Open Letter to Travis Kalanick
For starters, this is NOT a Travis-bashing letter or an Uber-bashing one either, which would be way too easy. Besides, I already did the latter in my Nothing Super About Uber piece over two-and-a-half years ago when I questioned Uber’s then over-hyped valuation. Given current events, I’m pretty sure the next funding round will be a crew cut accompanied by a close shave! To clarify, Travis, this is an honest attempt to reach deep into your soul, shake it up a bit and get rid of your arrogance. I call it open soul surgery, so grab yourself some whiskey or, better yet, some shliv. You may need it!
Though we have never met, I have been a fan of yours going on few years now and for one simple reason—I know YOUR core, or I should say your warrior mindset—better than anyone else! How, you ask? I used to be you! A warrior created in the mold of Alexander the Great (and the Macedonian), whom I rightfully claim as an ancestor. Though I didn’t go to the extent you did, for a short period I conquered the then known (broadband) world and became full of myself (see bio). In my case, recovery was slow but worth every painful moment.
For a moment, let’s get back to that Alexander thing. Considered one of the greatest hill takers to have ever waged a battle and whose tactics are still studied at West Point, the vast empire he conquered did not survive his death at the ripe young age of 32. As is the case with you, I am still amazed at what he accomplished in such a short time, a mere blink of an eye in history’s terms. However, there is also a great lesson in that bit of history for everyone, especially you. Why did his empire fall shortly after his death? I am not an historian, but my take is for empires to endure the test of time they must have a solid administrative force that supports the warriors. Taking a hill is easy compared to keeping it. The Mongols, Romans, Ottomans, and the Brits knew that, which is why their respective empires lasted several centuries. But not Alexander’s. And perhaps not yours! Your China excursion should have been a wake-up call on taking a hill before you understood how to keep it.
Which brings me back to you. Simply put, there is no Mr. Mom on your staff, never was one. Bill Gates got one in Steve Ballmer; Mark Zuckerberg got one in Sheryl Sandberg (Ms. Mom); Steve Jobs got one in Tim Cook; and I bet you Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have one or two as well. If you recollect, there was no Mr. Mom at Apple during Steve Jobs’s first tenure. John Sculley ain’t no Mr. Mom.
I am not going to hammer on that culture thing (or the lack thereof); speaking from personal experience, immature CEOs tend to hire in their own image. Nonetheless, I would like to see you get back in the saddle and finish what you started, but this will happen only if you listen to the following insightful advice from a fan who did not listen when such advice was offered by caring friends and colleagues. Here goes:
1. Truly sorry for the loss of your mother, especially in such a tragic way. Lost my father almost 30 years ago but still have daily conversations with him. Which is what I suggest you do as well. Once the grief has subsided, when you get up each and every morning, before you do anything else, take her picture, look deep into her eyes and let her speak to you. It will be hard at first, but as you have these daily ‘affirmations,’ you will start to smile and be comforted that she has not lost faith in you. Trust me when I say there is no better therapy on the planet, period. With her help, you will start living life with gratitude instead of attitude! You will become TK v2.0 I’ll give anyone that doubts me top Vegas odds!
2. Spend time with the aforementioned Ms. Sandberg, a Ms. Mom for the ages. Though I was not a big fan of her previously (too contrived), the loss of her husband has indeed had a deeply spiritual and very positive effect on her. She is now human again, and she will provide some great counseling and advice on how to deal with your grief—not to mention how to improve your organization from an operational standpoint.
3. Hang around with your Director Arianna Huffington; she is one very wise lady who has also evolved into a deeply spiritual person. None better than bridging the gap between old world wisdom and the new world realities than her. Or me :).
4. No army on the planet can continue to conquer on an empty stomach. Unfortunately, your army is driving hungry and it is pissed to the max that the promise of making decent wages has not materialized. What started as the best part-time job ever created is now turning into a mass revolt. No leader will ever survive a mutiny, just ask Vice-Admiral Bligh. Uber has way too many drivers. Though the customers get great service, I question if that is sustainable. I think not. Use the big data info you have and create algos that will only put N-number of drivers in a given area so there is some guarantee of them making money.
5. Find that Uber driver you berated on New Year’s Eve and APOLOGIZE!!! He was trying to help you, but you were full of yourself. And forget about ‘how you roll;’ this is no longer about you sonny boy.
6. Take as many UberX rides in a day as you can and try that Undercover Boss thing. The best warriors hang around their troops; eat with them, laugh with them, even sleep with them. No better way to find out what you don’t know. Unlike Airbnb, your ‘hosts’ are not making money. Find a way to change that and stop talking about autonomous vehicles—a science project for at least another decade.
This is pretty much it. In other words, work on yourself and NOT Uber. Note that my recommendations are that you spend more time with mature women who can help you get in touch with your feminine side. Do NOT be afraid that somehow that will diminish your ‘bro’ side; on the contrary, it will enhance it. If not, I will start a movement, #SaveTravisFromHisBroself, seriously. Uber needs you. That 14-person ‘leadership team’ is an oxymoron. You know that each one of them will be auditioning for your job. Your recovery will take time—be patient and be well. Best…bb