Newsmaker: Travis Kalanick

A day before a 27-year-old finance executive was raped in the capital by the driver of the taxi she had hailed from Uber, Travis Kalanick, the chief executive of the San Francisco-based company, wrote a blog on the company's website titled "The Road Ahead". 2014 has been a year of tremendous growth for Uber, he wrote. Within a year's time, Uber has increased the number of cities it operates in from 60 to over 250 and the number of countries from 21 to 50. "We are six times bigger today than 12 months ago - and grew faster this year than last," he went on.

Then came the caveat, almost prophetically. "This kind of growth has also come with significant growing pains." The 38-year-old founder of Uber said that events of the recent weeks have shown that the company needs to invest in internal growth and change. "Acknowledging mistakes and learning from them are the first steps."

The following day, Uber hit the headlines in India and across the globe for contracting a driver who was a serial offender. The taxi-hailing service has been banned not only in Delhi but in most other Indian cities. A police report has been filed against the company and the police are debating whether there is a case for criminal liability against Uber.

Uber is in a crisis in India - which is already its second largest market within a year of its entry in August 2013. But, for Kalanick, India, is just one of the countries where Uber is having a rough ride. Be it Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Belgium, Taiwan or Thailand - Uber is battling serious backlash from the establishment. In places, where it has been banned, it is defying the orders and continuing to operate or is trying to negotiate its way back on to the roads.

Columnist G Sampath recently wrote in Mint that Kalanick's modus operandi has been to launch Uber in cities by ignoring existing laws, then suffer a ban or a fine, and eventually extract from the local administration a new regulatory regime that favours it over legacy taxi companies. "Its chief executive Travis Kalanick calls this approach 'principled confrontation' - a sort of libertarian, entrepreneurial version of civil disobedience that Ayn Rand would have approved." Rand is one of Kalanick's favourite authors. He once had a picture of The Fountainhead, Rand's book, on his Twitter page.

Kalanick also believes that every problem has a solution. "You just have to be creative enough to find it." Uber, started in 2009 as an app that connected passengers with taxi drivers, plans to collaborate across the company and seek counsel and also make swift changes in the months ahead. "Done right, it will lead to a smarter and more humble company that sets new standards in data privacy, gives back more to the cities we serve and defines and refines our company culture effectively," Kalanick had said in his blog.

Uber has raised 1.2 billion in its latest round of funding, despite a backlash that is spreading across the world. And its investors, which include Goldman Sachs, Google Ventures, Menlo, First Round, Lowercase Capital and Benchmark, are no fools. They would be aware of Uber's many issues but are banking on Kalanick's "creative" problem-solving abilities as they put their money on the company that has touched a valuation of $40 billion, ignoring even the controversies Kalanick has created for himself with some misogynistic comments.

By the way, the name of Kalanick's blog is Front Page. And it does seem like he makes it to the front pages of newspapers - not just in India but across the globe.


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