It provides 50 million rides per month in the U.S. It operates in more than 400 cities around the world. It employs nearly 7,000 people, not including its million-plus global network of contractor-drivers. Its lobbyists fight nonstop regulatory battles in municipalities from Austin to Seoul, deploying a combination of sweet-talking, threats, and grass-roots campaigning. It has raised a total of $8 billion in venture capital, most recently at a valuation of $62.5 billion—about $10 billion more than Ford Motor’s public market value. Uber is six years old.
For these reasons, Uber is Fortune’s most important private company of 2016, a global bully that is ferociously fighting competitors with names like Lyft, Didi, and Ola, even while it is changing assumptions about everything from drunk driving to seamless payment for services rendered. What makes Uber so influential is that it’s as much an idea as a company. A mobile-first, global-fast network that couldn’t have existed without the smartphone platforms developed by Apple and Google, Uber and its many “Uber for …” imitators are changing the face of business. Uber’s ambitions are as big as its youthful accomplishments. It aims to lead in self-driving cars, food delivery, and arranging carpools. One day it will even attempt to go public and leave this list. But not yet.