When I published a book earlier this year about Uber the most common question I got about it was how many of the tumultuous events of 2017 I was able to include. My gag-line response: I managed to cover the first 17 scandals of the year, but not Nos. 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and so on.
Uber is struggling mightily to avoid becoming a gag line itself on the order of the first Internet boom’s high-profile disaster, Webvan. That company raised a ton of capital to solve a thorny problem, grocery delivery, but imploded before it could ever make a profit. Before its immature ways caught up with it, Uber got bigger and went further than Webvan ever did. But it bleeds money, courts controversy, and makes enemies like no company I’ve ever seen.
As the finish line for 2017 begins to come into focus I’m beginning to wonder what an Uber turnaround would look like. Here are the cup-half-full talking points for that scenario:
Leadership. New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is the proverbial adult in the room at Uber and knows one of his most important tasks is recruiting a leadership team to join him there. Already he has hired a highly regarded general counsel from PepsiCo. If he can persuade enough people like him to take a shot at having an adventure at Uber he’ll have a firm foundation on which to build.
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Governance. I’ve seen skirmishes among parties at companies before, but never a pitched battle between a CEO and the investors who backed him like Travis Kalanick’s fight with Benchmark Capital. If SoftBank can complete the tender offer it contemplates to buy a large stake in Uber, the company’s bizarre governance war will be over for the time being, putting Uber back on par with other normal companies whose boards of directors don’t fight publicly with each other.
Litigation. It is looking increasingly likely that Uber’s nasty spat with Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car unit will end in some kind of split decision. A safe bet is that some combination of Uber, Travis Kalanick, and Anthony Levandowski (the ex-Googler and founder of a company Uber acquired) did some nasty stuff that didn’t include stealing and implementing trade secrets. Finding closure that doesn’t cost Uber billions will be a victory.
After all that the question remains, does Uber have a business? That’s a question for my book’s epilogue.
Chaos theory. Does it feel like President Trump is tweeting more? Turns out, he is. Bloomberg calculates Trump set a personal record with 362 posts in June, beat that in July when he tweeted 424 times, and upped his record again in September to 485. But Trump is a tear so far this month. After launching 51 tweets in a single day, he is on pace for a total of 723. Maybe he’ll slow for Thanksgiving?
Change at the top. Facing sexual harassment allegations, prominent venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson stepped down from the Silicon Valley firm he helped found, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, following an internal investigation, according to Recode. Jurvetson is also taking leave from the boards of Tesla and SpaceX.
One pill makes you larger. The Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug with a digital tracking system. Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s Abilify MyCite sends a signal when swallowed to a wearable patch that notifies a mobile app.
Not quite. Did you read any of this morning’s screaming headlines that Amazon Web Services sold its business in China and was abandoning the world’s second-largest economy? Turns out not. Amazon says it complied with a local law and sold ownership of some some of its physical assets to a Chinese firm called Beijing Sinnet Technology. “No, AWS did not sell its business in China and remains fully committed to ensuring Chinese customers continue to receive AWS’s industry leading cloud services,” Amazon said. While we’re on the topic of Amazon, I wonder if Jeff Bezos is a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. Seems likely after Amazon just reportedly laid out $200 million to $500 million for the rights to make a TV series based on the Lord of the Rings books.
Smash and grab. A gang of scooter-riding thieves smashed through the glass doors of Apple’s posh Regent Street store in London and made off with thousands of dollars of merchandise. The city is dealing with a rising crime wave of moped gangs.
Tax crunch. A provision in a draft of the Senate’s tax bill would hit employees of startups hard. Under the proposal, employees would owe taxes on stock options as soon as they vested, not when they were exercised. The treatment “would be the end of equity compensation in startups as we know it,” VC Fred Wilson wrote.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A long article about the success of Chinese security camera maker Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology in the Wall Street Journal has plenty of speculation and innuendo but not much proof of the dangers of relying on Chinese made gear in senstive areas. It’s true the company is partially owned by the Chinese government and that the U.S. State Department removed some Hikvision cameras from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. What happened next?
Shortly thereafter, the General Services Administration removed Hikvision from a list of automatically approved suppliers, companies that make their products in countries that have certain trade agreements with the U.S. The agency says it nixed the firm after it was alerted the products were manufactured and assembled in China, which isn’t on the list. U.S. government agencies that want to buy Hikvision gear can’t go through the GSA system, but have to take extra steps such as showing the items are fairly priced.
Hikvision says its gear was listed on the GSA by two resellers, which it says it hadn’t authorized. Hikvision says it asked the resellers to remove the products from the GSA list.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
7 Killer Traits Female Investors Seek in Tech Startup Founders By Andrew Nusca
Tesla Is a ‘Hotbed for Racist Behavior’ Says This Ex-Employee By Keshia Hannam
Sprint to Give Unlimited Customers Free Hulu Access, Analyst Says By Aaron Pressman
Google Is Being Investigated by Missouri Attorney General By Jonathan Vanian
Amazon Reportedly Beefing Up AI Capabilities in the Cloud By Aaron Pressman
BEFORE YOU GO
Do you remember CompuServe? The dominant online service before AOL? Turns out CompuServe and its once vibrant online discussion bulletin boards, as they were called back in the day, had been hanging around all this time. Well, time’s up. After various ownership changes over the decades, CompuServe is now in the hands of Verizon, which will shutter the boards next month, Fast Company reports.