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Stick around long enough, and you’ll see just about everything. A U.S. president who disses members of his own cabinet and party leadership while trying to win a bellicosity contest with a murderous North Korean dictator. A faddish social media startup worth billions of dollars that can’t produce one favorable earnings report. And now, a lawsuit by one of Silicon Valley’s most respected venture-capital firms against the former CEO of its most important portfolio company.
Benchmark Capital’s suit against Travis Kalanick is no run-of-the-million litigation. It alleges that Kalanick duped Benchmark last summer into approving control by Kalanick of three seats on Uber’s board of directors. More, it claims he did this because he knew one day he’d get fired as CEO and seek a way to continue controlling the company—something Benchmark believes he recently has been trying to do.
Because this is a little confusing, consider this: Benchmark willingly granted Kalanick the control over the three seats he sought. Where it says it was fooled was in damning information Kalanick withheld from the board and from Benchmark, specifically Bill Gurley, the (former) Uber board member once considered to have the closest relationship with Kalanick.
Benchmark essentially is saying it was shocked—shocked—to find out Kalanick was a shady character. He didn’t tell them his acquisition of a self-driving truck company might get Uber in trouble with Waymo, Google’s (GOOGL) former robotic vehicle unit. He didn’t tell them some of his top deputies had messed with the privacy of a rape victim in India. And he didn’t tell them the company was rife with gender discrimination.
People asked me often earlier this year if I’d managed to get all the latest scandals into my book about Uber, which came out May 23rd. I frequently joked that in fact I was able to include the first 17 scandals of the year, but not nos. 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and so on. It’s hard for me to imagine that just a year ago Uber was still riding high, having recently retreated from China but still bent on world domination.
In Silicon Valley these days it is a common refrain that Travis Kalanick is his own worst enemy. (Indeed, I’ve thought for weeks now if he had pulled a Gavin Belson some of his troubles might eventually have blown over.) Now Kalanick has a new worst enemy—and an improbable one at that.