Uber, SoftBank, and Kalanick-What Just Happened
This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. Sign up here.
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.
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.