The once-swaggering company is losing more money and growing more slowly than ever. What happened?
Mr. Kalanick required an almost hypnotic level of obedience1 from his staff in order to build the company he wanted. For that, he needed workers who were more than employees — he needed true believers.
Early on, the start-up was called UberCab — a high-end black-car service for “ballers.” But quickly, by 2011, Mr. Kalanick recognized a moonshot-sized opportunity for a global transportation company. As he saw things, realizing this vision would require playing a game that was already dirty. The standards for fair play in the transportation industry had been crossed years ago by what he viewed as a mass of corrupt politicians, all in the pocket of Big Taxi — a “cartel,” as he frequently called his giant, yellow-and-black adversary. They were bent on blocking any challengers to the multibillion-dollar market. That meant Mr. Kalanick had to recruit dedicated followers who were willing to do whatever it took to win.
This worldview created conditions for which Uber is still paying a price today. To run local branches around the world, Mr. Kalanick hired lieutenants who thought like him: ruthless and confident the money would never run out.
- 1. In combing through documents, interviewing opponents and talking to more than 200 current and former employees while researching my book, what came up again and again was this sense of a public-private divide — that Mr. Kalanick had built a start-up that thrived on venture investment, blitzkrieg expansion tactics and an ethically questionable aggressive streak, but that the playbook made little sense for a publicly traded entity.