Issue of the week: What’s next for Uber?
Travis Kalanick’s “spectacular flameout is one for the ages,” said Adam Lashinsky in Fortune.com. The CEO and co-founder of Uber unexpectedly stepped down last week, after the ride-hailing giant’s biggest investors confronted him with a list of demands that included his immediate resignation. In just eight years, Kalanick built Uber into an industry-defining company worth nearly $70 billion, but his stubborn disregard for ordinary business practices ultimately became his undoing. Things first began to unravel in February, when a former Uber employee published a damning blog post describing a culture of rampant sexual harassment at the company. Since then, there has been a steady drumbeat of unsavory revelations, including that Uber designed software to dupe regulators; that it allegedly stole Google’s self-driving car technology; and that Kalanick himself could be a real jerk, as seen in a viral video of the CEO berating an Uber driver. Kalanick’s “wild ride” is now over, and it’s not clear where Uber goes from here.
The company has a unique opportunity to rebuild its culture, but “it may be years before Uber 2.0 is realized,” said Anna Wiener in NewYorker.com. Some encouraging changes are in the works: An independent board member has been installed; a formal channel for employee complaints is being created; and maxims in the official corporate values statement that seemed to justify bad behavior, like “Always Be Hustlin’,” are being replaced. But Kalanick will retain a seat on Uber’s board, and he continues to own a majority of the company’s voting shares, meaning he will be able to exert a huge amount of influence “on the company that was, arguably, built in his image.”
“Enemies of Uber: This is your chance,” said Shira Ovide in Bloomberg.com. The company “is distracted— to put it mildly.” It was already facing a huge leadership vacuum before Kalanick stepped down, amid a wave of departures by senior executives who either resigned or were forced out during Uber’s ongoing scandals. Right now, Uber needs a chief financial officer, a chief marketing officer, a general counsel, and a head of engineering. Meanwhile, whoever takes over as CEO will be keen to recast the company’s public image, whatever the cost. Now is the perfect time for anyone who has tangled with Uber to ramp up pressure. Politicians, regulators, and labor leaders might find that a kinder, gentler Uber is suddenly willing to listen to their demands.
There are already “barbarians at Uber’s gate,” said Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal. Lyft, its biggest competitor in the U.S., is now in the same number of markets, and has grown its market share of rides from 10 percent to 25 percent over the past two years “with far less investment.” Abroad, Uber has grabbed significant market share through aggressive spending, but it still has to fend off dozens of competitors that are finding that there aren’t “significant barriers to new entrants in ride sharing.” So instead of looking like a budding monopoly, Uber is now saddled with a damaged reputation and a business model that’s proven easier than expected to copy. It isn’t hard to imagine that investors will start to wonder whether Uber is truly worth its eye-popping valuation. Memo to Uber’s next CEO: “The problems may be bigger than you think.” ■