Riding in the back of an Uber is sometimes the best way to hear an opinion on just about anything, from music to politics to restaurants and more. Turns out the best way to get the scoop on Uber itself is to invite the CEO onto your podcast.
Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi was the latest guest on “Office Hours,” the podcast hosted by Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff.
Rascoff and Khosrowshahi have known each other for 25 years. When he was just 18, Rascoff worked for Khosrowshahi, who was in his early 20s, at the investment bank Allen & Company. They worked together again when the Bellevue, Wash.-based travel giant Expedia (formerly part of IAC) acquired Rascoff’s startup Hotwire.
Khosrowshahi left his Expedia CEO role for the Uber job last summer.
The two talked about a variety of topics related to the ride-sharing company, including workplace culture, autonomous vehicles, investments, flying taxis, going public and more.
Here are a few highlights:
Of the top three things Khosrowshahi thought he needed to address when he started, culture was “very much third,” behind the board and his management team.
“The company had a historical culture that, you know, was responsible for building an incredible company, but at some point went too far. Values like toe-stepping, values that, to some extent, were weaponized in an aggressive way, in an overly aggressive way, and I knew that we had to come very quickly with a new set of cultural values, norms as we call them because they drive behaviors … .
“The values that we came up with are a combination of new and old because actually the old values created a company of huge import in people’s lives of enormous value, but there’s a saying that Reid Hoffman talks about, which is success imprints more strongly than failure, and I think the success of the company — the aggressiveness, the drive for growth at any cost — probably imprinted too hard and it was time for a change, but we didn’t want to change completely because the get-things-done-yesterday attitude, the go-get-them attitude, the controlled-now aggressiveness is something that we want to keep because there’s enormous growth ahead of us and hopefully where we can wind up is a combination of old and new that’s better than what we had, let’s call it, a year or two years ago.”
Khosrowshahi admitted that, coming in, he wasn’t convinced one way or the other about the company’s direction when it came to self-driving cars. But he ultimately decided that the work being done by Uber’s team was a good bet for the company to make.
He elaborated on why he thinks Uber needs to be developing that technology and what it could mean for Uber drivers worried about having no job in five or 10 years.
“We believe that we are in a better position to commercialize that technology faster because we have a team that’s specifically working on that technology and they’re not working on it in a demo way. They’re working on it in a way where we can make that technology commercial and we can feather in that technology into our existing ride-sharing network so that we have practical commercialization of this incredibly promising technology. …
“A lot of people talk about automation and replacing workers, but actually if you look at practical automation — for example, in automobile manufacturing — automation and people go together well. And we think that for a long time from today you’re actually going to have hybrid networks where there may be a trip going from A to B, which is perfectly mapped in a city that has alternative routes, the weather is good — so everything falls into place and that route can be covered autonomously. And then there are going to be routes that only drivers can take you through. There’s a gate, the mapping isn’t quite right, there aren’t alternatives, there’s a traffic accident, etc., where a person is better suited under certain circumstances to cover that ride. So, we think that our network is going to be a hybrid network five to 10 years from now for a long period of time.”
Future of cars
Rascoff asked Khosrowshahi whether he thinks his own children will own a car. His blunt answer — “car ownership is a true waste” — sounds like a bummer for anyone who loves getting behind the wheel. But he makes a point about space in crowded cities.
“No, I hope not. I think car ownership is a true waste. Cars are — they are used 5 percent of the time; 95 percent of the time they’re not used. Ten to 20 percent of space in cities is taken by parking, etc., so you use assets much more effectively, you return green space or any space that a city wants, you give that space back to a city, I think traffic is ultimately going to be better, sharing is going to be bigger, so I think it’s going to be an unambiguous, positive factor going forward, but it will take time.”
Speaking about “big, bold bets,” Khosrowshahi said that in the $6 trillion transportation space, it’s necessary to take risks on various aspects of the ecosystem. Cars in the sky are among those risks.
“The technology is possible now — they are vehicles with multiple rotors, they can work in cities without being unbelievably loud like helicopters can — and these are forward-looking investments that are going to commercialize over five, 10, 15 years. But when you have — when you’re working in a space that is as large as transportation you’ve got to make those kinds of big, bold bets and we hope to continue to as a company.”