It almost felt like a prelude to a party, as house music boomed through the speakers and around 500 students and faculty filled up the IIT-Bombay’s convocation hall in Powai. Everyone was waiting for Travis Kalanick, co-founder and chief executive of the most valued transportation company Uber, to have a fireside chat with former UTV top boss Ronnie Screwvala. There was no fire, but Kalanick was in no mood to be mellow. The University of California, Los Angeles, dropout started the meet by insisting that every entrepreneur needs to have the mindset of not a winner but a champion. “A champion is someone who puts every ounce of energy into the field. When you get knocked down, get back up... until you get success,” said Kalanick. The 39-year-old skipped forward and asked the students at IIT to take risks when getting jobs at start-ups. “You are smart, you have a roof over your head... if this doesn’t work out, there are a thousand companies who will hire you,” he quipped in what soon became his trademark style. The former boss of RedSwoosh, however, warned budding entrepreneurs to know when to call it quits. “If keep on going means you are doing severe mental and physical damage to yourself, then move on,” he said. He then tried to make light of what had become a serious moment by saying his biggest failure was when he got sued for $250 billion. The entrepreneur, who is valued at $6 billion by Forbes, said he ran Uber with one motto: always be hustling. In Hindi, he roughly translated it to jugaad. In India, Screwvala tried to explain, it meant frugal innovation but Kalanick’s “always be jugaading” worked as well. The CEO of the $50 billion company said Asia had taught him a few lessons. He explained that in the US he was always convinced about making profitable businesses but China taught him about the value economy. “Subsidies and large burning of cash is a Chinese invention,” he said. He came up just short of criticising the discount-induced war for customer acquisition among Indian e-commerce players and said that discounting made sense only if there was return at the end of it. "You don't want to spend money that doesn't have positive ROI,” he said. What was noticeable about Kalanick was his ability to switch gears to pander to the crowd that was hanging on to his every word.
With eyes surveying the crowd, Kalanick said innovation was now not just centric to Silicon Valley. “R&D and innovation isn't just a Silicon Valley thing. It will happen in three Bs. Bay area, Beijing and Bangalore,” he said to huge applause. The Uber boss continued to talk up India and said that investors now had a primary agenda of investing only in India, which is why the country had a great future. “India will be 1 billion smartphones by 2019,” he said. Last year, Uber committed $1 billion investment in India. When Screwvala asked him what next now that the money was running out, Kalanick refused to comment if more investment was needed but did insist that if he felt there were returns to be made more capital investments could be made. He asked students and heads of start-up firms to stay a few steps ahead of their investors. He told entrepreneurs to think faster in their business and anticipate suggestions and have answers to them ready before they were asked. He explained that he was coaxed out of trying to crack the Chinese market but convinced everyone that opposed him that the odds would probably be in his favour as at least one non-Chinese company could succeed in that country and he could be that one firm. At the end of the session, before the selfies, Kalanick announced his email address and asked students to email him if they wanted to work for Uber.
- Fall in love with your idea, do it better than others will
- Always be jugaading
- Subsidies and large burning of cash is a Chinese invention
- Curiosity, fierceness to solve a problem, push until it hurts and looking for the wow factor makes a good entrepreneur
- Make sh*t happen in limited resources. Turn lemons into lemonades