Problem Solving & People: What I Love About Urban Company  


This article is part of our series “Thriving in Urban Company”
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Have been meandering for a while now on whether to write about my UC journey or not.

The first few months – like any budding relationship, there is cautious optimism. You are enjoying it – yet not ready to announce it to the world. What if I write this, and it does not age well?

12 months – COVID-19.

18 months in – here we are!

Coming off a very enjoyable run from Uber, the only clarity I had was – smaller place and Indian company. UC’s process was long. By the end, my theses was summarized in two lines:

  1. “hard problems, solved the right way, with nice people” -> journey should be enriching
  2. “there is a potential 10x upside” -> bull case: earning; bear case: learning (there is no base case in real life, my friend)

Let me expand on my experience.

There are no easy problems at Urban Company. The analogy I use is similar to building Amazon in the early 2000s.

There is no global precedence of scaled services at home. Being the first player means educating the market.

No globally established norms. No one has ever hired a plumber or taken a haircut at home by tapping on a button. We are still codifying the “right” experience. There are at least 15-20 pressure points that can go wrong in an average job – the majority cannot be objectively measured or fall outside our control. Each supply pool is markedly different and demands its own nuance. UC is being built one brick at a time as we speak.

The only way you build a one-of-a-kind business is through first principles. The first among those principles is unit economics. Contribution margin positive start-ups are a rarity in India. We have 15+ categories, multiple support functions such as financing, product procurement, training – each of them is thoroughly grounded in solid fundamentals. Growth, profitability and customer experience are often said to be an impossible trinity. Urban Company is a fantastic school for those who want to learn business building by practice.

Lastly, but most importantly, people at UC have been a revelation. Constantly find myself in meetings with founders, peers and teams where I am left wondering how each of them is 2x smarter, knowledgeable and motivated than me.

There is so much to learn working alongside such an illustrious set of individuals. No joy surpasses the feeling of achieving hard goals, working with a set of smart, motivated and upright people.”

Having felt these vibes earlier during my Uber days, I knew there is magic brewing.

I came to UC thinking I know it all about marketplaces (Uber has that effect), however, little did I know how much still remains to be learnt. For all professionals out there, who are hungry and passionate about building things bigger than themselves, I can vouch for UC being the top one percentile opportunity. For budding future entrepreneurs – consider UC as a learning school (UC will be a founder factory for India).

If you have read this far, let me engage you on a small but important topic – ESOPs. ESOPs are generally a hushed topic but it is critical to understand them well.

Great start-ups and start-up ecosystems have codified risk-reward through ESOPs (Employee Stock Option Program). This is commensurate to the risk an early employee takes while foregoing other stabler alternatives. Clearly remember back in Dec 2018, while accepting the offer, like many others who join start-ups I took ESOPs as a lottery ticket. This was a fundamentally wrong notion.

As a beneficiary of the recent secondary sale, I feel the notion needs correction. ESOPs are not lottery tickets! High quality, “bankable” ESOP policies form the bedrock of all vibrant start-up ecosystems.

The Indian start-up ecosystem is still nascent and building. Urban Company’s ESOP principles are the first Normandy wave.  With the third secondary in as many as six years, UC has set a very high bar for its peer group. Small steps by one founding team, giant leap for an entire community.

That’s it folks!

Find me at [email protected] to to chat more on life in tech, start-ups, product management!