Travis Kalanick might have resigned as Uber’s CEO, but there are no signs that the troubles for him and Uber are going to be assuaged. In fact, they are about to get a lot worse thanks to the ongoing dispute with Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo.
Uber in big trouble now
According to court filings revealed late Wednesday, Kalanick was aware that the engineer heading Uber’s driverless car project had secret information from Google. Kalanick probably learned about this sometime last year, claims the filing.
Further, the filing says that Kalanick told the engineer Anthony Levandowski in March 2016 that Uber does not need this information, and he should not bring it to work at Uber. In reply, Levandowski said that he had destroyed the confidential information (in the form of discs) that he got from Google, according to Bloomberg. If it is true, it could be really bad for the ride-hailing service.
For those unaware of the case, Waymo first sued Uber and its self-driving freight truck company Otto in February for allegedly stealing about 14,000 confidential files related to its self-driving vehicle technology. At the time, the ride-haling service said it had developed its driverless system independently.
In April, however, the company said that it found one of the stolen files from an employee named Sameer Kshirsagar, who worked at Waymo previously. Last month, the ride-sharing company sacked Levandowski, who pleaded the Fifth Amendment after being asked to return the stolen files and testify on Uber’s behalf.
The Uber vs. Waymo case has now become even more interesting. The latest filing undermines Uber’s claim that it had no information on Levandowski being in possession of any stolen files from Waymo. And that’s not all. Uber is also dealing with several other issues, including allegations of a male-dominated culture, mistreating drivers, mishandling of the rape incident in India, and use of a secret software to dupe regulators.
Owing to such scandals, investors lost faith in Kalanick’s leadership. On Wednesday, shareholders controlling about 40% of the company asked Kalanick to step down as CEO. He will, however, remain on Uber’s board.
It will be hard to replace Travis Kalanick
Travis Kalanick has been Uber’s face since its start. He has played a major role in making Uber, which is valued at $68 billion, a household name. So it will be very hard for the company to find a suitable replacement.
According to Bradley Tusk, a political consultant and investor in Uber, the ride-haling service needs someone who can “balance” being “extremely innovative and aggressive” with of “a sense of responsibility and accountability.”
“If the board just plays it safe, they may win the battle (a few good press cycles), but they’ll lose the war (a truly great, innovative company),” Tusk says, according to CNN.
So there are still good chances of Kalanick making a comeback. Silicon Valley has witnessed several founder CEOs (Apple, Google, Twitter) step down (or being forced to step down), only to make a successful return.