Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation marks the beginning of a new era for the company—raising major questions about the ride-sharing giant’s future and its $68 billion valuation. But it could also herald a new chapter for Silicon Valley itself. The age of so-called startup unicorns has had its share of meltdowns, including onetime blood-testing darling Theranos and insurance software notable Zenefits. But Uber is different: It’s the largest, most valuable, most global, most disruptive, most quintessential Silicon Valley success story.
Kalanick’s departure has the potential to affect the way local regulators view disruptive startups that operate in legal gray areas, the way labor regulators look at Silicon Valley workplaces, and the way securities regulators view low-information startup stock sales. (Before, Uber was “controversial.” Now its bad behavior could serve as justification for tighter regulation.)
Uber’s moment of truth could also influence startup valuations and the way investors assess risk for companies with founder-controlled boards. It could affect the kinds of executives that want to leave cushy jobs in mainstream sectors to become “the adult” at Silicon Valley startups. And it could deter would-be entrepreneurs who might otherwise have been seduced by the cult of personality surrounding unicorn CEOs.
This wake-up call for the tech industry has been at least six months in the making. Uber was not the only company with a reportedly toxic culture, an obsession with disruption over following the rules, and a win-at-any-cost strategy; it was just the most successful. Because those characteristics had worked so well, others emulated the formula. Scores of “Uber for X” companies hoping to re-create its success may now be rethinking their plans. Uber’s story is no longer a playbook. It’s a cautionary tale.
A version of this article appears in the July 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “What Uber Means for the Valley.”