An account of rideshare company Uber's rapid rise, its pitched battles with taxi unions and drivers, the company's toxic internal culture, and the bare-knuckle tactics it devised to overcome obstacles in its quest for dominance.
It would be easy for a book about Uber to go off the rails...Yet Mike Isaac deftly turns a history of the company that threatens to kill off the taxi business, defied governments from San Francisco to São Paulo and epitomized the modern 'unicorn' into a gripping, well-told narrative ... If you want to understand how Uber became so big, so fast, it’s in this book. If you want to learn how the #DeleteUber movement took off and customers and drivers came to hate a company they loved, it’s in this book. If you want to know how Travis Kalanick rose to an unassailable position running the world’s most valuable private tech company and then was toppled, it’s in this book ... exposes the human quirks and frailties of a valley in love with algorithms ... The book is, like its subject, rough around the edges. A careful reader will notice a footnote that mentions an executive who has never been introduced, a misplacing of a venture-capital hangout in Palo Alto instead of Menlo Park, or a reference to Microsoft offering $1 billion for Facebook (it was Yahoo that made the lowball offer). Most of the errors come in the setup, where we get introduced to the milieu that gave birth to Uber. The chapters that deal with Uber’s crisis, where it seems like Isaac had camped out in the air ducts of the boardrooms he writes about, are more polished ... That criticism aside, I can think of few books that tell a story of a startup so thoroughly and objectively ... Uber is an exciting tale from the plain facts, and Isaac recognizes that it requires no inflation.
Isaac’s meticulously reported account still finds jaw-dropping new lows ... an essential read, functioning, in a way, as a reverse translation engine—techspeak to plainspeak—to decode the industry’s dizzying ascent over the past decade, to the point where decisions made by a roomful of men on Market Street now have the power to change the face of a city or dictate wages and tips (or lack thereof) for millions of drivers ... avoids the easy option of villainizing Kalanick ... Compared to the vividly rendered blow-by-blows of Kalanick’s power struggles with his investors, the passages of context are hand-wavy about the tech industry's flip from utopianism to disillusionment. When Kalanick’s employees finally turn on him, it’s unclear whether it was out of genuine ethical crisis or because working for Uber now failed 'the Bay Area cocktail party test' ... [a] fair-minded book.
... more than the story of an upstart company that destroyed the taxi industry and revolutionized the gig economy ... 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, to the foolish, to the existential. 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 ... Isaac has made the unfortunate choice in his own writing to mimic the macho tone of his subject. He writes about an iPhone 'on nuclear meltdown' and a 'battalion of douchebags.' Such language undermines Isaac’s authority and thorough reporting.