A lengthy profile in the December 2014 edition of Vanity Fair reveals a lot about an ambitious entrepreneur taking a big interest in Vancouver.
Thirty-eight-year-old Travis Kalanick is the founder and CEO of Uber, a ride-sharing app valued at more than $18 billion that’s presently trying to break through regulatory barriers in the Lower Mainland and B.C.
On November 4, Vancouver taxi drivers fired a shot across the bow, filing for an injunction in the hope of preventing Uber from launching its Vancouver operation without the licenses it requires to operate legally.
“The defendants have openly refused to comply with the laws, standards and regulations set out by the province and city,” reads a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court.
Uber has already fired back: “This lawsuit is a prime example of the Vancouver taxi industry’s singular goal: protecting its own cartel, even at the expense of consumers and its own drivers,” reads a statement issued by the company.
While Uber has stressed it does not operate in Vancouver, the screen grab below is proof it does intend on seeing its cars on Vancouver streets in the near future.
While Vancouver taxis have already entered the courts, Mayor Gregor Roberston and the city’s Vision-dominated council are treading more cautiously. In October, they voted to push any decision on Uber off the agenda until after elections scheduled for November 15. City staff were instructed to examine the issue for six months and report back.
So, who are they dealing with?
The Vanity Fair article paints Kalanick as an unabashedly ambitious post-Facebook CEO who relishes negotiating in a style described as “principled confrontation”.
An early Uber investor said this of Kalanick: “It’s hard to be a disrupter and not be an asshole.”
A venture capitalist quoted in the article described him in similarly colourful terms: “It’s douche as a tactic, not a strategy.”
In more tempered words, here’s Kalanick on Kalanick: “I’m like fire and brimstone sometimes. And so there are times when I’ll go—I’ll get too into the weeds and too into the debate, because I’m so passionate about it.”
The article reveals that Uber started in San Francisco in 2010, very aware it would soon be wrestling with regulators.
“The real attention came in October, when the new company got a cease-and-desist order from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, as well as the California Public Utilities Commission,” it reads. “Both, among other issues, objected to the use of “cab” in UberCab’s name, since it was operating without a taxi license. As it turned out, such a setback was just what Kalanick wanted: an opportunity for a fight.”
Uber has since maintained battle-ready footing.
“Whereas Silicon Valley start-ups tend to give their conference rooms whimsical, sweet names, like Twinkie and Pong, the main conference room in Uber’s swanky new offices on San Francisco’s Market Street is called War Room. It’s an appropriate lair for Kalanick and his ever growing team. He needs the help, because as Uber expands to cities across the U.S. and around the world Kalanick must continue to wage what has already become a very ugly and protracted battle with the taxi industry and the regulators that Uber claims are deep in its pocket. Kalanick doesn’t mask his disdain for his adversaries, either. “Some city-council people are really awesome, but most are uninspired,” he says. “I meet with them as little as possible.”
The timing of the article’s publication suggests it is possible Kalanick could have been thinking about Robertson and city councillors at 12th and Cambie when he made those remarks.
As Uber continues to expand across North America and the world, Kalanick isn’t acting alone. He’s got a man named David Plouffe acting as Uber’s head of public policy and communications. Plouffe was one of the masterminds behind Barack Obama’s 2008 run for president of the United States, a campaign that’s still regarded as masterful while Obama’s presidency continues to fall far below expectations.
The article’s author, Kara Swisher, concludes that Kalanick’s ambition is a force to take seriously.
“Kalanick’s fighting instinct seems only to have been stoked by success,” she writes. “He says he will not stop until he has won every city across the globe.”