What We Can Learn From Uber’s Downfall
BY: ARIELA KOZIN
What was once a start-up superstar is now imploding and at the center of Uber’s rise and fall is a man named Travis Kalanick. Travis achieved that sort of fame that most entrepreneurs could only dream up, but now he could very possibly be remembered as a cautionary tale instead of a legendary success.
Before he was a known name, Travis was just another kid from Los Angeles’ less-than glamorous San Fernando Valley. What separated him from his fellow middle class peers wasn’t just his way with numbers, but also his unwavering perseverance. By sixth grade, he learned to code and continued on that technical track until he was admitted to UCLA. But Travis just wasn’t fond of the conventional college life, so he dropped out and so his entrepreneurial career began. First came file-sharing company Scour that collapsed when it was sued for a quarter of a trillion dollars—yes, we said a trillion. Then came Red Swoosh, a company he was so passionate about that he opted to live on his Mom’s couch while working on it, but that failed too.
Still, all of his failures in his young career didn’t stop Travis from trying…and trying again. In 2008 at age 36, Garrett Camp presented him with the idea for a “timeshare for limousines” and the very initial concept for Uber was born—and so was the co-founder’s long line of ignoring the rules.
In 2009, UberCab introduced hailing a cab with just a smartphone in San Francisco before turning into Uber and the company quickly became the envy of Silicon Valley. How did the app so quickly conquer the App store charts? For one, they ignored threats from the taxi companies they were taking business from. Their global expansion to China is a great example of the lengths he and his team had to go to to become bigger and greater than before: In 2014, Uber came to China with $1.2 billion in funding and five out of 10 of Uber’s largest cities were in China, but that also included bulldozing rivaling ride-sharer Didi Chuxing and eventually losing $35 billion in a merger. In 2015—in just one year—Uber was sued 50 times in the US alone.
Travis and his team were now worldwide, seemingly unstoppable disruptors. Uber added UberPool, UberEats, and poached 40 employees from Carnegie Mellon University to create self-driving vehicles to make their loyal drivers obsolete. But before they could truly abandon their giant network of drivers with new self-driving technology, the California Labor Commission lashed out at Uber’s business model by ruling driver’s should be deemed employees, not contractors and demanded $100 million for employee benefits. And In 2016, Still app (and Travis) kept going and that same year, Uber was active in 58 different countries around the world.
Then 2016 became 2017 and the rideshare app has been punched with one controversy after another. It all began when the new US president enforced a travel ban, Travis tweeted that Uber drivers would still operate at airports even though competitor Lyft opted to stand with protesters. And that was just the beginning: Female employees alleged sexual harassment, they were accused of stealing technology from Google’s Waymo, drivers got increasingly angry about poor working conditions and even worse pay, Travis was filmed berating a driver, and more.
It is well-documented that Travis is an obsessive worker and that many more of the top businesses successes happily, completely engulf themselves in their work. Charles Bukowski explained it best when he said, “Find what you love and let it kill you.” There are millions of people who code and attempt to become entrepreneurs and the majority of those people fail. They fail because there is someone else who is working longer and harder. As Travis puts it, “being an entrepreneur is all about doing the impossible.” There are those who sacrifice family and vacation so that they can achieve and when they’re done achieving they want to achieve more. Unless we get lucky, we must be willing to work harder and faster…and a little dirty. However, Travis has proved there should be a limit to how dirty one should get.