While Uber is counting on a hazy future of self-driving cars, in the meantime it has to keep its 160,000 drivers happy, and they are not, as Kalanick’s video encountered showed. Drivers want the Uber app to allow tips; Uber won’t do it. Uber has fought court cases brought by U.S. drivers asking for employee benefits. It settled a suit for $20 million for posting ads that were misleading about how much its drivers can earn. Rival Lyft has been running ads lampooning Uber’s treatment of drivers, hoping to lure away Uber drivers—and convince conscientious riders they should prefer a company that treats its drivers better.
Strategically, Kalanick and his team seem guilty of constant overreach. Does anybody ever order a falafel from UberEats? Who at Uber thought it was a good idea to take on Seamless? Not only did Kalanick buy Otto to get into self-driving cars, but in February he hired a former NASA scientist to develop flying cars. Trump likes to say we always lose to China—well, Uber proved him right by going into China ill-prepared. Last summer, Uber cut a deal with China’s Uber clone, Didi Chuxing, to leave China in exchange for 17.5 percent of the Chinese company and a $1 billion investment by Didi. Is that setting up Didi to eventually beat Uber worldwide? Trump will have a seizure if the day ever comes when U.S. riders no longer say they’re going to “Uber” somewhere and instead say they’re going to “Didi.”
And then there is Uber’s financial picture. The company is private, but some of its numbers have been leaked. Bloomberg reported that Uber lost $800 million in the third quarter of 2016. Some speculate Uber may have lost $3 billion last year. Uber is a costly business to run. To serve more customers, it needs to bring in and pay more drivers, so the company can’t take advantage of economies of scale. It has little pricing power because it still faces competition from Lyft and taxis and other newcomers including Maven, which is a unit of General Motors. In order to have the cash to fund operations and expansion, Uber has brought in round after round of private investment, pumping up the valuation of the company to nearly $70 billion. That would make Uber worth more than GM. Raise your hand if you think that makes sense.