Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Uber’s Travis Kalanick on Numbers, Competition and Ambition (Everything but Funding)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick won’t talk about funding — though sources tell us he’s raising a big new round — but we did get him on the phone to talk about how Uber is doing, three years after first launching in its hometown of San Francisco.

Though Kalanick’s pugnacious style may turn some people off, he has been incredibly effective. In San Francisco, the median Uber pickup time is three minutes. That’s basically an instantaneous ride to anywhere you want to go in the area.

ShavetheStache

Photo credit: Om Malik

Uber is now operating in 35 cities, including Taipei, Zurich, Seoul and Mexico City, where it soft-launched just this past week.

After starting as a way to hail town cars, Uber is now also running or testing services with other types of vehicles and price structures called uberTAXI, uberX, UberSUV, UberVAN, UberLUX and UberMOTO. New York just became Uber’s largest market, passing San Francisco, according to Kalanick.

As for how large Uber’s business is, Kalanick said revenue is growing 18 percent each month, and the company now has 320 employees.

On one potential future business for Uber, the question is whether it will make a serious play for a same-day delivery service. The company has openly fostered speculation by running promotions to deliver things like flowers and ice cream.

Asked about that, Kalanick said, “I can’t tell you exactly when, but we will start experimenting and our experiments will get longer and longer.”

Where Uber has long described itself as “everyone’s private driver,” Kalanick now often expresses a more expansive ambition. “We like to think of Uber as the cross between lifestyle and logistics, where lifestyle is what you want and logistics is how you get it there,” he said.

Especially in San Francisco, Uber has been engaged in a feisty competition with the well funded peer-to-peer ride-sharing company Lyft, commissioning mobile billboards calling on drivers to “shave the stache” and join Uber instead. (Lyft drivers put enormous fuzzy pink mustaches on their cars to signify their participation in the service.)

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Kalanick bragged that Uber’s competitive offering, UberX, which is cheaper than regular Uber and uses hybrid cars, has more volume than Lyft’s entire stated weekly total of 30,000 rides (as of last month) in six separate cities where UberX operates.

Uber’s other big fight is with regulators, and battles continue to flare up there. While New York City finally seems to have resolved its issues around allowing people to use their smartphones to “e-hail” rides, Kalanick noted there are currently ongoing problems in Denver, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Of course, Kalanick dismissed those situations. “The taxi industry wants to shut Uber down. It’s competition; it’s used to being protected. It’s like a French restaurant going to the mayor and saying no Italian restaurants are going to exist.”

And Uber almost always continues to operate when it gets cease-and-desist orders. “We believe that we’re 100 percent legal,” Kalanick said.

Kalanick downplayed dissatisfaction among some Uber drivers, saying that their public protests of a few months ago were about an isolated incident of “deactivating” 15 to 20 drivers with low ratings. He said the company is working to better communicate expectations to drivers.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald