Uber, Travis Kalanick’s fall and Silicon Valley culture

Travis Kalanick’s fall — he resigned as CEO of Uber Tuesday after a shareholder revolt — is spectacular. But in high-flying and high-risk Silicon Valley, he has some company.

Ride-hailing platform Uber is the world’s most valuable startup. Kalanick co-founded the San Francisco company in 2009 with Garrett Camp, who on Tuesday wrote in a blog post that Uber’s many woes may have stemmed from the company’s obsession with growth and failure to “listen” to “those who got us here.”

Uber’s problems include allegations of sexism and harassment. In addition, the company mentality seems to be that of charging ahead without regard for pesky rules. For example, it has used software called Greyball to evade authorities; the company also began testing self-driving technology in California without applying for a permit, although it recently gave in and obtained permits.

A disregard for convention is very Silicon Valley. But it brings to mind other startups and companies that have run into big problems because of it.

For example, there’s Zenefits, the San Francisco HR software startup which at one point had a $4.5 billion valuation but was found to have been selling health insurance without the proper licenses. Its CEO and founder, Parker Conrad, was forced to resign last year. Media reports also portrayed that company’s culture as a bit out of control, with Conrad’s successor later calling the culture “inappropriate” (employees reportedly had to be told not to have sex in the stairwells) and banning alcohol at work.

Conrad has founded another startup, a software company called Rippling.

But Conrad had not been as high-profile as Kalanick. Or Elizabeth Holmes.

Although Holmes remains CEO of Theranos, the blood-testing startup she founded as a 19-year-old Stanford student in 2003, last year she was barred from operating a blood-testing lab for two years. The Palo Alto company, which claimed it could conduct diagnostic tests with just a pinprick’s worth of blood, once had a valuation of $9 billion, recently reached a settlement with federal regulators and can’t own or operate clinical labs for two years.

Theranos had raised hundreds of millions of dollars from famous investors (Rupert Murdoch) and had impressive names on its board (George Schulz, Henry Kissinger, etc.). But its survival is up in the air, thanks to a Wall Street Journal reporter who got suspicious about the startup’s secrecy and didn’t buy the hype — which was at dot-com era levels.

Back to Kalanick’s decline: He was the brash face of Uber, and some of the company’s bad publicity was directly attributable to him. He has been described as the poster boy for tech bros, the kind of “jerks” who run and break startups. It’s all part of Silicon Valley culture.

Now that Kalanick’s gone, will that culture live on at a startup that’s valued at nearly $70 billion?


Photo: Then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arrives at the 2014 TIME 100 Gala in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision)


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  • There comes a time that when a company or person is known for its afilliation or connection to UBER, he is to be distrusted. Good to break through glass ceilings and other institutions’ boxed-in way of thinking… However, it’s quite another ‘feat’ to steal someone else’s IP and to feed off so many people’s misfortune that they see themselves forced to taxi their way out of misery.