Mike Isaac’s new book, titled Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, is the gift that keeps on giving.
We have covered some of Isaac’s damning reporting on the company before, but we only briefly touched on Uber cofounder and former CEO Travis Kalanick’s meltdown.
Perhaps it’s best we revisit that, because people seem to have a fascination with meltdowns, and Travis’ was a pretty spectacular effort.
Think Nick Kyrgios on a tennis court, but jeopardising a multi-multi-billion dollar company.
Vanity Fair has used an excerpt from Isaacs’ book to outline the day things really fell apart for Kalanick, and we’ll try and spell it out as succinctly as possible.
Uber execs had known for a while that just mentioning Travis’ name caused Uber customers to “recoil”, and things came to a head in February 2017.
The company gathered in San Francisco, and roughly a dozen executives from all of the different divisions were presented with the data from a massive survey into how people viewed Uber.
It was damning for Travis, but he refused to believe it, pushing back and refuting the hard evidence. At the exact same time, a video emerged showing Travis arguing with Fawzi Kamel, an Uber driver whose car he had hopped into with friends.
The video is really not a good look:
In summary, the two became involved in an argument, and Travis behaved like a rich douchebag with zero understanding of the hardships faced by Uber drivers.
When Travis watched the videos, just hours after refuting the data that said he was the root cause of the company’s image problem, it unravelled:
Kalanick—the flesh and blood one in the hotel that Tuesday morning—already brought to his knees, began muttering to his lieutenants. “This is bad. This is really bad.” He fell further forward, writhing around on the floor. “What is wrong with me?” he yelped.
None of the executives knew what to do. Seeing Kalanick squirm like this made them deeply uncomfortable…
Kalanick lashed out, directing his anger toward Whetstone and Hazelbaker [Uber’s communications head and her second in command]. “You two aren’t strategic or creative enough to help us get out of this situation,” he said. The room was silent as Kalanick’s insult hung in the air. Whetstone and Hazelbaker had had enough. The two of them stood up, gathered their belongings, and walked out of the room.
Travis managed to convince Whetstone and Hazelbaker not to quit, and they then gathered at Hazelbaker’s house to eat takeaway.
Well, the meltdown wasn’t done:
Sitting on the sofas in Hazelbaker’s living room, Uber’s top executives shared pizza and beer and mulled their options. Meanwhile, Kalanick continued his theatrics, writhing around on Hazelbaker’s carpet. Kalanick kept repeating the same thing over and over: “I’m a terrible person. I’m a terrible person. I’m a terrible person.”
Whetstone tried to console him, half-heartedly. “You aren’t a terrible person. But you do do terrible things,” she said.
By the end of the day, Whetstone, Hazelbaker, and Kalanick had settled up a statement to hand out to reporters. By then, the press and the public were frothing at the video, which had gone viral. Here was conclusive proof that Kalanick didn’t care about drivers. That he partied like a douchebag. That Travis Kalanick was, in fact, an asshole.
Four months later, he would step down as CEO, and you can bet Isaacs’ new book is bringing with it a fresh round of headaches.
Note to self – less writhing on the floor in plain view of co-workers during future meltdowns.
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