“Our industry is very competitive and what happened in China between Uber and Didi was like World War-II…

…this is corporate war and the competition between us and Uber is very intense…

…the analogy that I gave about India is that this is like Vietnam War. We are the local guerillas. We have the Americans carpet bombing us but we will go into the nooks and corners of the country…”

That was ride-sharing startup Ola’s founder and CEO, Bhavish Aggarwal speaking at a TiE event in Hyderabad on 27 March.

Aggarwal’s dramatic broadside was in itself a guerrilla tactic, designed to paint Ola as a scrappy and determined Indian company and Uber as the powerful foreign company threatening to wipe it out and to try and bait Uber into responding.

But there was no reaction from Uber. Probably because it knew it couldn’t win a PR war on newspaper front pages and TV channels against a home-grown competitor. And after having exited China after a bleeding war against Didi Chuxing, Uber simply cannot afford to lose the plot in its most critical market (it’s already a clear leader in its home market, the US) globally—India.

A. Fixing the organisation

Execution is one of Uber’s biggest strengths, both globally and in India. It is highly data-driven, process-based and operation-oriented. Therefore, even at the city unit level, Uber hires many ex-consultants and investment bankers to lead operations. The results of its execution muscle are usually visible on the supply side of the market, that taxi and driver availability.

But the flipside of that, stoking demand from customers, is Uber’s weakness. It is struggling to hire and retain a top-level marketing executive, or even a growth hacker in India: roles it needs to create awareness and acquire customers for a product, which isn’t inherently viral in nature.

Earlier this year, it made two key appointments: ex-DEN Networks’ Pradeep Parameswaran as its head of central operations, and ex-BSE CEO Madhu Kannan as its chief business officer for India and emerging markets. To enable a swifter, more streamlined decision-making structure in India and minimal back and forth with its headquarters in San Francisco.

The twin appointments were in line with Uber’s global culture of deploying key power centres on either side of its topmost leader, in this case, Uber India president, Amit Jain. For instance, Uber had its former president Jeff Jones (who exited in March) and Emil Michael, SVP, business, play a key role, on either side of CEO Travis Kalanick.

The decision to hire Parameswaran and Kannan was two-fold. One, newer power centres are created to keep the top boss in check, and two, if Jain were to leave Uber one day, then Uber could just elevate either of the two.

AUTHOR

Venkat Ananth

Venkat is currently in his tenth year in journalism. Prior to The Ken, he was Deputy Content Editor at Mint as part of the newspaper’s digital team. He also wrote in-depth features on the business of sport for the newspaper. His earlier assignments include Yahoo! (as a columnist) and the Hindustan Times, where he began his career. Born in Mumbai, Venkat holds a Bachelor of Mass Media (Journalism) degree from SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai and a Master of Arts degree in International Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London. He currently resides in New Delhi, where he moved nearly five years ago.

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