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How Indian start-ups are taking on global rivals

By Karan Choudhury
January 24, 2017 13:46 IST
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Flipkart's appointment of Kalyan Krishnamurthy as CEO and Ola's choice of PepsiCo's Vishal Kaul for COO speaks to the growing trend of bringing in experienced professionals to run business. Karan Choudhury reports.

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IMAGE: Clockwise from top, Vishal Kaul of Pepsico is now Ola's COO; Kalyan Krishnamurthy of Tiger Global is now Flipkart CEO; and Jason Kothari of Housing.com is now with Snapdeal. Professional run companies are what investors are looking for right now.


India's largest cab aggregator Ola has named Vishal Kaul, a former PepsiCo executive as its chief operating officer, a trend that is picking up among large Indian start-ups of bringing experienced hands to run operations as investors look at returns.

Ola's peers in the Indian startup space such as Flipkart and Snapdeal have also brought in outside professionals to steer the company's path forward. Early this month, Snapdeal named Jason Kothari, former CEO of Housing.com, who turned the company and help merge with larger rival NewsCorp's PropTiger, as its chief strategy officer.

India's largest e-commerce firm Flipkart saw Kalyan Krishnamurthy, who came from its largest investor Tiger Global as its new CEO, replacing co-founder Binny Bansal to the top post as it looks to fend off competition from global rival Amazon.

Kaul, who has expertise in sales and marketing was PepsiCo's General Manager of PepsiCo's Thailand, Myanmar and Laos units. He replaces Pranay Jivrajka, Ola's first employee, who has been elevated as Founding Partner to drive strategy.

Ola

IMAGE: To fight off competition from Uber Bhavish Aggarwal, CEO and co-founder of Ola, called for protectionism against foreign companies. Photograph: Shailesh Andrade/Reuters.


The Bengaluru-based Ola is looking to fend off competition from Uber, its global rival that has been aggressive in India after it lost China to local competitor Didi Chuxing.

Ola has struggled to raise fresh funds from investors due to Uber's aggressive stance, with its main backer Softbank marking down the value of its investments in the company.

Ola's founder Bhavish Aggarwal has called for protectionism against foreign companies in India's internet sector.

Over the last one year, Ola has rationalised costs by reducing employees, slashed incentives to drivers and subsidies to customers, while offering services such as share, prime and luxury to improve customer loyalty and lock them on its platform.

Jivrajka's elevation, as well as bringing in a new COO from an established multinational as PepsiCo is a move to show investors that the company is in hands of professionals. Kaul, with his knowledge of the end consumer market, will be tasked to streamline operations, gain more loyal customers and drivers, while pushing the firm towards profitability.

"This is what investors are looking for before they give out any more funding. Professional run companies give investors that added boost that, there are checks and balances in running operations, and not just whims and fancies of founders that might affect profitability," said a senior analyst belonging to a major international consultancy.

"The mobility opportunity is massive with over 300 million trips happening every single day in urban India. Ola is committed to adding value to each of these trips and making mobility accessible to every single Indian with localised solutions and innovative use cases," the company said. Ola's operations are spread across 100 plus cities and multiple categories.

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Karan Choudhury
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