By Dany Farha
Earlier this month, I travelled for the TiEcon 2016 global conference in New Delhi and was surprised to see Travis Kalanick, Founder & CEO of Uber as the keynote, given that India’s home grown champ is Ola Cabs and is fighting a fierce battle with Uber in India.
Travis’s one-hour fireside chat put on display his charm, intellect and business savvy. In the many interesting discussions, he told the story of his fight against Didi in China and why he had to “concede” to a merger with Didi to own a mere ~ 17% of the combined entity. He said that the reason he did so was because Didi was very well funded by local Chinese investors, including the likes of Alibaba and Tencent, who are staunch rivals in their home market, but came together for the 1st time to cooperate in Didi (which was actually the merger of the 2 local competitors Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache) and compete with the foreign invasion from Uber. This reminded me of the legendary Arabic expression: “Me and my cousin against the foreigner, but me and my brother against our cousin”. This was an example of the amazing support for and from the local Chinese players in defense of their own home grown players.
What was even more surprising, was when Travis elaborated even further and said that the Chinese Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) had then proceeded to invest in Didi as well as all of Uber’s global competitors to continue to weaken Uber at home in the US by investing in Lyft and internationally by investing in all Uber’s global competitors like GrabTaxi in SEA and Ola Cabs in India. The Chinese SWFs not only fought Uber by funding Didi in China but they also fought Uber by funding its global competitors and taking the fight to Uber all over the world including its own home market, the USA.
What’s even more amazing is that as soon as Uber and Didi merged, the Chinese SWFs and strategic Chinese investors stopped funding the global competitors of Uber, signaling clearly that supporting Didi was their only goal, over and above making money from these global investments.
We in the Arab world need to lead by the same example as the Chinese. Our SWFs and institutional investors must invest in our local home grown operators, like Careem, which recently received funding from the Saudi Telecomunications Company STC as well as from the formidable Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten, creating our regions 1st billion dollar digital company and that, in only 4 years!
While it’s important to support them, it’s also integral to ensure that they win their local markets and end up dictating the future of our transport systems and creating all the jobs here locally, instead of creating more jobs in the US, especially all the high value jobs like data scientists which, according to Travis, Uber has 200 alone in Pittsburgh.
Travis held a town hall the prior evening where he complained that the Indian government shouldn’t favour Ola Cabs just because its founders are Indian and asked to apply for Indian citizenship if that was the case, which became the running joke of the weekend.
Travis my friend, we are fiercely patriotic and protective over our local entrepreneurs, investors, citizens and residents. Whilst we love America and much of what it stands for, particularly in the tech entrepreneurship space, it is our duty to support our own and keep the value and high quality jobs that a local home grown success story will create.
A passport and one’s residency is extremely important to us.