Warning: This video contains graphic language.
SAN FRANCISCO — When chief executive Travis Kalanick takes an Uber, he prefers a black car, the high-end service his company introduced in 2010. On this particular night in early February — Super Bowl Sunday —Kalanick is perched in the middle seat, flanked by two female friends. Maroon 5’s ‘‘Don’t Wanna Know’’ plays, and Kalanick shimmies.
He clutches his smartphone as the three make awkward conversation. The two women ask when his birthday is, and marvel that he’s a Leo. One of his companions appears to say, somewhat inaudibly, that she’s heard Uber is having a hard year. Kalanick retorts, ‘‘I make sure every year is a hard year.’’ He continues, ‘‘That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.’’
There’s no question that it’s been a hard year for Kalanick and Uber — or a bad year compressed into an awful three months. And it keeps getting worse. That pleasant conversation between Kalanick and his friends in the back of an Uber Black? It devolved into a heated argument over Uber’s fares between the CEO and his driver, Fawzi Kamel, who then turned over a dashboard recording of the conversation to Bloomberg.
Kamel, 37, has been driving for Uber since 2011 and wants to draw attention to the plight of Uber drivers. The video shows off Kalanick’s pugnacious personality and short temper, which may cause some investors to question whether he has disposition to lead a $69 billion company with a footprint that spans the globe.
Uber declined to comment on this video.
In December, Uber pulled its self-driving cars off the road in San Francisco after the California Department of Motor Vehicles said they were operating illegally without an autonomous vehicle license. In January, more than 200,000 people uninstalled their accounts, and #DeleteUber trended on Twitter, after the company was accused of undermining a New York taxi union strike protesting President Trump’s temporary ban on refugees.
On Feb. 2, Kalanick reluctantly left his spot on Trump’s business advisory council to appease the company’s liberal-leaning employees and users — not to mention its many immigrant drivers.
On Feb. 19, a former software engineer at Uber wrote a blog post alleging she had been propositioned for sex by her manager and when she’d taken the issue to human resources, a staffer said that he wouldn’t be punished, in part, because he was a ‘‘high performer.’’
On Feb. 23, Alphabet’s autonomous car company Waymo sued Uber and its self-driving car company Otto, accusing an Uber employee of stealing trade secrets by downloading 14,000 files onto a hard drive.
On Monday, Uber’s head of engineering resigned after the company said it learned that he had faced a sexual harassment complaint at Alphabet, his former employer. He denied the allegations.
The company has responded to the former software engineer’s allegations by hiring former US attorney general Eric Holder to investigate her claims. ‘‘What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired,’’ Kalanick wrote on Twitter.
On Waymo’s claims that Uber has stolen trade secrets, an Uber spokeswoman said, ‘‘We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor, and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.’’
Like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg before him, Kalanick is trying to learn how to empathize and communicate. But Kalanick at 40, compared with 32-year-old Zuckerberg, is having to change his ways later in life, and he’s often reluctant to tread too far from his intuitions.
Even when Kalanick tries to empathize in his own way — which often means jumping into a dialectical argument of sorts — his temper can flare.
Kamel says what every driver has been dying to tell Kalanick: ‘‘You’re raising the standards, and you’re dropping the prices.’’
Kalanick: ‘‘We’re not dropping the prices on black.’’
Kamel: ‘‘But in general the whole price is . . . ’’
Kalanick: ‘‘We have to; we have competitors; otherwise, we’d go out of business.’’
Kamel: ‘‘Competitors? Man, you had the business model in your hands. You could have the prices you want, but you choose to buy everybody a ride.’’
Kalanick: ‘‘No, no no. You misunderstand me. We started high-end. We didn’t go low-end because we wanted to. We went low-end because we had to because we’d be out of business.’’
Kamel: ‘‘What? Lyft? It’s a piece of cake right there.’’
Kalanick: ‘‘It seems like a piece of cake because I’ve beaten them. But if I didn’t do the things I did, we would have been beaten, I promise.’’
The two bat that idea around, and Kamel brings the conversation back to his losses.
Kamel: ‘‘But people are not trusting you anymore. . . . I lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you. Yes, yes, yes. You keep changing every day. You keep changing every day.’’
Kalanick: ‘‘Hold on a second, what have I changed about Black? What have I changed?’’
Kamel: ‘‘You changed the whole business. You dropped the prices.’’
Kalanick: ‘‘On black?’’
Kamel: ‘‘Yes, you did.’’
Kalanick begins to lose his temper and spouts an expletive.
Kamel: ‘‘We started with $20.’’
Kalanick: another expletive.
Kamel: ‘‘We started with $20. How much is the mile now, $2.75?’’
Kalanick: ‘‘You know what?’’
Kalanick: ‘‘Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own [expletive]. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!’’
Kamel: ‘‘Good luck to you, but I know [you’re not] going to go far.’’
The door slams. Kamel drives away. Later, the Uber driver app prompts him to rate Kalanick, as he does all his riders. Kamel gives him one star.