The new Uber CEO’s primary challenge

I think Uber board picked an amazing leader as the new CEO , despite all the leaks and drama and all around it . With adult supervision from the new boss and hiring experienced leaders to work for him in various functions , I think a lot of their current problems with culture , litigation , board politics, driver retention etc will get resolved .

Solving the current problems is unfortunately just table stakes really . The fundamental question in my mind is whether Uber has a sustainable business model . How long can they capture growth by subsidizing costs when we are talking in multiple billions ?

Clearly, they have made some mis-steps by trying to optimize for market share at all costs . So getting out of some international markets was a necessary step , and I expect more of the same for near future . Getting out of leasing also seems like a smart thing to do .

I am a firm believer that driverless cars will become a mainstream reality soon – between google , Tesla , uber and many others putting their might behind it – it’s only a matter of time . But that time is not in next couple of years . So for foreseeable future , they have to subsidize human drivers and figure out better ways to retain drivers . And then there will be a period where self driving cars and human driven cars will do-exist . And some time in far future – perhaps they can switch to mostly driverless cars ( assuming they have the legal and political backing to do so in the major markets ). Will investors agree to bleeding money for that long ?

Also – when they do mostly driverless cars, wouldn’t they just incur even more costs for owning ( or leasing ) and maintaining a big fleet ? And my guess is that insurance cost will be quite high for the in-between period where they need both human driven and self driving cars .

Not sure how to correctly extrapolate here – but my best guess is that for next decade it is not going to make profitable revenue with the “cheap taxi” business alone , while also capturing significant chunks of the global market.

While uber is getting out of some geographic markets, it’s definitely entering some adjacencies – like trucks and boats. But the business model is still the same – so all the problems with the economic model of taxis should apply to boats and trucks too .

First mover advantage is with uber – but there is always the significant risk of fast followers who can learn from Uber’s mistakes and avoid the heavy initial capital investments and expenses .

If private markets are fine with all this and Uber just chooses to remain privately held for a very long time – none of this might be an issue . But going to public markets without proving out their business model seems like mission impossible . Even in private market, my suspicion is that they cannot sustain the $69B valuation given all the economic issues . And a loss in valuation might start a round of talent attrition which might make it really hard to execute on whatever roadmap the new CEO puts in place .

So all things considered – I think the main challenge for the new Uber CEO might not be the things in the news now . They are all no doubt important problems to solve , and unless he solves them first – there might not even be a chance to change the business model . But the true fight in my mind is to figure out how to run this business as a sustainable enterprise , while preserving as much of the valuation as possible .

Given the size of the short term and long term challenges for uber – I hope the CEO, the board and the staff of Uber have the stamina to do a few marathons back to back !


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

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