An open letter to Travis Kalanick
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios
I've spent much of yesterday trying to understand if it was you or Benchmark Capital who threw the latest screwball into SoftBank's attempts to launch a tender offer for Uber shares. And as I sorted through the spin from all sides, something became clear: It's time for you to make a clean break with Uber.
Before continuing, let me say that I believe you sincerely have Uber's best interests at heart. And, as even your detractors would admit, you were the driving force behind creating not only the most valuable tech startup of all time, but also one that has revolutionized global transportation. The accomplishments cannot, and should not, be erased or minimized.
But the relationship has soured. A majority of the company's board wants, at the very least, to limit your governance rights – with some believing that Uber's well-documented cultural problems rest at your doorstep. Most Uber employees failed to sign a petition demanding your return in an operational role. You have been vilified in the media, thus virtually eliminating your ability to publicly advocate for the company. Even if you still have the best ideas for Uber, it's unclear that enough people are currently listening.
Look, I get it. You feel wronged. By certain investors. By certain factions within the company. By the press. By everyone who applauded your tactics and leadership style until they didn't. You want to outlast them all, and retain influence at a blockbuster company that continues to perform despite its many dramas. And obviously you have around $7 billion of paper value at stake.
The reality, however, is that there are only two things that can happen if you leave now. One is that the company and its new CEO keep the rocket engines on blast, thus satisfying your desire for Uber to be even more impactful over the next five years than it has been over the past five. The other is that Uber and its new CEO stumble or run in place, at which point there is a decent chance that shareholders would clamor for your return.
I don't know if you really told people that you want to "Steve Jobs it" at Uber but, if so, remember that Steve Jobs was gone from Apple for years before being begged to come back. Sometimes the smartest play is a timeout.