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Lessons From The Rise And Fall of Uber

“I’m not a businessman.  I’m a business, man.” – Jay-Z

Jim Rohn recommended reading biographies of two types of people: role models, and warnings.  From them, you can learn what to do, and what not to do.  Travis Kalanick of Uber is a great example of both. 

In Super Pumped, Mike Isaac delves into the tumultuous beginning of the most controversial startup of the past decade.  Uber has achieved an extreme level of success by being extremely aggressive.  They are the epitome of the Silicon Valley mantra ‘Move Fast and Break Things’.

In this article, I’ll share the ways in which Kalanick is both a role model and a warning.

Role Model

He’s an incredibly hard worker.  16 hour days were the norm.  

He’s extremely determined.  After starting his first company, Scour, he was betrayed by investors.  He turned around and started a successful company, Red Swoosh out of the ashes of defeat.  All before Uber was thought up.

After being ousted from his CEO role at Uber, he quickly built another startup in CloudKitchens.  Its purpose is to provide kitchen space to delivery-only restaurants. 


I started with the good, but as everyone knows, there are plenty of skeletons in Uber’s closet.  Some of them are literal.

Travis had a ‘frat boy’ attitude that permeated the company.  It led to sexual harassment lawsuits and mistreatment of drivers.  

Mismanagement of funds was commonplace.  When Uber achieved $10 Billion in revenue, they threw a party for their employees, which featured Beyonce and cost the company $25 million. 

Uber burned $50 million per week breaking into the Chinese market.  That effort predictably failed, after losing billions.

They treated their drivers and users horribly. Uber would track customers even after ending their ride, in a breach of privacy.  In their quest for data, they abused app permissions and could even view customers’ personal text messages. 

Uber tried to trick Apple after violating their policies. That almost got them kicked off the App Store.  That would have been a death knell for the company.

Okay, he’s not much of a role model.

Uber’s tale is the peak of Silicon Valley hubris and excess.  Most of the lessons from their rise and fall tell us what not to do.

After getting rid of Kalanick, they hired a professional CEO and took their company public.  Now at $93 Billion, Uber’s value is the highest it’s ever been.

The truth is, Uber needed a Kalanick to break through the legal roadblocks in their way.  After they became a global phenomenon, his attitude held them back.

Joel Smith

Author and writing coach at The Fit Writer.

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