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Heisenberg Media/Creative Commons

Uber's dysfunctional and toxic work culture is the headline reason for its current chaos. It threatened Uber's reputation and ability to attract and keep top talent.

But, as CEO Travis Kalanick goes on leave and loses some of his power when he comes back, a risk remains to Uber's out-of-this-world, $68 billion valuation. Dogged by a lawsuit that it stole its self-driving technology from Waymo, Uber has lost the undisputed perception of a company as likely as any to be central to the future of transportation. The Waymo case threatens to leave Uber armed with one of the world's best-known brand names, but still a taxi service, and less prepared than competitors for the widely forecast shift to self-driving cars, a transformation that Kalanick himself has called "basically existential" for Uber.

Kalanick's strategy: He has argued that Uber's enormous valuation — it is the most valuable startup in the world — is justified by his plan to create a self-driving fleet, and eliminate many of the company's costly drivers. Analysts largely agree with the strategy. But the proprietary technology on which he has been relying is now the subject of the Waymo lawsuit, putting the company as conceived at grave risk. The trial begins in October.

Kalanick successfully muscled his way into markets around the world, said Kevin Rivette, of Sherpa Technology Group, a Silicon Valley consultant firm. But — while stirring up a hornet's nest of trouble — he also failed to build a rich foundation of intellectual property under Uber's feet. This has left it "a company based on plans and an idea," rather than one armed with its own valuable, protective inventions, Rivette told Axios.

Last year, Aswath Damodaran, a valuation expert at New York University, said that Uber's biggest problem was parlaying its outsized market size into outsized profits. That's why he estimated Uber's valuation at about $23 billion, much less than the $68 billion at which its latest investors bought shares. Uber's challenge now is to justify the greater number.

  • Intellectual property isn't the sole basis for a company's valuation or predictor of its ultimate success, and Uber is improving its AI algorithms. But, aiming to come out on top in a brutally competitive space in which IP is a central factor while also validating its sky-high valuation, Uber has said it's crucial to develop its own autonomous driving technology.
  • Uber's technology relies on Lidar, a sensing system. "If I was sitting on Uber's board, I would say, 'Let's pick up every patent related to that," Rivette told Axios.

Go deeper

Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for health workers in 10 states

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A federal court in Missouri has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally-funded facilities in 10 states.

Why it matters: Monday's decision is the first victory for opponents of the rule, which requires health care workers to get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. The case is one of four lawsuits challenging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) rule and argues that the mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages.

Twitter's next act

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is exiting the company he helped build at a time when its future has never been so uncertain.

Why it matters: The person who controls Twitter controls the de facto public square — with implications for politics, media and free speech.

43 mins ago - Health

CDC strengthens COVID booster recommendation

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its previous recommendation for booster shots, saying that everyone 18 and older "should" receive a booster dose.

Why it matters: Last month, CDC director Rochelle Walensky accepted a key advisory committee's recommendation that adults "may" get the shot. The slight, but strengthened, change in wording comes amid the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.