Wild Ride by Adam Lashinsky

Wild Ride by Adam Lashinsky

Author:Adam Lashinsky
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Published: 2017-05-04T10:53:33+00:00

Uber had entered its start-up-company adolescent phase, a phenomenon but nowhere near the titan it aspired to be. To get there, it would need to build itself into a modern corporation, a process that proceeded in fits and starts. Internally, the company was defined by a grueling pace and a can-do attitude, a state of mind insiders called the “Uber hustle.” So much about its business was new that experimentation was the norm. Uber found itself cobbling together solutions to problems no other company had ever confronted. The times called for a special kind of employee too, one who worked long hours, made the rules rather than followed them, and more often than not was young and unattached. Uber workers viewed the intermingling of work with their personal life as a benefit, not a negative. It wasn’t uncommon for early employees to move around the company working in areas as varied as customer support, brand management, or product development.

It was a frenetic time of trial and error. Tactics would work for a while, only to fizzle out, particularly in driver recruitment and consumer marketing. For example, in any new city the company would expend tremendous effort and cash recruiting customers. Offering $20 for a first ride was a tactic that worked, but only to a point. Steering discounted rides to wedding planners was popular for a bit too, until too many wedding-goers had already tried Uber. The company went through the same drill to recruit drivers. Advertising on Craigslist was effective for a time. Then Uber would focus on recruiting taxi drivers. When that supply was tapped out, Uber turned its attention to schoolteachers, attractive for their flexible schedules and desire for extra cash.

Uber was also surfing, and innovating on top of, an increasingly powerful industry wave, the rise of smartphones. An internal presentation described Uber as “mobile first,” a popular expression at the time, but with the word “first” crossed out and replaced with “only.” The technology changed so quickly that Uber could dramatically improve its offering as new features became available. Early iPhones, for example, allowed for only spotty tracking of drivers by riders. Later versions let Uber make the little black cars zip along on the app’s map far more fluidly.

As it expanded, Uber centralized certain critical functions, like software development, while pushing out day-to-day business decisions to its teams in the field. A city typically launched with just three people: a general manager; an operations manager for “community,” the company’s word for its pool of riders; and an operations manager for “partners,” its preferred term for drivers. (Because Uber takes commission from drivers, the company also calls drivers “customers,” a confusing term that would annoy independent contractors; only passengers pay Uber, which takes its cut and then pays drivers.)

Prospective top managers were subjected to intense grilling by Kalanick as part of an interview process that would have fit in at a management consulting firm. He asked each candidate for a city general manager job to prepare


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