Cabbies at the gate – Uber’s CEO at DLD18

Arriving at the DLD conference shortly before Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took to the stage there was a real buzz in the streets. Not delirious VC fanboys or ride-hailing fans, but a group of Munich’s taxi drivers none too pleased to welcome Travis Kalanick’s successor to the city.

Protest was a theme that connected Khosrowshahi with his street-critics. He was wearing a t-shirt proclaiming “We are all dreamers”, a protest slogan referencing the Dreamers, children of illegal US immigrants whom had been given the right to stay in the US under Obama-era legislation.

Khosrowshahi was interviewed by Tanit Koch, Editor in Chief of German tabloid Bild. She noted her personal preference for Uber after a two-year feud with taxi drivers in Berlin who, despite being legally obliged to, would refuse and verbally abuse her whenever she tried to pay with a credit card.

Like Satya Nadella at Microsoft, Khosrowshahi is clearly differentiating himself from his predecessor by sounding like a leader that reasonable people might actually want to be associated with.

He was keen to stress that turnaround of the company’s culture was going to be down to creating great teams, not any dazzling acts of genius by him:  “There’s an obsession with the cult of personality in Silicon Valley, and to me, that’s just BS.”

He helped the company define its values, but rather than dictating homilies from on high, Khosrowshahi led a crowdsourcing effort to define the behaviours that employees wanted to exemplify in their everyday work. The input from thousands of employees was curated and refined by the employees – “We were editors, not authors”, he said.

While Uber is still not profitable, it is getting more focused and also looking for more sources of revenue. UberEats will be the biggest food delivery service in the world this year, he claimed.

Like many other speakers who actually have skin in the driverless car game, Khosrowshahi was quick to play down how quickly autonomous vehicles would become a reality on our roads. He did confidently predict that within 10 – fifteen years another long-time futurist dream, the flying car, would start being used “maybe not in Europe but certainly in places like Dallas, Texas.”

All the while during the talk, overhead hung a kind of flying car – the Volocoptor – suspended from the conference hall roof.