Magazine article Management Today

Books: A Driving Force

Magazine article Management Today

Books: A Driving Force

Article excerpt

This is a lively account of Uber's journey and its CEO Travis Kalanick, who has steered the company to global fame. But events are already overtaking the book, says John McLaren

Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination

Adam Lashinsky Portfolio Penguin, pounds 14.99

The problem with writing a book about something as topical and newsworthy as Uber is that it can get out of date awfully fast - in this case, before publication. Not long after the text was put to bed, an ugly video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating one of his drivers went viral, and one of his top henchmen quit over the company's values, both of which moved the reputational needle sharply south. In the week I was reading the book, Uber was booted out of Denmark, the FT graphically highlighted the unenviable lot of their drivers in India, suggestions emerged that David Cameron exercised improper influence in smoothing the path for the company, and a US court case over accusations of theft of technology, which could throw a mighty spanner in Uber's strategy for autonomous cars, took an ominous turn.

Lashinsky, a Fortune magazine journalist, previously wrote a fly-on-the-wall book about Apple, which won more praise for the 'how?' of what Apple does than the 'why?'. When he suggested following up with a volume on Uber, he was initially met with threats to obstruct him and commission a competing authorised version. However, two years later, Kalanick relented and offered his guarded blessing.

The result is a lively, highly readable account of the story (nearly) so far. The story itself goes like this: although Kalanick later claimed to have been there at the birth of the idea, actually a Canadian called Garrett Camp, frustrated by difficulties in calling regular cabs, conceived of a service allowing young professionals to whistle up a black limo without the need to phone or pre-book. Kalanick consulted for this start-up and later joined, contributing the key insight that Uber was about technology, rather than being basically a limo company. When rival Lyft started to eat their lunch by offering an app-based ride-sharing service, Uber responded by allowing unlicensed drivers to use their own cars, thus creating the outfit we know, and either love or loathe, today. Kalanick, the veteran of two other start-ups (both file sharing - one legal, the other not) also brought two other vital skills - the ability to tell and sell a story, and a talent for fundraising Uber raised prodigious amounts and adopted the ultimate land-grab strategy, so that it now dominates in most major cities worldwide except in China, where after losing billions it folded its cards lucratively by selling out in return for a 17% stake in local behemoth, Didi. …

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