From space to streets: Uthaya Kumar’s journey from ISRO scientist to taxi entrepreneur

No job is too big or too small, and each role offers a chance to learn something new. Uthaya Kumar’s story exemplifies this truth. 

Entrepreneur Ramabhadran Sundaram was taken aback when he discovered that his cab driver, Uthaya Kumar, held a PhD in Statistics and once worked for ISRO. Leaving behind his prestigious position at the Indian Space Research Organisation, Uthaya launched a taxi company focused on empowering drivers. His startup, S T Cabs, impressively brought in Rs 2 crore in revenue last year. Sundaram later took to LinkedIn, saying, “He inspired me with leadership lessons,” as he shared the story of this former ISRO scientist turned entrepreneur.

From ISRO scientist to entrepreneur

According to Sundaram’s LinkedIn post, Uthaya Kumar comes from Kanyakumari, a beautiful coastal town in Tamil Nadu. After years of rigorous study, he landed his dream job at ISRO, where his expertise in statistics was crucial for the precise calculations required to launch satellites.

Eventually, Uthaya transitioned to academia, serving as an assistant professor at an engineering college. Despite the prestige of his positions, he felt a strong pull towards entrepreneurship. In 2017, with support from his friends, Uthaya took a bold step and launched S T Cabs, named in honour of his parents, Sukumaran and Thulasi.

Building a unique taxi service

S T Cabs is far from a typical taxi service. With a fleet of 37 cars, the business generates over ₹2 crore annually, but that’s just part of the story. Uthaya runs his company with a unique philosophy: treating drivers as partners. They receive 70% of the revenue, which has motivated them to bring in their own clients.

Uthaya’s leadership extends beyond financial gains. He provides housing for migrant drivers and allocates funds to support the education of children in his hometown.

The journey hasn’t been easy. Like every startup founder, Uthaya faced numerous challenges, especially during the pandemic. Undeterred, he donned a hazmat suit and personally handled long-distance fares to keep the business afloat.

Lessons in leadership

Uthaya Kumar’s transition from rocket scientist to taxi entrepreneur is more than a career change—it’s a masterclass in leadership and self-mastery. His story serves as a powerful example for anyone, especially highly paid professionals seeking fulfillment, on how to take control of their lives and careers.

Uthaya’s approach to business emphasizes shared success. He treats his drivers as partners, ensuring that everyone benefits. This collaborative spirit has not only motivated his team but also driven the growth of S T Cabs.

Insights from Sundaram

Entrepreneur Sundaram shared valuable insights on startup leadership learned from Uthaya Kumar:

Start with a niche, then diversify

Uthaya capitalized on a market opportunity with IT/ITES companies, securing regular pick-ups and drop-offs. This focus on a specific niche helped S T Cabs achieve cash-flow positivity early on. Now, Uthaya is exploring opportunities with platforms like Uber and even the film industry.

Treat your employees as partners 

Uthaya’s revenue-sharing model, where drivers receive 70% of the earnings, has fostered a sense of ownership. Some drivers have even invested in expanding the fleet, operating their new cars on a 30-70 revenue split.