Uber’s retreat from India

On the morning of 11 April 2019, the world woke up to Uber Technologies Inc’s S-1 filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Last valued at over $120 billion and marinated over ten long years, few world events—amongst them the Olympics, myriad championship bouts, wildly arranged Tarantino movie plots or the election of a puddle to the White House—can compare to the global gasp of billionaires and commoners when the S-1 hit, demanding to be inspected.

A tiny section on Page 26 deserves your immediate attention:

An insight into the market-specific knowledge

“In India, for example, our Uber Eats offering competes with Swiggy and Zomato, each of which has substantial market-specific knowledge and established relationships with local restaurants, affording them significant product advantages. As a result, such competitors may be able to respond more quickly and effectively than us in such markets to new or changing opportunities, technologies, consumer preferences, regulations, or standards, which may render our products or offerings less attractive. In addition, future competitors may share in the effective benefit of any regulatory or governmental approvals and litigation victories we may achieve, without having to incur the costs we have incurred to obtain such benefits.”

If you are familiar with the phrase ‘put two and two together’, the above is the first two. The second is that according to several sources The Ken spoke with, for more than six months now, Uber has been trying to sell its two-year-old Uber Eats business in India. Ever since that search started, it has found buyers, but not at the right price.

“A company like Uber doesn’t play for number two.”

This is a former ride-hailing entrepreneur speaking. One who has fought the ride-hailing battle and exited. He requested not to be named because he got out of the business a few years back and doesn’t want to dip so much as a pinky back into the pond. “Uber always likes to be number one. Look at Uber Eats and they are number three in India, after Zomato and Swiggy. It dilutes the Uber brand, so it makes absolute sense to get out of that business. That’s how we thought about it, and I think that’s what the company is trying to do.”

Fight over the years

This entrepreneur isn’t alone. In fact, he is one of many who believe that after fighting for years and eventually ceding ground in countries like China and Russia, Uber is now slowly retreating from India.

They also say that they can’t claim to have seen it coming.

“You know adrenaline?”
Human beings live life through the prism of time.

There’s a time to wake up. Time to go to bed.

Take a nap. Eat a snack. Take a vacation.

But in as much as the construct of a life lived through a ticking clock is fleeting, if you bring up this perception with Uber employees, they reminisce of a time not long back. The days of Uber under Travis Kalanick, the controversial founder of the company who was pushed out in June 2017. People remember Kalanick as someone who put India on the map. Put them on the map. Gave them purpose.

Words of the Uber Employee

You know adrenaline?” says one former Uber employee. This person requested not to be named. “It was like we are here to win this market. Fighting tooth and nail with the competition. Some days they have an upper hand over us, other days it is us who are ahead.” This person remembers the blurry, sleepless days of March 2016, when both Uber and local competitor Ola were trying to outmaneuver each other in launching two-wheelers first. One knew about the other’s plans.

“There was some early testing on the application,” adds the former employee mentioned above. “So, Ola got to know, and we had each other’s information so we got to know they are also launching at the same time because they know we are launching. It was a mad rush, just like who is going to be the first to launch it. That’s the Uber of 2016. Today, it might as well be an offshoot of an American company. Like Cisco or Pepsi. Not Uber.