FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. The ride-hailing company said Thursday, April 7, 2016 it will pay at least $10 million to settle a case in which California prosecutors alleged it misled passengers over the quality of its driver background checks. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Drivers Sue, Executives Flee, Fantastic Losses, Vicious Hate: Is This the End of Uber?

Uber was a good idea when it started. In the “gig economy,” letting people with cars become their own cabs (excuse me, ride share) and taking a piece of the action seemed perfect. Uber had the technology and the vision to make it work, and became the darling of Silicon Valley.

Some big-government liberals pushed back in places like Boston and Austin. But Uber was cool, into self-driving cars, and generally a better option than smelly cabs with sticky seats.

Then CEO Travis Kalanick made the mistake of not hating Donald Trump enough. Add to that his mistake in breaking a cab protest at NYC’s Kennedy airport over Trump’s botched travel ban, and the left had had enough of Kalanick.

Now Uber is suffering…badly. They just posted a $708 million loss for the first quarter of 2017, which albeit is better than the $991 million loss for the Q4 2016, on revenue of $3.4 billion, up 18 percent from the past quarter. But they’ve lost much momentum and talent.

The head of Uber’s self-driving unit, Anothony Levandowski, was fired after failing to comply with a court that ordered him to produce documents in an ongoing dispute between Uber and Alphabet (Google)’s Waymo subsidiary. CFO Gautam Gupta announced his exit to join another startup. In fact, “about a dozen” top executives have fled Uber since February, according to Reuters.

Add to that the hateful and vicious attacks on Kalanick himself. The man just lost his mother in a tragic boating accident. Drivers who hate him have said some unforgivable things.

“It should have been Travis in that boat not his mother.”

“If this was on a driver’s side he wouldn’t shed a tear.”

“Too bad Travis wasn’t on the boat too.”

Speaking with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, just a week ago, Kalanick defended himself from allegations of “audacious ambition” and “tone-deaf ruthlessness” with “I don’t think I’m an a**hole. I’m pretty sure I’m not.” What CEO should have to fend off that kind of venom?

Drivers hate Kalanick, and by extension, Uber–although they continue to drive. Riders hate “surge pricing” but continue to ride. But is the idea of Uber sustainable?

New York drivers who successfully sued Uber are pressing for even more cash, while the cab industry and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance cheer them on. Prosecutors around the globe are looking very closely at the company’s “Greyball” effort to avoid regulator scrutiny.

The old proverb “we lose 5 cents on every one of these we sell, but we make it up in volume” could spell a bad future for Uber. As it continues to expand, both Kalanick and his 12,000-person technology company may pit itself against drivers now feeling entitled to cash the market-making company isn’t prepared to pay.

It might be a good idea for Kalanick to move on (I’ve been saying that for a while), because his presence only makes things worse. If he stays, this could spell a long, tortuous end for Uber.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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