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Uber CEO Kalanick likely to take leave (reuters.com)
223 points by pdelbarba on June 12, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

I'm in no way a fan of Uber, and I have a hard stance on not taking it anymore due to the company's actions in the past, but I really wish his possible leave of absence wasn't spun as a result of the investigation done by Holder, at least not majorly. I would imagine him taking a leave of absence may be much more due to his parents boating accident where his mother died and his father was seriously injured, and while the investigation may play a role in his stress, from my understanding the board is in support of Travis and he has major voting rights in the company anyway, so he can't just be forced to leave.

Considering how he got burned by at RedSwoosh by VC's pulling out early and by investors at Scour, it's no surprise that he would have taken special care to ensure he retained control. I would be surprised if he could be easily outed.

Interesting. Didn't know this history. Got some links?

I still think Kalanick is a jerk, but that kind of history would explain at least some of it.

I would really recommend watching this talk[1] TK gave at Failcon back in 2011. It's a great insight into Travis's background and the mindset that he imbued into Uber in the early days.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QrX5jsiico

The Dollop (a history comedy podcast) recently did an episode on Uber and Kalanick.


Brad Stone covers it in great detail in "The Upstarts". Great read.

For someone who recently lost a mother and still have a badly injured father. This is totally understandable regardless whether he is a CEO of Uber. For a regular employee, he could request for a sabbatical. But as a CEO, that's difficult given there is no CFO, CMO, COO existed.

What do you mean by 'sabbatical'? What is this, and how do regular, salaried employees get this?

Most companies in SV tend to have, in addition to paid maternal/paternal leave, the option to take unpaid leave. I have many friends and colleagues who have taken advantage of this for a variety of reasons. It's really not that uncommon.

It's implicit that as long as your company is hiring your position you can take unpaid leave; the outlier is paid sabbatical.

Oh, and you're at least on par with expected performance.

I've seen "regular, salaried employees" take sabbaticals for personal reasons more than once. Beyond that, comparing a CEO to a typical employee is ridiculous. You may not like it, but yes, they're viewed as more important by the board and a CEO is more important 99.9% of the time. Devs don't make life or death business decisions and set the cultural tone for the entire company.

Depends on the company.

One colleague was able to use sick time at half pay to care for a terminally ill relative. Some companies allow leave without pay.

The FMLA should allow any qualifying employee (has worked there for a year, 50 or more employees at the company) to take job-protected 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a terminally ill nuclear-family relative.

The difference that I failed to mention was that they covered the employer covered portion of health insurance for the leave period.

And don't people without "nuclear" family wind up subsidizing this scheme? Not everyone has family, or if they do their family may not be capable or interested in caring for them or vice-versa.

FMLA leave is unpaid leave; anything beyond that is an employer's choice, and/or on the employee to be paying their short-term disability premiums, and claim it. It also covers taking leave to deal with the employee's own illness.

How are you "subsidizing" that?

EDIT: phrasing.

Someone generally has to put in the extra work caused by an absence.

I am reminded of nothing so much as Christopher Hitchens' quip about Libertarianism: "I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough."

If someone is taking FMLA, the overwhelming likelihood is that they or someone they love is dying (or the opposite: they have a brand-new kid). You're worried about working a little bit harder.

Some perspective might be warranted.

If the idea was you could take care of anyone you loved, then I'd agree.

Why does it have to be nuclear family members?

Not everyone has nuclear family members, or defines their family as the father/mother/brother/sister they grew up with.

In my mind, I see this as highly similar to hospitals of the past(and current) not letting members of same-sex couples visit their dying partner, because they aren't direct family or legally married.

As someone who has been asked to chip in many times to make up for the new kid situation (which at least for men it's a choice to take time off), I do feel "worried" about having to work harder. It's not like you get paid overtime these days. Now I (and others on the team) have had to work overtime for someone who was in the hospital for months through no fault of their own. I felt no grudge about having to put in extra work for free there.

Work your forty hours and let the company deal with hiring a temp/contractor if they need to.

its incredibly depressing that this is even being argued, or is American society so myopic as to lack societal compassion nowadays?

The subset of Hacker News community I have interacted with is definitely more insular and wannabe-contrarian than the subset of American society I'm familiar with (as an outsider).

Us Americans are all straw bosses. Lots of these company men types talk a big game until they need accomodation.

It's not unusual for BigCos to have a leave of absence policy for regular employees.

Generally CEOs and low level employees have different perks. You'll also find many companies have different policies.

The best course of action is to ask your employer!

It must be nice to have the money and power to be able to do this. When my mother passed, I missed the first couple weeks of classes and then returned to college (and had a ton of work to catch up on). When my father passed, I took a couple weeks off and then went back to work. I imagine a lot of people wouldn't even have that flexibility.

Assuming this is actually true, this tweet [0] captures the unusual state of Uber right now "Uber no longer has a COO, CBO, CFO, CMO or SVP of Eng and may temporarily not have a CEO. From autonomous cars...to autonomous company." And there have also been reports about the CTO being asked to leave [1].

[0] https://twitter.com/hemal/status/874300172330647552

[1] https://www.recode.net/2017/5/16/15616024/uber-sexual-harass...

HN has been extremely dismissive of Holder's investigation and there was (and is) good reason to be skeptical but you also can't deny what looks like real consequences and hopefully change.

CTO is departing. Wants to escape before the Otto meltdown burns him.....

Or his direct mismanagement of Fowler's sexual harassment allegations.

Good for Uber, because their leadership was overrated, Uber could be better offer with new leadership

Here's why:

1.) Uber defeated much of their competition by burning cash in monetizing schemes that are shady and unsustainable.





2.)Their other competitive advantage is branding, but that is not a moat-like advantage, if Uber was to disappear tomorrow, there are competitors who will quickly takeover & grow, this happened when Uber left Austin.

3.) They were complacent with sexual harassment & discrimination in the company. A business/startup should never allow harassment to be a thing, this is failure at leadership 101.

Their branding and existing install base is a huge advantage.

Uber and Lyft returned to Austin last week after the Texas state legislature passed a law that overturns Austin's regulations. The local competitors have lost huge numbers of customers. Fare is shutting down, Fasten had to lower their rates, and Ride Austin saw their trip volume decrease by 55% in the first week [0]. I'd say it's pretty unlikely they will survive to the end of this year.

[0]: https://austinstartups.com/what-we-learned-from-the-first-we...

It is an advantage but it is not huge, it is not moat-like. They have more money to spend marketing and subsidizing rides. Again you said:

"Fasten had to lower their rates"

It is a price war, it is not truly about innovation in the space. Their software & services are not so innovative/defensive that it is hard to switch.

The argument for Uber's leadership is that they are special because they are building something that other Entrepreneurs/Leaders could not, that is not accurate if it is so easy to switch to a competitor. Not much hassle, loss of service when switching, same drivers / same cars.

> It is a price war, it is not truly about innovation in the space.

Longer term it certainly is about innovation. The next leap for Uber and its competitors, is going to be removing most the drivers from the business. That's an extremely difficult and expensive path, Uber is among the few that can afford to pursue it early. Their moat may end up being the vast data they have to leverage to compete in autonomous. The winning Uber-type company in the future is going to be the one that best utilizes the most driving/use/traffic data. The company that does that, will have dramatically greater margins (and potentially greater customer satisfaction) than any upstart competitor can manage; that'll mostly be the end of new competition in the Uber space. After the segment settles down, there will still be a rare gimmick-based company (like Cuil), they'll all fail or be acquired however. All tech spaces that produce a giant company, end with very little competition, this will be no different. There are not going to be 47 Uber clones succeeding in the US market, three or four would be pushing it.

Why remove drivers?


The interesting question is how much of that is due to hard advantages:discounts, lower costs, and better technology, having access to drivers vs branding ? because if the model changes(self-driving, or shuttles) and big competitors attack, the hard advantages will look quite different.

It simply underscores the fact that ridesharing is a commodity. If the price or experience is in any way different users will happily jump ship. I don't fear monopolization of the technology too much as it's relatively easy to bootstrap one of these companies in a short amount of time (options, while most would say are and were inferior, popped up in Austin within a month after Uber and Lyft's departure). As these apps grow, I think there will be an eventual ceiling on the experience part of it (there's only so much you can improve on the app experience of getting from point a to point b before you start to face diminishing returns). Eventually like gasoline the price of the service will be the main deciding factor in the future.

This train of thought does not take into account the game-changing possibility of self-driving cars.

> If the price or experience is in any way different users will happily jump ship

And that's one of the many reasons why users will not jump ship. It'll cost billions of dollars in red ink to compete with Lyft and replicate the price & experience. It costs more to successfully compete with Uber. Which is why there aren't / haven't been tons of successful competitors to Uber in the US market.

No, you can't bootstrap a competitor to Lyft's $2 billion VC blackhole. No, it's not easy to do. No, users won't just bail on Uber to try your start-up. No, ridesharing isn't a commodity, precisely because the experiences are not all the same and never will be.

It'd be like claiming that retailing is a commodity (it's not), so therefore you can bootstrap a competitor to Walmart or Amazon. Except, you know, for the hyper scale that enables them to operate at slimmer margins than you can (your ability to compete with them at what they do declines at an accelerating rate as they increase scale), and the vast data they have on every angle of customer behavior (which you entirely lack, which negatively impacts your business in a thousand ways vs Walmart or Amazon). One of the things that protects a Walmart from being susceptible to commodity-style competition, is among other things their incredible data and national consistency (which small time operators and start-ups can never replicate; if I go to a Walmart in Texas it'll be similar to one in Virginia, I can be relatively confident in the results of my shopping trip there).

>a moat-like advantage, if Uber was to disappear tomorrow, there are competitors who will quickly takeover & grow, this happened when Uber left Austin.

What company, were it to disappear tomorrow wouldn't have competitors to take over its place? And how, from a Bayesian point of view, does P(competitors take over | company is dead) affect the chances of survival of a company?

I think the argument is that Uber has almost zero switching cost. If I wanted to replace Facebook with Google+ or switch from Xbox to PlayStation I'd have to convince my friends to do so. To switch to Lyft I just had to install the app. Most of the drivers are the same since they just keep both apps running.

That's in a fantasy premise that will never actually exist.

Back in reality, here's the switching cost: the start-up trying to take Uber's market share, has dramatically inferior data on ride timing/volume; said company has dramatically inferior ride availability in a given city (and at a national, city to city consistency level it's a joke comparison). Further down the line, the upstart is going to lag even further behind due to Uber's data wall, as we shift into autonomous.

Fantasy: it's friction free, anyone can start an Uber clone, there's no switching cost

Reality: it's extraordinarily difficult to compete with Uber, which is why so few have or can. There's a huge switching cost: Uber has all sorts of advantages over a start-up, that help Uber provide a superior service - locally, nationally, globally - over what a new company can manage. Oh yeah, and the biggest one: it's very hard to build what Uber built, it's ten times harder to do it while there's already an Uber, because you have to fight with them and their hyper scale while you're doing it (Uber didn't have to kill an Uber, now you do, good luck).

Wait there's more: and that's before we get to the fact that people are huge creatures of habit. Duck Duck Go produces excellent results, it'll never dent Google's search monopoly in a meaningful way; people do not want to switch unless they either have to, or the context goes beyond an extreme inconvenience. Both drivers and customers will tolerate a lot to not have to go through the immense (to them) hassle of switching. People grow to like their routines a lot, the things they use day to day, week to week; in fact, it's far beyond that, people are hyper resistant to change once they become settled in.

There may come a day when Uber is winning because of their data, but that day is years away. Until then, back in reality, Uber is winning by spending investor money to pay customers to use their service.

I tried DuckDuckGo and did not find the results to be excellent, so I switched back to Google. But I literally can't tell the difference between a Lyft, an Uber or a Fasten cab, it's just a sticker on the window as far as the customer is concerned. Price is the only significant discriminator.

> Price is the only significant discriminator.

No, availability / scale, is also a massive discriminator. That's at least as important as price in the equation of succeeding as an Uber competitor. Lyft has some scale, however that requirement keeps out other new competition in a extremely big way. It'll have cost Lyft billions of dollars just to try to stay in the game with Uber and to get to meaningful scale; no VC is throwing another $2+ billion at the Nth Uber clone (particularly when you still have to compete with an existing Lyft).

Few customers will keep track of a dozen Uber-clone services, and remember which ones have good city-by-city availability / representation. I live in SF, I'm going to Dallas, I want to have one Uber-like service that I can use in both locations without having to think about it, it just works in most or all major cities. That one issue will keep out most competition (as though the billion dollar cost of trying to dig into the market, trying to take share away from Uber & Lyft, isn't enough).

So few have or can?

Lyft, which is still experiencing 100% growth year-over-year?

Didi, which dominates the Chinese market?

Ola, which matches Uber in India?

Grab, which dominates in Malaysia and is experiencing large growth in Southeast Asia?

Didi, Lyft, and Uber are all nearing the point where they can't dump subsidies on the market; they have to raise rates or they won't raise more money. They have to become profitable soon. When they become public companies, they won't be able to lower rates at the expense of profits without raising the ire of shareholders.

By the way, the entire European market is open to the ride sharing company who can be palatable to EU governments. Uber is failing at this; the opportunity is very much there.

Lyft is going bankrupt in my opinion. They'll be acquired by one of the far larger companies interested in the space. They have a maximum of 12 to 18 months before an acquisition is forced upon them, as it nearly was a year ago, when they failed to find a buyer at the valuation they were seeking. There's no scenario where Lyft remains a viable stand-alone competitor; they're already not a viable competitor, their last funding merely bought them one more year of flailing about, burning vast red ink, looking for a buyer.

It's obviously a different context globally, due to regulations, nationalism, et al. Didi for example will never own the US market, they're likely to end up like other Chinese tech giants, struggling to dominate internationally as they do domestically.

Ola is the next Flipkart.

But how is that any different than Uber? IMO people are going to be in for a real wake-up call when these companies finally kill traditional taxi company and there is a massive rate hike. Right now everyone loves Uber because they are cheaper than the equivalent Taxi ride but that is only because they are operating a massive loss and do some shady things with the way they hire and pay drivers.

> But how is that any different than Uber?

Because they have a lot more money and will remain standing as an independent entity. Prices will either rise, or Uber will remove costs via autonomous driving (they're hoping to get there before they have to hike prices, because if they get there in time, it becomes a very difficult to overcome moat and they win).

Amazon nearly went bankrupt on their hyper thin margins early on. Had the dotcom bubble popped just a bit sooner, they'd have gone under. They were bleeding red ink trying to get to scale before the easy money ran out. Uber is trying to do a similar thing, fortunately for them the asset bubble party has continued on long enough for them to raise a vast warchest of cash.

Prices likely won't go up when taxis are gone. Uber doesn't consider taxis to be a competitor. Uber is trying to compete with car ownership. Liquidity begets liquidity. This is why marketplaces like stock exchanges and Amazon are natural monopolies.

So if prices don't go up, and prices are only held artificially low by burning VC money, what happens to the company? I'm not seeing an end-game that isn't "VCs pull out" or "prices go up".

The best thing is, if any of these ride sharing services raise prices too high, taxis will return. In comparison, they are cheap to start and operate.

Google's research arms (in terms of actually shipping), the oil supermajors (scale is the only thing that matters, and that takes time), and probably IBM (because they don't seem to actually do anything)

Intel? Obviously excluding a neat, staff-and-fabs sale, I would expect their collapse to drop a lot of chip lines back a year or two.

Wouldn't AMD and the collection of ARM fabricators take Intel's place?

It was run on hubris more than greed, and greed more than ethics. Actually it was probably run more on coffee, than ethics. And it was all wrapped up in a genuine innovation, backend and app for transportation.

I wonder if the Holder report ever sees the light of day, seeing as it's a privately held company still. If it goes public... maybe.


> failure at leadership 101

"A fish rots from the head down"

you forgot President

If it's even possible, healing a sick culture pretty much requires replacing most of the leadership, starting with the CEO.

A 90-day leave of absence is not sufficient.

I agree but, can the board fire him? Is he a majority shareholder still?

I don't think he's a majority shareholder by percent, but he certainly owns the majority of votes.

According to the article he holds super voting shares.

I struggle to think of a reason why they (or anyone else for that matter) even need a CBO or CMO.

I'd speculate that most businesses would benefit from a good CMO. From [at times painful] experience: CMO should be a surrogate-founder level position for a quant marketer who is aware that they are not a qual marketer. Ultimately the challenge of optimising the deployment of a marketing budget in excess of $5m USD is difficult for a CEO who is operationally involved in any other area of the business, but pre-profit is an incredibly metric driven task. A good quant marketer will be able to handle numbers in a way that a brand marketer will not, but will be open to listening to arguments for qualitative marketing.

The trouble is that marketing as a discipline is full of quals pretending to be quants, and most of them are bad. Whenever I have dinner with friends who run venture-backed startups I ask how happy they are with their CMO, and there's a general acceptance that CMOs have a two year lifespan.

(I should add that I'm certain it's incredibly unforgiving being CMO in a startup where product/market and the unit economics are probably not proved. Simple things like calculating churn or LTV are made impossible. Tough gig.)

If my mom had just died in an accident and there was a friend in place who I trusted to take over and mind the store while I went and rebooted my soul for a few months, I'd probably take leave too. Seems like it's likely a net positive for Uber in the long run.

> a friend in place who I trusted to take over and mind the store

Who is that in this case? His "closest deputy" and SVP is out now too.

My bet would be that Garrett Camp takes over as interim CEO with the plan to step aside once Travis returns.

Exactly. No love or hate for Kalanick, but this is a couldn't-come-at-a-worse-time coup from his perspective.

> couldn't-come-at-a-worse-time

It's been a couldn't-come-at-a-worse-time few months. I think everyone would agree that had the accident happened any time between February and now, it would have been a couldn't-come-at-a-worse-time scenario.

I'm no fan of Uber(Interesting how many of comments either start off with this sentiment or include it at some point of time), but as a human being, I can't help but feel sympathy for Kalanick for his situation.

Looking at some comments that treat this as a comeuppance of a sort is disturbing[1]. We really shouldn't use anthropomorphization of a company to justify inhumanity in us.

[1] and I'm seeing those comments being flagged. Very good.

That's right. The difference between picking up any stick and stone to hurl at the object of one's anger, versus pausing to consider what's right, is a test of intellectual honesty. This comes from a level that has nothing to do with Uber or whatever the surface topic is. We all have both levels inside us, so it's good to remind each other which should be operational in this community.

It is also a good test for the kind of commenting we want on HN—we want reflective comments, not reflexive ones—so yes, such comments should be flagged.

I feel bad for Travis' loss on a personal level. But clearly he didnt feel bad enough when someone got raped. https://www.buzzfeed.com/pranavdixit/the-victim-in-ubers-ind...

In general, I'm glad Uber is getting their comeuppance, with all the shady things they've done, they are overdue.

On a personal note, having worked for a period with Travis at RedSwoosh, I think he's getting the raw end of this deal. He's a really great entrepreneur and a nice enough guy. He pushes hard but and plays to win; as the CEO, he's getting an inordinate amount of fallout from these issues. I would say he's not the root cause of the issues but he is the root cause of Uber's success. Uber will not be the same without him.

Good guys(TM) have done a lot of damage. I've been through this; I had a friend whom I still like a great deal as a person, but who did a ton of damage in a different type of situation. It is hard to sort out.

But the fact remains, total assholes are capable of being ethical and moral, and the nicest person in the world can be a horrorshow.

Coming off as nice doesn't tell us anything about character, even though we are wired to feel otherwise.

He is the CEO, who has been caught red-handed being various flavors of deceptive, assholish, unconcerned with the externalities caused by his actions, not to mention several deeply unethical acts across years of time. That's before we get to the actions of his minions.

I have trouble understanding how you can credit him with success (which naturally means he "earned" his billions) while claiming he should be shielded from the fallout of his own and his reports' actions.

He may be getting an inordinate amount of fallout from these issues, but hes also getting an inordinate amount of the benefit in terms of pay and equity. You can't get the benefits and complain about the responsibilities

"I would say he's not the root cause of the issues but he is the root cause of Uber's success."

I can't agree with that statement. He's responsible for both. He doesn't get to take credit for the good and ignore the bad.

Are you saying it's impossible? Or just not fair?

I am going to say it's impossible. He is responsible for the company. That means both the good and the bad.

And his past actions have shown that's not far off; that he does behave in a manner consistent with Uber's bad actions.

Good or bad, you reap what you sow.

You do reap what you sow? Or you ought to reap what you sow?

Its very easy to talk about "problems" in the abstract. This happened under his watch - https://www.buzzfeed.com/pranavdixit/the-victim-in-ubers-ind...

Anyone with an iota of a moral compass would be able to understand whats wrong here. Travis wasnt able to.

I wouldn't be in SF running my company if Travis didn't decide to host this poor broke immigrant (me) at his house in 2009 (the JamPad) without asking anything in return. And like me, many others.

He is a nice guy, he helps people, and he has strong passion in hating the failure. Is Uber too aggressive? Maybe yes - but you need to be aggressive to fight regulations, governments, taxi cartels and the like all over the world.

In defense of Travis ... so interesting. would love to hear more. @Julie188

>I would say he's not the root cause of the issues

Who wrote the employee sex manual?

#ceolife #fml

In all this brouhaha, will Uber ever bother either to confirm or disprove Susan Fowler's original anecdotes?

Validating her word and her integrity would go a long way toward showing Uber is serious about reform. Otherwise, it seems like they are simply taking another very roundabout path to silencing a woman.

I wouldn't hold your breath. These problems don't start or end with Fowler (though her story is one of the best examples of them), and per her remarks just today, she has no reason to expect them to genuinely change or to apologize.[1]

[1] https://twitter.com/susanthesquark/status/874684029949235200

I'm curious to see what'll happen to Uber's governance structure when they finally burn through their cash hoard. At their current burn rate, they'll have completely exhausted their cash hoard within 10 quarters [1].

Due to TK and his buddy's supervoting shares, he may be able to withstand his oust, but only while there's still money in the bank.

I can't see them being able to raise money on founder-friendly terms again after all this turmoil. Indeed this may be the only way to remove TK's grip on the company, or even altogether.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/31/ubers-head-of-finance-is-o...

> I can't see them being able to raise money on founder-friendly terms again after all this turmoil. Indeed this may be the only way to remove TK's grip on the company, or even altogether.

Uber has something working for them though: sunk cost. Even if normally they would not be able to raise money on founder friendly terms - or maybe not even at all - in this case they just might because the investors would not want to write off their huge investment to date. If the alternative is to let the ship go down they will fund it some more.

If Uber fails to be profitable and autonomous doesnt take off for them they can easily license their software to other companies of all sorts and make a nice chunk of change. Just providing it to cab services alone will make them a lot of money. It'd be considered a unicorn pivot....

Regardless of what specific reasons he has or hasn't for accepting this move, this is fascinating from an organisational perspective.

With a significant part of senior leadership replaced, what will happen to Uber's work place culture? As in, can culture in such a large organisation be changed top down? Are there any examples where an organisation has changed on a short time scale?

I am thinking of the Ballmer/Nadella transition but in my (outsider) perception it took years for Microsoft to be viewed differently as a company. There is also an aspect of bringing in an outsider versus letting an insider take over.

Culture always changes when the CEO is replaced. The culture of Google changed noticeably when Eric Schmidt stepped aside for Larry Page, and I've heard it's changed again now that Sundar is CEO (ironically, it seems closer to the Schmidt era now, but without the perks & engineering freedom). The culture of YCombinator changed when Paul Graham stepped aside for Sam Altman.

It does take a couple years to take hold though. I remember that when Larry took over Google in 2011, it was largely business as usual at first, but there was a noticeable shift by the time I left in 2014.

I don't think it took that long at all. I left Google in late 2011 and things already felt noticeably different. Not so much affecting my day to day work, but in what and how people talked about, and general culture/morale.

When Larry took over, my thoughts were initially "eh, this isn't going to make any difference to me," and by the end of the year were more "huh, I guess I didn't realize all the ways a CEO affects a company."

Can you go into detail about how the culture changed? I'm curious.

From Eric -> Larry:

- "More wood behind fewer arrows". This was actually a Steve Jobs principle that Larry adopted: kill off all your insignificant products to focus on just a few key areas.

- More willingness to take on moonshots; less tolerance for projects that might be good for a small segment of the userbase, but don't appreciably move the needle.

- Seemingly less collegial atmosphere. Eric tolerated a lot of "You'll do your thing, I'll do mine, and it's okay if Google has half a dozen products that all do slight variations of each other." Larry insisted on more product discipline, but that often meant more of a scarcity mentality among execs, which led to more turf wars and infighting.

- More top-down culture. Eric had few opinions on what Google should be doing, he just wanted to make sure we were doing it well. Larry had very definite opinions on what Google should be doing, and if you didn't share them, go start your own company.

- More chaotic management style. I got the sense that Larry didn't actually know what was going on with the company, on an individual-contributor level, and so when he made decisions, they often made no sense to the rest of the company. Eric didn't know what was going on with the company either, but he was okay with that, as long as the money kept coming in and we didn't do anything illegal, so he made fewer decisions that weren't a direct reaction to an issue that was brought to him.

From Larry -> Sundar. Keep in mind that I left before Sundar became CEO, so this is all second-hand:

- Hierarchy and top-down culture has persisted.

- Collegiality seems to have returned. Just my perception, but Google seems a nicer place to work now than when G+ was seemingly taking over the company in 2012.

- Sundar is generally more informed and, well, sane, as perceived by the employees.

- Sundar is a caretaker: the core areas of Google are explicitly designed not to require massive company-changing innovation, instead relying on incremental improvement to existing products that can be driven by middle-management, and all the innovation is shunted off to the rest of Alphabet where Larry & Sergey have a more direct role in shepherding it.

I think all 3 CEOs were strong in their own way, but the CEO transition made me appreciate how oftentimes a leader's biggest strengths are often also their biggest weaknesses. Larry is insane, for instance; IMHO he's insane in a good way, because we outright wouldn't have Google otherwise, but that same oddness of perception made him a maddening CEO to work under. Similarly, Eric was a great peacemaker and good at quickly making decisions that pleased as many people as possible, but that same ability to compromise made him a poor innovator and unlikely to have the moral courage to bet the company on crazy ideas.

It also convinced me that Paul Graham's thesis, that big companies are constitutionally incapable of innovating, was correct. The reason is precisely that duality above; in order to innovate, you need someone whose personality is insane, but who then has to directly butt up against reality, and experience that resistance first-hand. It doesn't work for someone insane to direct lots of not-insane employees who get paid to build the product, because the type of creative insights that come from facing contradiction directly can't survive outside of a single mind. The innovator has to do the work directly.

The old expression "all our wood behind one arrow" was actually "one of President and CEO Scott McNealy's favorite quotes", which Sun used as a marketing campaign slogan and in presskits around 1990.


Sun even produced a TV commercial in which an arrow that presumably had all of Sun's wood behind it whooshed through the air and hit the bull's eye of a target. (Nobody at Sun ever knew what the target was, but by golly they all knew which arrow to put their wood behind.)

Photo of Scott McNealy in his office at Sun with a huge Cupid's Span style wooden arrow through his window, and a small Steve Martin style wooden arrow through his head:


Sun's Workstations Still Shine, But Rivals Cloud The Outlook

Daily Gazette - Nov 10, 1991

Associated Press (Google News Archive)

Sun touts an "all the wood behind one arrow" slogan, meant to describe a company focused on one goal - workstations. As an April Fool's joke in 1990, Sun employees built a 60-foot-long arrow in McNealy's office with the point going out the window.

Thank you!

Isn't the change in perks due to Ruth's arrival as CFO?

Yeah, but Ruth wouldn't arrive as CFO unless the CEO determined that that was what the company needed. The perks & engineering freedom aspect of the transition was underway during Larry's tenure as CEO; Sundar just institutionalized it.

Its sad how very few if any news orgs will mention his recent loss of his mother and serious injuries to his father in a boat accident as a potential cause for taking a leave of absence.

I became aware of that tragedy since NYT sent me a news alert about it on a Sunday morning. I recall follow-up NYT articles where this was mentioned as a potential cause as well. However, most other news sources that I have read have not mentioned this aspect.

Strongly agree. The (mostly liberal) media coverage of Uber is disgusting and pathetic.

Note the article: Kalanick has "super voting powers." The board didn't put him on an involuntary vacation. He put himself on a vacation to avoid the fallout from the leaked email[1]

1. https://www.recode.net/2017/6/8/15765514/2013-miami-letter-u...

That e-mail seems reasonable to me. I'm going to guess it has more to do with a death in the family than telling people not to vomit and to not get sexually involved with someone in their chain of command.

Terrible company. but the money people will have too much invested to just let it die.

So this will probably happen:

Clear the decks

Put someone boring in charge

Lie low for a while + submarine mode


Announce some new interesting thing

Charm offensive

Carry on.

I say the taint is still there, drive the stake in and add holy water.

Chief Executive Travis Kalanick is likely to take a leave of absence from the troubled ride-hailing company, but no final decision has yet been made, according to a source familiar with the outcome of a Sunday board meeting.

Where "is likely to take a leave of absence", in this context, is shorthand for "has grudgingly agreed to resign as soon as we can find a replacement -- which, believe us, we intend to do as soon as humanly possible. But we'll in the interim call it 'taking leave' to soften the overall business impact -- and of course to at least attempt to staunch the exodus of the best and brightest of our employees, no doubt already in progress."

And to let whoever hands him the inevitable plush consolation gig as a advisor/VC/"entrepreneur-in-residence"/whatever do so with the minimum possible amount of embarrassment.

Reading this thread, and the hundred other threads on HN about Uber over the years, I can hardly believe how many people don't understand basic business concepts that are preventing other companies from easily taking Uber's crown.

If it can be done as easily as so many in this thread are claiming, then why aren't you a billionaire? (oh I know, you just don't want to be)

It's a repetition of the same things I read on HN when it became obvious that Facebook was going to be a social monopoly. Fantasy: it's easy to clone Facebook, it's really not even that complex, someone should build an open competitor that the public will reject in every way and never want to use. The same was frequently said about Twitter as well, countless clones were attempted, zero succeeded. And it's dramatically harder to successfully replicate & compete with Uber than Twitter.

There are in fact numerous switching costs and extreme barriers to entry, that prevent competitors from just rising up and taking Uber's position as king. Otherwise there would be a dozen Ubers in the US, all vying to be multi-billion dollar companies, making their founders billionaires, and yielding huge returns for VCs.

Imo there has not been enough time for a thorough report (since Feb). Investigations of an entire company take a long time, especially if sexual harassment is investigated. I wonder how deep into the organization the investigators solicited input? Did Joanne and Joe Schmo get interviewed?

How about any customers or contracted employees?

But- uber hired the advice, a point I need to remember

giving a bunch of people departing - involuntarily or supposedly not - right now, what happens with their options, ie. do they get a [sweet] deal on it (one can see how loosing potential multiple [tens/hundreds] millions may possibly put them into litigious and/or talking mode otherwise)? If i remember Uber didn't allow for secondary market transactions, and given the valuation i don't think anybody would be able to afford (or believe in Uber's current valuation strong enough) to pay that size of AMT on their own. On the other side, giving deal to the ones who is supposedly being punished for bad behavior - that wouldn't send a good signal either.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

How to lose $70 billion.

This is why you don't wait to go public.

He might be a good guy, but he's running a company like a sociopath and breeding a toxic environment. A company's culture and reputation are a reflection of the person or people at the top.

He either needs to legitimately fix the problems or stand aside and let a better leader do it.

Edit: For the record, I'd much prefer to see him do the former than the latter.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14539362 and marked it off-topic.

Fair enough. Keep keepin' this place awesome dang.

Do you say he's running Uber like a sociopath from personal experience, or are you working from the same thirdhand sources that all the rest of us are? If the latter, maybe there's a better, less strident way to make this point, if it needs to be made.

Why does it take "personal experience" to make this call? The facts speak for themselves.

No. You might say the facts speak clearly that Uber was mismanaged or even toxic --- I would lean towards agreeing with you, though my epistemic certitude is no doubt lower than yours.

LOTS of people disagree with us. So it's a stretch to say the assertion is self-evident.

But unless you know something we don't, you are nowhere close to calling Kalanick "sociopathic". Hence the question.

We should all try to be more careful about how we talk about people.

I mean from what we see generally of the company.

Uber has a killer product that solves many problems, yet they seem bent on doing things in ways I find unethical. The programs to hide from government officials; sending recruiters on Lyft trips to try to steal them; wasting Lyft drivers' time/money by sending false requests (accused on both sides, but nonetheless); pretty damning evidence of corporate espionage in regards to the Waymo lawsuit (still to be decided but it's not going well for them); yelling at the Uber driver in that youtube video.

To be clear, the general meaning I'm using of sociopathy is the one of impaired empathy for others and lack of remorse, overinflated ego, etc.

If this is what the man at the top is deciding is the right way to do business, that sets the tone for the company.

Is he really a "good guy" if he runs a company like a sociopath and enables a toxic working environment?

It's been an incredible journey!

Would you please not post unsubstantive comments here?

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14539532 and marked it off-topic.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14539226 and marked it off-topic.

How is it off topic to question these sorts of "well obviously it's so" sort of comments?

It isn't in principle, but context is a huge deal. If we define the flame quotient of a post like this:

  flammability of topic
  substantiveness of post
then it was much too high in this case.

Based on the fact he's a fucking human being.

In the process of hating someone (and there is a lot to dislike about Kalanick) people commonly and unfortunately loose sight of that fact. You can hate how someone runs their business (which I do, somewhat) and still have compassion for a loss like what he went through, which I had not heard of until today and which sounds quite heartbreaking.

I think because a lot of people don't know Travis personally (including myself) it's easier to not empathize with what's happened, especially if you've never felt the same loss, because he's essentially reduced to this ephemeral figure rather than an alive person. I don't know if I could be friends with Travis based on the news I've read, and I wouldn't choose to work for his company, but I still feel for him on a base level.

I think you can still empathize with Travis, but have doubts about how much his leave is related to the loss of his mother. It appears that the Holder investigation recommended the departure of Emil Michael. A number of other executives have also left recently. Based on all available evidence there is something happening with Uber's leadership and the board is trying to address it. Travis very well may not be in a position to do that due to his grief, but the (potential) timing of his leave coinciding with the release of the investigation's findings seems to indicate that is the primary cause.

Exactly. Have some empathy.

It seems many people aren't doing that because Uber has a history of not having much empathy for people they or their drivers have wronged. There appears to be very little empathy for their employees who have been victims of sexual harassment, and if getting the private medical records of a rape victim doesn't display an astounding lack of empathy, then what does?

In other words, you reap what you sow.

You can be outraged at the lack of empathy surrounding the events that you describe and still give empathy to someone who is suffering a loss. It's not zero-sum.

You're absolutely right; I can. But there's less impetus to do so given his demonstrated lack of empathy toward others. I don't actively wish him or his family ill will or harm, but I am also less willing to give that sympathy or empathy toward him given his past actions where he doesn't give that to others.

You act like every CEO takes a leave of absence when they experience a personal tragedy. If that were the case I wouldn't doubt it.

Not every "personal tragedy" is the same, and losing someone close to you like a parent is a pretty major one.

That's fair, I guess you just don't see this that often. Granted, it could be more public because of Uber's situation. I've just never heard of something like that.


You can't comment like this here—not to spare any individual's feelings, but because it poisons the commons, badly.

As a community member, you owe it to the community not to do that, so please don't do it again.


We've banned this account for trolling. Please don't create accounts to break the HN guidelines with.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14539226 and marked it off-topic.

Well, the papers confirmed already his mother died in the same accident so... even if it was just that and his father was totally fine it'd be understandable.

It is pretty paranoid to think that he faked his mother's death and his father's injuries to take a leave of absence to dodge Uber drama.

I don't understand why the above comment was flagged. A woman was raped by an Uber driver in India. Eric Alexander brought the records to Kalanick, who rather than fire him for obtaining illicit medical documents related to an ongoing criminal investigation instead questioned the details in the report and postulated that the whole thing might have been fabricated by a competitor.

That's what the OP was talking about.

I'm guessing that even those who realized it was a snide and sarcastic reference to the event you mention, didn't think that sort of discourse fit for HN.

Yeah, but this is basically the attitude that led Uber to steal a rape victim's medical report with Travis's blessing, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In reality I hope his father gets better but Travis loses fucking everything. Nice to see the SV double-standard where I get downvoted and he gets billions of dollars.

Without claiming expertise regarding the company, I disagree fairly strongly with the attitudes commonly expressed towards Uber in the media (I read the Guardian and NYT mostly), on Hacker News, and elsewhere in the mostly liberal sources I am exposed to. Here are my reasons:

1. The Susan Fowler workplace sexual harassment claims were horrific and sounded true. So it does sound like there are some complete dicks working there. If the CEO was party to this stuff then I'm wrong, but I assume he wasn't.

2. The hatred for the CEO is surely exaggerated. The video of him in the cab with a customer was fine, it was a good robust conversation -- towards the end both parties became annoyed. Perfectly normal behavior. He sounds nice enough to me from the words of his that I've read. Obviously you don't take CEOs that seriously; they're entire job is to place inane positive spin on their company every day that they wake up.

3. The Guardian and NYT so obviously have the knives out for the company that it's become laughable reading their coverage.

4. His mum just died in a tragic accident and people are not even mentioning that in stories about him taking time off.

5. It's become common for people to say stuff like "they're not contributing anything novel", and otherwise completely underestimate the wonderful transformation that they have effected in personal travel and efficient usage of cars.

6. Young American liberals have become so annoying about political correctness causes such as workplace sexual politics that I have really come to hate that aspect of working in America and I am inclined to support Uber just to annoy them (being honest here, I didn't claim my post would be appreciated).

7. The sight of Bernie Sanders-supporting liberals earnestly trying to improve the world by choosing one silicon valley start-up over another would be funny, if the failures of the left weren't so depressing at this time when we need a grown-up left more than ever.

"6. Young American liberals have become so annoying about political correctness causes such as workplace sexual politics that I have really come to hate that aspect of working in America and I am inclined to support Uber just to annoy them (being honest here, I didn't claim my post would be appreciated)."

I've frequently observed people taking untenable positions that they know are wrong, they don't actually believe in, and they can't justify or defend, just to be a dick, in order to punish somebody who hurt their feelings but was right. But you're the first person I've ever seen actually come out and admit that is what they do.

Kudos on your honesty, if for nothing else. There are a whole lot of people who behave like you but don't admit it. It's not an original, ethical, constructive or intelligent behavior, but you're just the first person I've seen openly admit that's how they operate.

You'll tolerate sexual harassment, but only because somebody who was against it annoyed you, and you wanted to annoy them back. Was it more annoying for you to experience someone who is annoyingly intolerant of sexual harassment, than it is annoying to actually be sexually harassed?

The Paradox of Annoyance sound like the evil corollary to the Paradox of Tolerance.


Not sure, but I appreciate your post. Yes, the current state of progressive left politics is driving me away from stances that I would like to hold. People like Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris talk sense and are somewhere on the left, but the chanting hordes of diversity-obsessed political correctness warriors are so, so depressing and so, so far from the grown-up, scientifically literate, rationalist, anti-religious, technological, humane, liberal movement that we need to counter the opposing forces of cynical conservatives, racists, gun- and bible-nuts etc

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