Travis Kalanick Is My Hero

There has been a ton of news on Uber lately, mostly about how bad Travis Kalanick—co-founder and former CEO—was to Uber drivers, employees and customers.

There has been a ton of news on Uber lately, mostly about how bad Travis Kalanick—co-founder and former CEO—was to Uber drivers, employees and customers. I’ve yet to see one article about how Kalanick has improved life in our cities. I’ve never met Kalanick, but in my estimation, he was the right man, at the right time, with a profound new mobility model. He’s my hero. 

The man has the right set of skills (technical and financial), determination, brains and guts necessary to launch a new Transportation Network Company (TNC) venture that is massively improving the world.

In the United States, Uber’s main competitor is Lyft, which is run by two co-founders, Logan Green and John Zimmer. Unlike Kalanick, Green had earlier alternative transportation experience (while Zimmer comes from hospitality). Had the world not had Uber but only Lyft, I think the world’s consumption of TNC rides would be far less than today—which means millions of people would be having a harder time getting around their cities.

Uber is the world’s biggest “hack.” We hear about hackathons more these days, where programmers write code to leverage what may be an outdated asset to perform a new function. 

Uber and Lyft are essentially smartphone-based taxi services. This means the millions of TNC cars in “their” fleets were not designed to be taxis. Which is a most masterful hack.

I know a few things about approaching cities to adopt new transportation modes. My partners and I launched the first Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) category (a.k.a. golf carts for slower metro streets). We’d approach public transit agencies, city planning officials, city councils back in the day. They would express excitement, suggest that we do something, then pull out a calendar and create a timeline way into the future. But the brash Kalanick didn’t care about the city’s timelines. He launched his new i-taxi service immediately and dealt with the response/fallout from the city afterwards. 

Kalanick is like Henry Ford, introducing a new mobility paradigm to the world. Before the Model T, the average American never traveled more than 25 miles from their birthplace in their lifetime! Do you think it was easy as pie to do what Ford did? No, it wasn’t. (For example, Ford would go to some cities to pave one mile of road for people to drive their Model T on and promote new infrastructure). All this Kalanick/ Uber backlash is simply growing pains, a form of major urban mobility transformation “friction.”

A few years back I was living in L.A. with my feet, bike, bus and Uber—no car. I remember a day when I had lunch in Culver City with an associate who was unfamiliar with Uber at the time and had to get to a second meeting nearby quickly after. I rode my folding bike to the lunch, then after our meal, I called an Uber that was there in less than three minutes. I loaded my folding bike into the Uber’s trunk and went just under two miles to my next meeting, which cost me less than $5.

Had Uber not existed, I would have needed to call a cab. I can imagine how that would go: I’d get connected to dispatch and wait a while to talk to someone. They’d ask me where I was and probably say, “Perhaps the cab will get there in an hour.” After they asked about my destination two miles away, I’d hear a click.

New York City is perhaps the only U.S. city that had a proper cab network/service before Uber/Lyft. But everywhere else, you pretty much need to own a car to access one’s city with convenience. Uber’s launch was also a catalyst to launch major TNC services around the world, even in China where the service gave 1.4 billion rides in 2015 alone. Without Kalanick, I am sure TNC service in other world cities would be far less than it is today. Uber is now in 633 world cities. Lyft is in 300 U.S. cities.

I’ll say it again: Kalanick is a HERO.

Folks, new paradigms of mobility don’t come easy. Kalanick is out and Uber has hired Dara Khosrowshahi away from Expedia to be its new CEO. From my vantage point, an excellent choice. If the new mobility revolution was a baseball game, I’d say we are only in the second inning. TNC and mobility transformation have a long way to go.