Start-ups are typically born out of a strong desire & passion for change – to improve efficiency; reduce costs; minimise/eliminate wastage; etc. – and in addition to a core innovative / disruptive technology component, the personality of the founder moulds the startup culture in its formative years.
In my view, the rapid rise, visibility and pervasive growth of Uber globally with the aggression and drive is as much a result of Mr Travis Kalanick’s persona as it is to its product & services. Uber has made a significant impact to transportation and people’s lives and therefore this resignation is making waves.
There have been other similar situations in the past. For example, Andrew Mason (Groupon); Mike Lazaridis (Blackberry); David Neeleman (Jet Blue); Martin Eberhard (Tesla Motors); etc have had to leave the companies they founded / co-founded due to various reasons driven by the push for change by the investors. Some like Jack Dorsey of Twitter have come back to resume the leadership of the companies they founded, but this is less common.
In my view, this development signifies the increasing importance to the culture of the company, governance protocols and a push to do the right thing especially with the current allegations and findings from the investigative report. For the pioneer investors in the company to focus on these issues rather than financial valuations and a “growth at all costs” mindset is also refreshing and shows that they are interested in the long term sustainable future for the company. I am not sure if these investors also had a lack of confidence in the CEO’s ability to make & drive the required changes and internally transform the company as it moves to becoming a growth company from a start-up.
The trend of founders moving onto more supervisory / board level positions and getting professional CEOs & management to run the firm after reaching a certain level is not new. It is important for the founder to realize his/her limitations and get the right team to build & further grow the company to the next level.
In this particular case, the response from the Uber CEO to accept the feedback from the investors and resign rather than fight them is also commendable and shows pragmatism, maturity and desire for the company (Uber) to continue on its growth trajectory.
Till date Uber and the CEO were inextricably linked and I guess in the very near term how this transitions to a more professional firm without losing the company’s DNA would be the key question facing the investors and the company now.
Sanjay Singh drives Business and Financial Services Practice for Frost & Sullivan. Sanjay is based out of Singapore and can be reached at email@example.com