Sankalp Dikshit

"Moving from consumer goods to a digitally native brand was an OMG moment": Uber boss Sanjay Gupta

We got to know the new marketing head of Uber India, a little better. Before Uber, he worked at Urban Ladder and before that, at Marico.

"For me, life is like bungee jumping. If you have a solid, secure foundation, then you can spread your arms and fly", says Sanjay Gupta, Uber's new marketing head.

"Moving from consumer goods to a digitally native brand was an OMG moment": Uber boss Sanjay Gupta
Sanjay Gupta

The erstwhile chief marketing officer of Urban Ladder, joined Uber this year in May and news of his appointment has created strong buzz in the Indian marketing circuit. In order to get to know him better, we at afaqs! decided to catch him in a candid chat.

A graduate from Sri Ram College of Commerce in economics, Gupta went on to pursue a management degree first from MDI, Gurgaon and later from Harvard University. Seems to be a pretty well-orchestrated trajectory, right? However, that was not quite the case. Gupta explains, "I should confess that during my student years, this was not so well thought through. The governing principle I used was, 'to keep my options open'. Back then, like many students, I too was not very clear about what I wanted to do over the next 10-15 years and thus picked options that would give me maximum room for manoeuvrability."

In the past, Gupta spent a large part of his career with Marico. Out of the fifteen years of his career so far, Marico sits comfortably for a period of roughly eleven years. Not to forget, Marico was his first job back in 2002. "One of the best decisions of my life was to join Marico. While it operates in the consumer goods space, it thinks like a start-up. Marico believed in empowerment and early responsibility, and I loved working in that environment", Gupta tells us.

"Moving from consumer goods to a digitally native brand was an OMG moment": Uber boss Sanjay Gupta

From what we have observed, shifting base to a rival company is a common industry practice but a move to a digital based brand like Urban Ladder is a sure shot norm breaker. Then what made Gupta bid adieu to Marico and join a fairly young organisation like Urban Ladder, an online furniture store? "...moving to Urban Ladder was not a big culture change. I wanted to explore the new age digital landscape and Urban Ladder was the obvious choice. What attracted me to Urban Ladder was the brand, the culture and their customer obsession."

An obvious question then comes to mind, how different are the marketing challenges in the app based universe of Uber compared to the ones at Urban Ladder where Gupta spent a period of one and a half years? "My first few months at Uber have been magical. Even before I joined the company, I was a big fan of the service. The scale of Uber just amazes me. The number of people who experience the same joy of taking an Uber every day is mind-blowing. The impact that the service has on cities, riders and our driver partners is significant. The difference between Urban Ladder and Uber is the frequency of purchase and the absolute value of the transaction. The tools have remained the same, but the usage is very different!", explains Gupta.

And what about the transferable learnings, were there any at all? He says, "A lot of what I had learnt at Urban Ladder is being implemented at Uber. One is the digital-first nature of the brand and the business. Second, both have a strong physical world customer interface. The tools and techniques especially in the space of digital brand building and marketing that I picked up at Urban Ladder are definitely coming handy at Uber."

But a ride with zero hurdles doesn't always translate into a joyride, does it? "As a marketing person, you have to charter unknown territories. You have to work on the toughest problems, marry contradictions, and most importantly, this needs to be done in a consistent manner. Over time, a marketing professional learns to take this in his/her stride and develops a knack of dealing with these situations. The OMG moment was when I moved from consumer goods to a digitally native brand. It was a 180-degree shift in my approach to marketing. The learning curve was very steep, but a lot of fun. When I look back, I am so glad that I made the switch!", adds Gupta.

Changing urban lifestyles are affecting the marketing operations of Indian firms in one way or the other; Uber is no exception. "At Uber, our aim is to tackle congestion by complementing public transit systems and providing a service so reliable and affordable that it drives a fundamental shift from the prevailing paradigm of private car ownership to one of shared commute. We are redefining the future of urban mobility by getting more people into fewer cars and providing an affordable alternative to car ownership. Our marketing efforts will continue to drive this objective to offer a real alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam – a mode of transportation that complements and improves the system we have today", informs Gupta.

Speaking about his mentors, Gupta says, "I've had great mentors, people who have invested in my development as a person and as a professional. Two that come to mind are Saugata Gupta(managing director and CEO, Marico) and Sameer Satapathy(chief executive, personal Care, ITC) ." Uber has recently assigned its creative mandate to Taproot Dentsu which according to Gupta was able to distill the brief to create a sharp proposition. Gupta tells us that he was supremely impressed with Taproot's 'super-talented' team.

Sharing his views on the hottest topic in the digital space - 'The Digital Dollar', Gupta says, "I am an evangelist for digitisation in general. In the specific case of financial transactions, technologies that make financial transactions more transparent and more secure are better. I feel this space will see a lot more innovation before we see a product that is adopted by a large majority."

Concluding the discussion, we couldn't help but ask Gupta about the things he does when not managing the marketing operations at Uber. He tells us, "I love spending time with my family. It's a lot of fun with my two year old and two dogs. Also, If Chelsea is playing, then there is a high probability that I'll be watching football. On weekends, I make it a point to take time out to exercise." Not to miss, Gupta is a huge fan of 'The Godfather' and 'The Rocky Series', when it comes to movies.

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