, 'Kids here are the finest kids that we ever trained'. They are inquisitive, they are hungry, they are entrepreneurial, and it really makes you feel good. And our generation has given your generation pollution, corruption. You better now change all that.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Well we are working at it. It is interesting what you say about the youth. Rationally in India we're not only investing in business itself, the Uber business, but we are really doubling down in terms of technology towns in India. We have two development centres. We are going to double, triple, quadruple the number of engineers we see in India, because actually the education system in India is very strong. The technical talent is strong and this new generation is educated and hard working and we want to pull and be a part of that talent base. So there is a big investment going on.
NDTV: See you recognise the entrepreneurs and the IQ levels of the Indians.
Dara Khosrowshahi: The IQ levels, the technical talent along with this entrepreneurial edge which is a very, very present part of our society. And I think the other interesting factor with India is that Indian product bases can be a gateway to much of the developing world. The Indian customer? The Indian customers are tough customers.
NDTV: Very price sensitive, very quality sensitive.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Exactly. So they are price sensitive and they want the best services. So for us, to some extent, we want the engineers on the ground. Because only they can, because only if you are in India, they can build a great product for India and that great product we think will travel into Pan America and Africa etc. So we kind of view India as the innovation gateway for us into the developing world.
NDTV: Very interesting, very interesting. Actually I know for example browsers, there is a browser which is beating all the well known browsers. It's got 60% of the market. Why? Because it is light and people have very little bandwidth you know, budgets, so they have gone for that.
Dara Khosrowshahi: You will see, exactly, you should be in the product team because there is a version of...
NDTV: I don't mind as long as they do exactly the opposite of whatever I say. That works, let me tell you.
Dara Khosrowshahi: In this case, you will see a version of Uber coming up, which will be much lighter and it will be built for India.
NDTV: Okay, okay, wow. And that can be around Africa, South America, South East Asia, everywhere.
Dara Khosrowshahi: First market is India and then India will be that staging ground for us and then we will launch it in other markets as well.
NDTV: So now you are out of China, Indonesia, but you bought into Brazil.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Yes.
NDTV: Are you going to buy into India or get out of India or neither?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Buying into India. We are buying into India. Part of the reason why we got out of Indonesia is because we don't want to be spread too thin, and you need to decide as a company where you're going to be good at and where your bets are and where you are not going to bet. And in Indonesia we found that we are going to bet on Anthony Tan, a terrific entrepreneur and merge our business with them. We want to win in India. It's an extraordinary important, strategic market for us on a global basis. Our moving out of Indonesia allows us to lean in more aggressively into India, which is one of the really important reasons why we made that move.
NDTV: So I have nothing but admiration for your CEO in India because he is battered. You know Amit? Yes, I don't think anywhere in the world you will get battered so much. Your image for safety has been battered. But there is something that is hurting Uber, the safety image for women, in particular, and part of it was Travis' problem and the way they and his team treated the lady who was molested. But how are you going to tackle that? Are you going to introduce new safety measures, technology to help, what sort of stuff?
Dara Khosrowshahi: What happened there was very unfortunate and it was before my term and it is inexcusable. But what I can control is what we do going forward. And on the safety front we are going to be totally transparent, and we're making real investments in our product in terms of safety buttons, background checks etc. in order to fundamentally and significantly improve the safety of our platform in India. We are committed to it, it takes work. It's not, words don't help. Right now, we are working on the product to get us there but we're very much focused on it.
NDTV: One of the things in India, which I don't know, you are going to re-staff, some of it is fake news, some of it is opinion, some of it is motivated.
Dara Khosrowshahi: There is fake news in India too? I thought only in the US.
NDTV: No, no, no. I think we originated it originally, but not NDTV. But it is everywhere. Unfortunately that's part of the dangers of social media, but one of the issues is they don't do enough background checks in India. So how is that going to change, of the drivers?
Dara Khosrowshahi: We are systemizing our background checks and building our technology to make sure that we can be entirely comfortable. So that if you are a driver partner who comes on our platform, you belong on that platform and you are being checked out.
NDTV: Okay. So there are going to be checks, because earlier there were not enough. Again there is can and should. You can get a driver, get in, but should you check or not, do a minor check?
Dara Khosrowshahi: We will make sure that you are being checked out.
NDTV: That's really important to hear. And women drivers?
Dara Khosrowshahi: We want more women drivers. It's, if you think about Uber, one of the potential growth avenues for Uber to get, is get in more drivers. Because the demand for service continues to increase and we very much want more women drivers. The great thing about being a driver partner is that you are your own boss. You choose your own hours and the women who potentially run a family, who want some income, it's great, great for them.
NDTV: The number of people who have improved their lifestyles because of Uber, just a little spare time and when there is a problem of unemployment in a country, it is great, great to have Uber.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Now you see one of the regulatory issues, as it is with India, is that the cars that can drive on Uber and Ola need to have dedicated licence plates, so that pushes you towards full time. And I think where you miss out is exactly what you are saying. That I think it is an understandable regulation, but these are the dialogues that we would have. Because these are old style and some of these cars, the more you increase the utilisation of the cars on the roads of India, you can be more efficient in terms of traffic flow and you create an opportunity, a societal earning opportunity for women, for example, which I think can be a real positive. These are the discussions that we are going to have with the local folks.
NDTV: I must say, I hate it but women in India are much better than the men and I am not just saying this for the television. They are more confident, they've got to where they are after a lot more struggle so they have already cracked it, you know, and men are working in. So tell me, since we are coming towards the final parts of this, because you were slightly busy I think as you said, tell me about yourself.
Dara Khosrowshahi: The short story is I was born in Iran. We were a very wealthy family, had a family business in Iran, we all lived together, family was everything for me.
NDTV: Of course, of course, yes
Dara Khosrowshahi: And in 1978 we had an Iran revolution where the Islamic revolution happened.
NDTV: I was there just before that.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Really, wow. And, and when you are in the middle of something like that, you never actually understand what's happening. So we actually said you know, let's leave for France until things calm down. Things never calmed down and my family lost everything. We came to America to stay with my uncle.
NDTV: In this area, California?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Actually in New York. We had to rebuild everything. And it's myself, my two brothers and my mom and dad. My father went back to Iran for a couple of years and he couldn't leave and it's really my mother who raised myself and my brothers when I was a teenager and...
NDTV: And you've had a strict upbringing
Dara Khosrowshahi: I studied engineering at college because for an Iranian family, you either have to be a doctor or an engineer, similar to India. And of course I fell in love with a girl and moved to New York to become an investment banker, just because I was following my heart. But slowly but surely I made my way from investment banking to mergers and acquisitions to being the CFO of a large conglomerate and then my last job that really prepared me for this one is running Expedia, which is an online travel company.
NDTV: So what in America, what lessons have you learnt from this society? I find this scenario so positive but tell me what lessons have you learnt?
Dara Khosrowshahi: One thing that's clear to me is that Americans don't appreciate what they have. I was lucky enough to come to America when America welcomed immigrants, you know
NDTV: Yes, yes, yes, yes
Dara Khosrowshahi: And it is truly the land of opportunity. And this idea of the American dream, American dream is the most powerful brand on earth. It's bigger than Google and Apple and Facebook put together because the American dream suggests that if you work hard, if you respect rule of law, you can make it here. And you have as good a chance to make it as any place else if you really, really put your head down and work. And for me, I am a product of that American dream and I hope that we can continue to have this American dream in this kind of complex political landscape and hopefully, there is an Indian dream as well. But it's powerful, the American dream and I want to show that it's possible for anybody and I want to do everything that I can to help them.
NDTV: I do notice one other fact, if you agree, it's a positive society in the sense that they look at your positives and say - great go and do that. Indians specially, they look at your negative and say oh your bat's better improve or your art better improve, but here it is focusing on what is good about you.
Dara Khosrowshahi: One of the lessons I have learnt in managing folks, when I was an early manager, I would typically try to change someone's weakness - here's where you're weak and change it. But what I learnt is you have to play to people's strengths, everyone who has a super power has a weakness, work to your super power and I think what you're saying is America works at people's super power, which I think is a great positive way of looking at life.
NDTV: Tell us a fun fact about Dara that nobody knows
Dara Khosrowshahi: My mother surely knows is that I am a complete closet geek. I was a Dungeons and Dragons nerd. I played imaginary games with my friends. I was a Dungeon master and we would build these imaginary worlds and wear costumes.
NDTV: Wow, so you are still doing that, right?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Once in a while if I could. I am in this great place, but deep down inside, I am the geek that I always was.
NDTV: So last minute on looking at the future. Are you serious about flying taxis? Are you serious about bikes? Are you serious about car pooling? You are doing all this, so are you serious? You are definitely a geek.
Dara Khosrowshahi: We want to be the a2b platform for transportation on earth. If you want to get from one place to the other, we want to solve that for you in a way that's based on real time information, that's a 100% accurate and it's all possible with the push of a button. Simple, delightful, easy! And ultimately for us mobility and transportation is about freedom and opportunity, which is why we are all so excited.
NDTV: You are so bloody fit. How do you do Uber Eats then and how do you, that is also doing well, right? You are trying to avoid Uber Eats?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Exactly, Uber Eats is our fastest growing segment right now. It's extraordinary how quickly it's growing and really all over the world.
NDTV: So last question, the future plan or dream that you have that nobody else knows?
Dara Khosrowshahi: My personal dream after what I have accomplished here is to travel the world. I am still a travel geek.
NDTV: Really. Wow
Dara Khosrowshahi: I didn't get to travel much as a kid and coming from a society like Iran and then being an immigrant here, you know, I haven't travelled enough. It's surely something I want to make up for.
NDTV: I feel you are quite an emotional person.
Dara Khosrowshahi: I can be. I have been known to cry during commercials.
NDTV: So if your Mom and Dad walk up just now, what would they say?
Dara Khosrowshahi: My Dad would say he is proud of me and that will put a tear in my eye.
NDTV: And what will you say?
Dara Khosrowshahi: Thank you, they made all this possible for me.
NDTV: God bless you, God give you strength. Thank you so much.