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A glimpse into Uber's growing concerns over Alphabet rivalry

Heisenberg Media/Creative Commons

Alphabet chief legal officer David Drummond quietly resigned from Uber's board of directors in the summer of 2016, but concerns within Uber over a growing rivalry with Alphabet began at least at least a year and a half earlier, according to new court documents.

From Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to Drummond in a March 2015 email:

Without any dialogue we get pushed into the assumption that Google is competing in the short term and has probably been planning to do so for quite a bit longer than has been let on. I hope I'm wrong here, just need to do a meeting with Larry ASAP to get clarity and mutual understanding of how to do a proper partnership here.

Why it matters: The two companies are currently embattled in a messy lawsuit over allegations that Uber stole trade secrets from Alphabet's self-driving car unit. They initially began as partners when Alphabet's VC arm invested in Uber and Drummond took a board seat.

Timeline:

  • August 2013: GV (formerly Google Ventures) leads Uber's Series C funding round, with Drummond joining the board.
  • June 2014: GV participates in Uber's Series D funding round.
  • December 2014: Kalanick forwards a column from The Information about the companies' growing rivalry to two other Uber executives.
  • January 2015: Kalanick asks Drummond about an Alphabet executive's recent public comments about eventually debuting an "Autonomous Vehicle ridesharing service."
  • February 2015: Reports surface that Alphabet is developing its own Uber competitor. Uber announces a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to develop self-driving car technology.
  • March 2015: Kalanick asks Drummond if rumors are true that Alphabet is planning to soon roll out a self-driving car service, and asks again to finally meet with Alphabet CEO Larry Page, adding that Page seemed to have been avoiding him for months.
  • Late 2015/early 2016: Uber begins to meet with an Alphabet self-driving car employee about potentially working with his soon-to-be founded startup (eventually named Otto).
  • February 2016: Uber drafts a term sheet in preparation to acquire Otto.
  • May 2016: Navigation app Waze, own by Alphabet, begins testing a carpooling service.
  • August 2016: Drummond resigns from Uber's board. Uber acquires self-driving truck startup Otto.
  • February 2017: Alphabet's self-driving car unit, Waymo, sues Uber over alleged trade secret theft.