CEO Takes Ride-Hailing Company from Siberia to Silicon Valley, Gears up to Drive Global Expansion
The Stanford Executive Program gave Arsen Tomsky, founder and CEO of inDrive, the tools, knowledge, and network to fuel his company’s global expansion.
Arsen Tomsky hails from the city of Yakutsk in the Republic of Sakha (also known as Yakutia), in the Siberian region of Russia. Siberia is the coldest inhabited place on earth, with winter temperatures plummeting tens of degrees below zero. It was here that Arsen’s success story and his mission to right injustice began — with a jaw-rattling, frigid winter… and the need for a taxi.
“In January 2012, all the taxi services in my city decided to increase fares the same day,” Arsen recalls vividly. “It was a cartel agreement and it was unfair. It was New Year’s Day and very cold… minus 40 degrees.” Then, something interesting happened. University students began using social media to negotiate for rideshare fares. They created an online hub to connect riders with drivers, attracting 50,000 members, Arsen shares.
“Students took control of their own transportation,” Arsen notes. “It was a social phenomenon.” Their grassroots effort gave Arsen an idea. With a university degree in applied mathematics, Arsen had already founded three technology- and Internet-related companies — his first at age 20. “I could see that this model [of negotiated ride fares] had very good potential,” he says.
In June 2013, Arsen founded inDrive (formerly inDriver), a ride-hailing service with negotiable rates. The company has since rolled out in 47 countries and over 700 cities across Europe and Asia. “We achieved quick success because we deliver freedom and a fair model,” he says. “In 2019, we became one of the top five ride-hailing companies by number of app downloads,” taking on industry goliaths Uber and Lyft.
Arsen relocated from Siberia to Silicon Valley in 2020 to shift his company’s global expansion into high gear — taking inDrive to #2 in app downloads. “I was a newcomer,” he says. “I needed access to knowledge and networking to establish credibility and attract investors. This drew me to Stanford.”
Driving Organizational Change
The six-week, on-campus Stanford Executive Program fit Arsen’s schedule, providing the immersive, transformative experience he was seeking. The program offered tools and strategies for managing the accelerated growth of his company. “In 2019, we were a team of 250 people,” he says. “Now we have 2,500 people. I needed a solid foundation for organizational design to transform our operation.”
SEP sessions cover three fundamental themes: Leading People, Leading Organizations, and Leading Change. Arsen says his learnings have enabled him to lay the groundwork for inDrive’s expansion and future. “I gained knowledge about how to systematically build a business, from startup to a global operation. I also learned about strategic leadership from Jesper Sørensen and marketing from Szu-chi Huang. It was all fascinating.”
Arsen also benefited from the program’s holistic approach to personal development, including mindfulness meditation with Dr. Fred Luskin. “I am overly motivated, and I think about my work all the time,” he says. “These meditations helped me see what a beautiful world we live in. It was amazing.” He also enjoyed sharing insights and experiences with his classmates, forming bonds with other executives, like him, driven to make the world better.
Navigating the Road Ahead
Arsen’s completion of SEP gave him the skills to manage the accelerated growth of his organization, as well as Stanford alumni status — and lasting connections to his peers. He is grateful for his own access to education and has founded several international nonprofit programs, including BeginIT, which provides children from 127 orphanages, shelters, and rural schools around the world with technology education. He has also published a book, inDriver: from Yakutsk to Silicon Valley, which attracted his first investor.
To other entrepreneurs with dreams of taking a startup into the global market, Arsen offers this advice: “We call ourselves underdogs because we are from a remote place. We didn’t have access to knowledge, experience, technology, investments, or other professionals. We had low chances to build something, but we did it. We focused on our goals and our mission: to challenge injustice. We hope our example will inspire millions of other underdogs around the world.”