Thursday June 08, 2017

'Founded in controversy': Author's inside look into Uber's success and scandals

Within a few years, the small Silicon Valley start-up turned into a global multi-billion dollar company.

Within a few years, the small Silicon Valley start-up turned into a global multi-billion dollar company. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

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Since its founding in 2009, the ride-sharing service Uber has turned into a multi-billion dollar company that circles the globe. 

Executive editor of Fortune magazine Adam Lashinsky took a look at how Uber has disrupted the transportation industry for his book, Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination.

"Uber is in, I believe, something like 600 cities in about 80 countries. It is literally all over the world," Lashinsky tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

Adam Lashinsky

Adam Lashinsky traced Uber's scandals and success from the very beginning for his new book. (Robyn Twomey)

According to Lashinsky, Uber took the idea of travel that was once limited to taxis and changed it to benefit both riders and drivers by eliminating the awkward interactions in between, like exchanging money and calculating tips.

"They were delighting riders who loved this ability to get something quickly, to remove the anxiety of … 'How soon is it going to come?'"

Despite its success, the ride-sharing service has been a constant source of controversy, embroiled in scandals ranging from a hostile work environment to underpaid drivers.

Earlier this year, Uber faced widespread backlash for the way they handled sexual harassment in the workplace. Their HR department was accused of ignoring a former female engineer's complaints about the sexism and sexual harassment she experienced at the company. 

INDIA-UBER/

CEO Travis Kalanick's company has attracted numerous controversies ranging from a hostile work environment to underpaid drivers. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Lashinsky says the company was "founded in controversy" when it started as a black car service in San Francisco called "UberCab." It received a cease-and-desist letter from the city who claimed they were operating an illegal taxi service.

"Uber's response was twofold: 'One, we aren't a taxi service. We're a technology company enabling transportation,'" he says.

"'Secondly, we're going to remove the name cab from our name. We're just going to be Uber.'"

Lashinsky believes Uber has had the type of success that Apple had with Macintosh computers in the 1980s — a global phenomenon that is still a leader in the industry today.

He says Apple also had a "charismatic leader" with a "strong vision and a cranky personality," like Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick. 

"For now, that's where the comparisons end," says Lashinsky.

"A lot of things have to go right for Uber to be something that we're talking about 20 years from now."

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.