Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fast Company profiles Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

What Makes Uber Run | Fast Company | Business + Innovation - Max Chafkin:

September 8, 2015 - "Jordan Kretchmer remembers what Travis Kalanick was like before Uber was Uber.... He was in his early thirties, an engineer who talked like a sales guy, smart as hell and high on life. He wore a cowboy hat and referred to himself as the Wolf, after the cold-blooded, coolly rational fixer played by Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. He was tireless — always on the move, always thirsty....

"Although Kalanick had been a startup guy since high school, he was a grinder, not a mogul. He had made enough on his last one, RedSwoosh, to buy a house and do a bit of angel investing. Uber, the on-demand transportation app that he cofounded with Garrett Camp in 2009, was still more or less a toy, a personal limo service for the founders and their friends in San Francisco. When Camp, who’d bought back his old company StumbleUpon at about the same time, asked Kalanick to run Uber full-time, Kalanick [initially] said no....

"In five years, Uber, which dispatches low-cost taxis and limousines operated by independent drivers, is likely the fastest-growing startup in history. It has more than 1 million active ­drivers — meaning they did at least one trip in the past week — operating in 330 cities (as of mid-August) and a valuation of $51 billion, which is roughly equivalent to the market capitalization of General Motors. It is a global phenomenon that is redesigning urbanites’ relationship with the world around them, transforming their smartphones into control pads for their harried lives. Uber — the first company since Google with a service so popular that its name is in regular use as both a noun and a verb — has spawned an entire category of business known as the one-tap economy: Millions of people now routinely open an app to enlist a distributed workforce to deliver groceries, hot meals, and their clean laundry on demand.

"But no other one-tap-economy company has changed society like Uber has. The availability of cheap and reliable transportation has helped spur a real estate surge in San Francisco and a nightlife boom in downtown Los Angeles while also (at least according to some studies) reducing drunk driving. Uber’s classification of its drivers as independent contractors has sparked a national conversation about the changing nature of employment and has made Uber a litmus test on jobs for the 2016 presidential candidates. Elsewhere, Uber has been seen as a stand-in for the excesses of global capitalism, prompting violent protests in Paris and Mexico City.

"All of this influence has come at the price of Kalanick’s reputation. The 39-year-old has been presented in an almost cartoonish light, coming off as either a Randian Superman, a Snidely Whiplash–style mustache-twirling villain, or both. And yet Kalanick has wooed some of the most august financiers in the world to give him, essentially, a blank check. Key staff members from some of the world’s best-run organizations, including Facebook’s head of security, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, and a good-size chunk of Carnegie Mellon’s driverless-car research division, have gone to work for him."

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