In one of his first public interviews since becoming Uber CEO last year, Dara Khosrowshahi offered a brutal critique of the runaway company culture he inherited from founder Travis Kalanick.
“There is a rebel in every startup. I just think that Uber took it too far,” he said. “There was a bit of a pirate mentality. Pushing the boundaries doesn’t mean overstepping the boundaries.”
Kalanick was ousted last year by the company’s board following an extraordinary series of complaints about Uber’s handling of sexual harassment complaints, as well as its reputation as a competitive bully that would fight any attempt at regulation. Throw in accusations of stealing corporate secrets and spying on users via their data, and the company’s reputation was in tatters.
Indeed, when first approached about the job, Khosrowshahi said “No, thanks.” But it was a conversation with Spotify founder Daniel Ek that changed his mind. Khosrowshahi said he was comfortable in his previous gig running Expedia, but Ek offered him a challenge.
“Life isn’t about being comfortable,” Khosrowshahi recalled Ek telling him. “It’s about doing something great. Go to a place where you can make a difference as an individual, and go to a place that’s making a difference in the world.”
Khosrowshahi is optimistic that Uber can still be great. But he made it clear time and time again just how bad things were when he arrived.
“Wining as Uber did covers lots of faults inside the company,” he said. “We’re going to shift from growing at all costs to growing responsibly.”
If there was good news, it was that no one on the team needed to be convinced that a massive course correction was needed, he said.
“The company knew it was in such trouble,” he said. “It was thirsty for leadership and was hungry for change.”
Regarding the problems the company had with regulators in Germany, Khosrowshahi said it was a good example of how Uber’s bullying mentality backfired. Going forward, Uber wants to partner with cities and regulators to create a more constructive relationship, he said.
“Germany is a market with enormous promise,” he added. “We stepped into Germany and we behaved in a way that was inappropriate and wrong. Our relationship with Germany is in need of a total reset. And it deserves to be a total reset … We’re bullish on the German market, but we want to be patient.”
Finally, in terms of fixing Uber’s culture, he said he’s not looking to be a savior.
“In Silicon Valley, there’s a cult of personality,” he said. “That there’s this single person who’s going to solve everything. I think that’s B.S. I think it’s about building a team. What we need is a team. It’s not about me. If Uber’s about me, it’s in trouble.”
He added: “There is a lot of good in Uber. It is the most passionate set of employees who want to change the world. Things went wrong, but these are good people who are passionate. This a company that’s going to grow, and it’s going to do so responsibility. I think this is going to the one of the greatest comebacks in technology.”