The details of how badly things can go wrong when the alpha-male founder of a tech start-up is showered with venture capital and has few checks on his power are almost unbelievable. There are so many examples in this book it will keep tech-sceptics enraged for months once they put it down...
This forensic account of the rise and fall of Kalanick is a great “behind the headlines” read for Valley types. Take the case of the dashcam video published online by an Uber driver in 2017 that showed Kalanick berating him during a ride after he complains about the way the company treats its drivers. When Kalanick sees it online, he collapses and writhes on the floor in front of senior colleagues in an agony of self-criticism. “What is wrong with me?” he wails. Some of Isaac’s writing is strong. “Venture capital isn’t as much a profession as it is a brawl” is spot-on.
I wonder, however, whether the average reader will take to it. After all, anyone with a passing interest in Uber will have concluded long ago that Kalanick is a piece of work (as they dial up their next Uber ride).
Isaac is great at the ticktock of events as they unfold, but his best work comes when he steps back to examine the bigger picture. His explanation of Uber’s failure to capture significant market share in China uncovers mistakes ranging from the amusing (Chinese drivers and riders devised ingenious methods to bilk Uber), to the foolish (to guide drivers, the company used Google Maps, which was not accurate in much of the country), to the existential (Kalanick was hubristically determined that Uber would be the first American tech firm to “crack” China). Equally good is Isaac’s dissection of how a clever hashtag led 500,000 people to delete their accounts in the space of a week...Histrionics aside, “Super Pumped” is a serious book. One of the most upsetting parts of the Uber story is that the subterfuge — the lying, spying, bribery, lawbreaking and threats against reporters and competitors — worked.