Company / division: Uber
Uber Files Appeal in London Hours Before Deadline (Oct 13, 2017)
Uber has formally lodged an appeal against its ban in London, on the day the deadline to do so would have passed, allowing its service and drivers to continue operating until the matter is resolved. As I suspected, though this kicks off a formal legal process, it seems the situation is most likely to reach a resolution through negotiation between Uber and Transport for London, the body that regulates cabs and ride sharing services in the city. My guess is that Dara Khosrowshahi’s recent visit will have shed light on specific changes Uber needs to make to pass regulatory muster going forward, and that it’s actively working on a plan to ensure it can continue to operate there.
Reuters reports that Waymo had sought a billion dollars and a public apology from Uber in settlement talks over the lawsuit the companies are embroiled in. Uber apparently quickly dismissed those requests as unreasonable, which isn’t all that surprising, given that it’s still far from clear that Waymo has the evidence it needs against Uber as a company rather than merely against Anthony Levandowski around the stealing of LIDAR technology. It’s also a sign that Waymo is perfectly happy for the court case to continue and for it to continue to distract Uber at a time when the latter already has a lot on its plate including several legal actions and more.
Uber apparently recently kicked of an internal project to reorganize its engineering teams in order to make them more efficient and coordinated and less duplicative or competitive in their work. It sounds like the prior structure and approach grew partly out of Uber’s aggressively competitive culture and partly out of a lack of proper structure, both of which need fixing if the company is to make the best use of its resources, a consistent theme in its strategy over the last few months. The historical culture around engineering sounds a lot like that which prevailed in the various Google fiefdoms which built hardware for a long time, with little cohesion or coordination between then and teams often working on similar projects without talking to each other. Fixing that should not only make the company more efficient but more effective, and it may also help to fix the diversity and other issues if the team is run as a single unit rather than a disconnected set of engineering clusters.
Bloomberg has dug out official financial statements for Uber’s London and European operations for last year, and found that the London operation recorded revenue of around $50 million, while the broader European operation had $1.6 billion in revenues. That London figure is a little funny because it appears to be a sort of net revenue after commissions paid to drivers – something made clear in a fuller version of the financials I saw posted to Twitter, which showed gross profits as identical to revenues. That revenue figure, though, would be a tiny fraction of Uber’s global revenue, but the strategic value of a presence in a major city like London goes well beyond the direct financial benefits. Interestingly, the London revenue figure was up just 59% year on year, while the European figure more than tripled, reflecting the relative maturity of the London operation relative to operations in much of the rest of the continent.
The Uber board met yesterday and approved proposed changes to the company’s governance, which limit Travis Kalanick’s power, commit the company to an IPO by 2019, open the door to an investment by SoftBank, and resolve some simmering issues among the board members. That’s a great step forward, and was followed by a somewhat bizarre statement from Kalanick welcoming the changes, which was rather odd given that his two appointments to the board late last week were widely seen as a petulant response to the proposed changes. Still, the changes should allow Uber to move forward on a more solid footing, with Benchmark apparently backing down from its lawsuit, Kalanick apparently on board, and therefore much of the recent drama starting to cool off. It would be great if the board could now focus on implementing all the other changes recommended in the Holder report and get on with transforming the company into one with a healthy culture.
Waymo has finally succeeded in getting the due diligence report on Otto which Uber commissioned as it planned to buy the company unsealed, allowing many details about what Uber knew and when to emerge. However, like earlier disclosures in the lawsuit, it mostly confirms that Anthony Levandowski, the executive at the center of the case who is nonetheless not named in the suit took documents and other information with him from Waymo, while not providing evidence that Uber benefited from that. Uber, meanwhile, continues to say that when it found out about the document haul Levandowski had, it ordered him to destroy it all and not bring it to Uber – proving that assertion false is Waymo’s biggest challenge. Of course, Levandowski as an individual might still have used that information in developing at least one version of LIDAR technology he worked on at Otto/Uber, but that would only cover some of the claims Waymo has made in the case.
The latest round of controversy at Uber erupted Friday night as Travis Kalanick unexpectedly appointed two new members to the Uber board as part of an earlier agreement, albeit without the knowledge or approval of either the existing board members or new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. This is best seen as further evidence, if it were needed, that Kalanick’s main objectives continue to be serving his own self-interest rather than Uber’s best interests, and that if he’s using these appointments to bolster his power on the board, the rest of the board should resist that effort. The Recode piece I’m linking to below has a great overview of what all this means at this point and how it might play out, and importantly says that the board members don’t object to those nominated as much as the process. The context is that the board has been working on governance changes that would formally limit both Kalanick’s voting power and his ability to come back in a management role, changes he naturally opposes. At this point, I can’t imagine Kalanick actually thinks he’s doing what’s best for Uber, and in the meantime he continues to do the company substantial damage and distract it from the real changes which need to be made, including governance changes recommended in the Holder report. It’s ever clearer that Kalanick hasn’t changed and and indeed hasn’t taken any of what’s happened over the last ten months or so to heart.
There’s been reporting for months now about SoftBank being interested in taking a stake in Uber, both making a new investment and buying shares from existing stakeholders, but a major sticking point was said to be worries on both sides of the deal about a potential return by Travis Kalanick to a senior leadership role at the company. It appears that those worries are being resolved by a commitment on all sides to keep Kalanick out of those roles as a condition of SoftBank’s investment. Both the potential new funding and that guarantee are good news for Uber, as we’ve seen plenty of evidence recently of the ongoing fallout from Kalanick’s toxic tenure as CEO, not least Uber’s pending London ban. The funding, meanwhile, will be helpful as Uber continues to lose money, though its belt tightening should lower the need to raise many additional rounds before its IPO, especially if that happens as soon as new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi seems to think it should.
This is a second piece today which serves as official confirmation of something previously reported, this time the news that Uber is shutting down its US car leasing business, which the Wall Street Journal was also the first to report early last month. Many of the details were in the Journal’s original report, but there are some new ones, including the fact that Uber will lay off 500 employees, or around 3% of its workforce, as a result. Uber also confirmed that the motivation is primarily financial, though it didn’t confirm the massive losses the Journal had originally reported and refers to again in today’s article. These changes pre-dated the arrival of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi at Uber and are part of a broader pattern of re-evaluating loss-making enterprises at the company, something he is likely to embrace as he moves towards an accelerated IPO schedule.
★ Uber Loses License to Operate in London Over Bad Behavior (Sep 22, 2017)
Transport for London, the entity that oversees public transportation and taxi services in the UK capital, has refused to renew Uber’s license to operate a private ride for hire service in the city, citing several examples of bad behavior. It’s perhaps the most tangible sign yet that Uber’s toxic culture, disregard for regulation, and general willingness to do what it takes to win in the market have come home to roost. The timing is unfortunate given the ouster of Travis Kalanick and the recent appointment of Dara Khosrowshahi as CEO, but clearly stems from behavior that took place long before those recent changes. Uber has said it plans to appeal and Khosrowshahi has said both in communications to employees and in public on Twitter that the decision is in part Uber’s own fault, which is heartening. It’s important to note that this decision isn’t about ride sharing services in general but specifically about Uber’s bad acts, so Uber needs to address those specific concerns even as it makes its usual arguments about the benefits to society a service like Uber provides. This is an unusual situation for Uber to be in – being banned in a city where it’s well established and generally well regarded, without a broader ban on ride sharing services. If I were Dara Khosrowshahi, I’d be on the next plane to London to talk to TfL, understand exactly what the issues are, fix what still needs fixing, and promise to do much better in future. Losing its presence in a city like London could be enormously damaging to its business in the UK and Europe more broadly because so many people travel through London.
Uber is suing ad agency Fetch over what it says is fraudulent reporting of ads placed and clicked on, and resulting downloads of its apps by those who never actually saw ads placed by Fetch. Uber is withholding some of the money it owes Fetch while pursuing the lawsuit for a rather larger sum of $40 million, a little over half of what it’s paid Fetch in total over the last three years. Presumably Uber feels it has decent evidence to support its claims, given that – as Bloomberg points out in the article linked below – it’s not a particularly litigious company despite being a target of others’ lawsuits frequently. Fetch, meanwhile, has spoken in the past about the issue of ad fraud and the challenge of identifying and reducing it, something that’s by no means unique to the company in the broader world of online advertising. Ad fraud continues to be one of several big issues facing ad-based companies and complicating their relationships with brands and buyers.
Update: On September 27, 2017, Phunware, one of the mobile ad firms Fetch used to place ads, is now suing Uber over non-payment, as the latter is withholding payment from Fetch during the lawsuit. Uber says it feels Phunware is one of the parties which engaged in the fraud and will present evidence of this in court.
Uber Stops Tracking User Locations After Dropoffs (Aug 29, 2017)
Uber has decided not to go ahead with a big new headquarters in Oakland, across the bay from its current San Francisco base, citing the need to cut costs. This is just the latest signal that the company is taking more seriously the need to bring costs down and improve margins, following on from the abandonment of the Chinese and Russian markets and the end of its US car-leasing program. It’s not clear whether this would all have happened even if Travis Kalanick were still in charge, but it is clear that the board and broader management that’s currently running the company is taking the opportunity to whittle costs and get the company in better financial shape. Recall that it lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the second quarter even on an adjusted basis, so there’s still a long way to go, and improving the economics of the ride sharing business itself is still the key to long-term profitability, but all this helps too.
via Business Insider