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Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber

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New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller

A New York Times technology correspondent presents the dramatic story of Uber, the Silicon Valley startup at the center of one of the great venture capital power struggles of our time. In June 2017, Travis Kalanick, the hard-charging CEO of Uber, was ousted in a boardroom coup that capped a brutal year for the transportation giant. Uber had catapulted to the top of the tech world, yet for many came to symbolize everything wrong with Silicon Valley. Award-winning New York Times technology correspondent Mike Isaac’s Super Pumped presents the dramatic rise and fall of Uber, set against an era of rapid upheaval in Silicon Valley. Backed by billions in venture capital dollars and led by a brash and ambitious founder, Uber promised to revolutionize the way we move people and goods through the world. A near instant “unicorn,” Uber seemed poised to take its place next to Amazon, Apple, and Google as a technology giant. What followed would become a corporate cautionary tale about the perils of startup culture and a vivid example of how blind worship of startup founders can go wildly wrong. Isaac recounts Uber’s 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. With billions of dollars at stake, Isaac shows how venture capitalists asserted their power and seized control of the startup as it fought its way toward its fateful IPO. Based on hundreds of interviews with current and former Uber employees, along with previously unpublished documents, Super Pumped is a page-turning story of ambition and deception, obscene wealth, and bad behavior that explores how blistering technological and financial innovation culminated in one of the most catastrophic twelve-month periods in American corporate history.

408 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2019

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Mike Isaac

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 974 reviews
2 reviews11 followers
September 8, 2019
This is one most poorly written books I’ve read in years. I picked it up because I’ve always disliked Uber and thought this would be an Uber-focused version of “Bad Blood” (one of my favorite books I’ve read this year). It was not even in the same league. By the end I actually liked Travis more, and truly loathed the author for making me sit through 350 pages of painful drivel.

The writing is horribly self-congratulatory (“there was a New York Times reporter involved. That reporter was me” is evoked multiple times as if to remind the reader that the book can’t be as bad as it seems because of the authors employer). The authors obvious insecurity comes creeping through throughout the book.

It’s also full of childish errors. At one point the author says Travis has “Savant-like math skills” because he can calculate how long it will take to get somewhere in a car given the distance and the speed. I reread this 5 times, thinking it must be a joke. It was not.

A few pages later I found out why simple arithmetic counts as Fields Medal worthy: the author insists that a 1.5mbps modem is “thousands” of times faster that a 28.8kbps modem. Apparently for the author 1500/28.8=~50 is an impossibly complex math equation.

These were just two of the 11 tweet-worthy mistakes or idiocies scattered throughout the book. Some of the other egregious examples: saying all companies have a single founder, that consumer-facing companies always get higher valuations than enterprise software/infrastructure companies, or that VCs investors hope to earn a 20% total return on their initial investment “after 10 years” (not compounded annualized return, which would have made sense). I wondered at times if the author had decided to save money by not hiring an editor.

In addition to being painfully self-absorbed and full of errors, the writing is incredibly formulaic. It felt like the whole book had been written by a machine-learning algorithm trained to imitate non-fiction. The book had all the superficial traits of the genre, without any infusion of actual writing talent.

Unless you enjoy comically bad writing, avoid this book at all costs.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
June 14, 2020
The fascinating source material is not done full justice by sloppy writing and editing - Three Stars
You treat us like mushrooms: feed us shit and keep us in the dark - an investor about Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick

The real,
The first time I used an Uber was when a friend and me were stranded by a disruption of public transport on the way to Stansted airport. Our driver passed us twice because he didn't know how we looked, and we feared he just picked up an other ride due to the spike in demand and fares. But with a complete stranger (who turned out to be a ballerina from Greece) and a mother who was on her way to her family, we jointly made our flights in time. This all for around 20 pounds per person and with an interesting story to tell at home as well.
It perfectly encapsulates the idea behind the ubiquitous app.

the good...
Reading about Uber is like reading about a real life The Circle. Mike Isaac homes into the whole culture of Silicon Valley of making big bets and assertions to be noticed. How a charismatic personality, competitiveness and ruthless determination make all the difference. Together with a disregard for legality and vested interests, seeing any challenge as something that needs to be cleared out the way, that is.
The company in it's start up phase felt like a supersized version of the Fyrefestival (https://www.netflix.com/nl/title/8103...) at times, showing the real life truth of the adagium that is better not to wait for permission, but just do things and then see what the consequences are.

Off course there is a working product that clearly meets a need, it's not all bluff and bluster. Boards and investors see this, and happily give up their oversight and information rights just to get into this product. There is fear of missing the next big thing, and Travis Kalanick cleverly uses this to his advantage. He drives a culture of internal strive and competition, leading to assholes taking control all over the company. Then excessive amounts of money ($2 billion a year on promotional expenses alone) are coupled to a minimum of oversight, with staff functions like legal, compliance, HR and even the CFO being sidelined.
The WeCrashed podcast (https://wondery.com/shows/we-crashed/) covers basically the same happening at WeWork a few years later, indicating this is a kind of systemic thing in current day capitalism.

No wonder things go bad through this cocktail.
Bad in this instance ranges from people being murdered in Brazil and Mexico by taxi companies that want to keep grip on their markets, faking petitions and circumventing the Appstore approval processes to keep gathering privacy sensitive data from clients to combat rampant fraud.
Some of the side effects of a culture focussed on rapid growth above all else.
Content wise this book has a lot going for it.

and the bad.
Unfortunately the writing is rather poor versus how thrilling the subject matter is.
This book has quite a lot of typo’s and cliche sentences that make me feel like the head over heels approach Uber used to get to markets first was also applied by the author. We have unclear jumping in time and no comparison to what is happening at other Silicon Valley firms.

Mike Isaac uses big sweeping statements and has a rather bewildering focus on the length, weight and looks of the persons he describes. Overall so little of the research and talks the author must have held to unearth some of his subject matter is clear from this book, a lot just seems to be platitudes and general Financial Times headlines.
Also the author incorporate himself as a figure within the book, when his narrative doesn't have a clear added value or gives a momentum to events unfolding.

This started of as a four star read but due to the sloppy editing and clunky translation, with as low point of Oprah literally called Whitney as a last name two sentences after she’s introduced, it ended at three stars for me.

Still breezed through it and this has more than a bit of Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup vibes, so an entertaining read for anyone interested in modern business and Silicon Valley.
1 review
September 10, 2019
Mostly accurate, but lacks character development.

I worked at Uber in SF beginning in 2015, and at a high level the events in the book that I experienced (Vegas off-site, China market) were fairly accurate portrayals of what actually happened.

The biggest disappointment with the book was not whether or not events actually happened or not, but that it never really dug into the psyche of any of the main characters, likely because the author has never successfully managed to interview any of them or anyone personally close (e.g. not just colleagues, subordinates) to them in any real detail.

Without that level of character development the book reads like a long newspaper article, and every major events described in the book has already been described in near identical ways in past articles.
Profile Image for Eric Lin.
132 reviews66 followers
November 16, 2019
If this book were an Uber ride, it would be an Uber Pool wending its way through the Marina on Saturday night - sloppy bros and woo girls cycling in and out.

Perhaps they slump against the window, leaning heavy. The window rolls down, Mom's spaghetti. They stagger out from the backseat, swaying back and forth behind the car as they wait to jaywalk across the street to return home. They will sleep on their dirty floor tonight, alone.

The driver has been drinking too. You can smell it on his breath. He turns to look at you, and you realize that it is Travis who has been driving you around. He tells you he hasn't been making much money driving for Uber.
Profile Image for Sasha.
6 reviews7 followers
August 30, 2019
As a transportation reporter this was a page-turner, it read almost like a novelization of real events. It was fascinating to go behind the scenes of key moments in Uber, ride-hailing, and tech/Silicon Valley history.
42 reviews12 followers
October 13, 2019
So much of this book was fascinating. Starting with Part 3, I was highlighting every other paragraph. Lots of it was new to me, including the scope of fraud in the Chinese market that Uber dealt with (e.g., “giant makeshift circuit boards filled with hundreds of slots to insert SIM cards” to make it easy to create and cycle through new accounts). While other events were familiar from earlier reporting, they made much more sense within Isaac’s narrative. For instance, I’d read that Apple execs had gotten angry at Uber for violating App Store rules, but why had Uber done that in the first place? My understanding had been “Travis Kalinick is a douchecanoe who doesn’t give a shit about anyone’s privacy and he built an organization in his own image,” and while that still seems entirely accurate, that was only one factor.

This book was also a throwback, both to San Francisco in the summer of 2015 (I was there and I remember it ~all too well~) and to reading Shakespeare in English class. Isaac, I think, structured the book into five parts to parallel the five-act structure of a Shakespearean tragedy. There’s some exposition, some rising action, a turning point where the protagonist makes choices with consequences that will haunt them for the rest of the play, the realization of those consequences, and an awful end in which everybody dies. In this book, one person dies in a tragic accident and a lot of people get fired. (Travis remains a bazillionaire at the end, though.)

But while this book shows that dramatic structure is still alive, it makes clear that copyediting is dead. I am astounded that of all the people who read a book that is destined to be a bestseller, _not one_ knew the difference between “cache” and “cachet,” noticed that Oprah Winfrey’s name was misspelled, or caught the inconsistent capitalization of “Muslim ban” within a single page. I read the Kindle edition, so maybe it’s all fine in hardcover, but, like, really? To me it is mind-boggling that these errors were never caught, and if you can’t get shit like this right, what else must be wrong with the book?
Profile Image for Lili Kyurkchiyska.
251 reviews77 followers
August 30, 2023
Травис Каланик не е Елизабет Холмс. За разлика от нея той притежава трудолюбие, неизчерпаема енергия, познание за областта, в която работи и най-вече - има работеща идея, ако ще и да не я е измислил той*. Но точно като нея той е убедителен чаровник, на когото му липсва емоционалната интелигентност, за да прозре щетите, които причинява - на компанията, служителите си и обществото като цяло. Липсва му и волята да ги поправи.
Макар да е убеден, че в бизнеса няма място за лични чувства и често да коментира, че хората проявяват такива, несправедливо изкарвайки го злодей просто защото той успява, а те се провалят, с настървението на обидено малко дете той преследва конкуренцията, краде служителите й, принуждава инвеститорите да ги изоставят и прилага корпоративен шпионаж, за да ги изхвърли от бизнеса**. Със същото настървение похарчва милиарди, за да овладее китайския пазар, въпреки множеството предупреждения, че това е загубена битка.
Има още толкова пикантни подробности, които да споделя с вас, но настоящото ревю няма за цел да бъде съкратено изложение на книгата на Азък. Оставям ви да й се насладите. Тя може да не е докрай изчерп��телна или обективна, но е поглед към технологиите, които движат света ни и ние не трябва да пренебрегваме.

* Идеята за приложението е на съоснователя на Uber Гари Кемп.
** Въпросният кон��урент - Lyft - ще се смее последен. През 2019 когато двете фирми стават публични, акциите на Lyft се продават за 78$, а тези на Uber - за 42$.
Profile Image for Rachel.
60 reviews3 followers
October 17, 2019
Interestingly written. It feels like it’s almost mocking the bro-culture of the company: the writing itself seems a bit childish and the fratty undertones are not very subtle. Overall, the story itself is fascinating, if not alarming. Maybe will write another update after I hear the author speak in a couple of days.
Profile Image for Ann.
150 reviews7 followers
October 6, 2019
TL;DR: Travis Kalanick is a douche, tech is out of control, take Lyft instead of Uber.

Super Pumped is methodically researched and compelling. It confirms what we've always suspected: that Travis Kalanick and his cronies are insufferable douchebags. This is a conclusion yielded by the facts of the story, not by the author's writing, which is a surprisingly balanced account. After everything Kalanick does in the name of "winning," it's satisfying to see him pushed out of his own company. At the same time, however, he's still a billionaire, and now has another startup, so that's a sobering reminder that unless you say a firm "NO" to the assholes of the world early on, they might still get away with a yacht and a big pile of cash.

It's also a great reminder to take Lyft instead of Uber. At least Lyft didn't spy on its opponents (including following them home or secretly photographing them), go out of its way to steal from and screw over competitors, actively deceive government officials, or encourage work environments full of unfettered backstabbing, misogyny, and toxicity. Uber under Kalanick was simultaneously uncontrolled chaos and vicious calculation. The lengths the company went to in order to "win" are nothing short of psychopathic. If anything, this is a cautionary tale to us, the consumers—apps and tech companies seem so safe and regulated in their ubiquity and popularity, but this is a lesson to the contrary. Never trust a company. Especially companies run by jerks, which, let's be real, most of them are. Kalanick doesn't even come close to the worst of them (I felt bad for him at times - he's not evil, just a power-obsessed douche).

If this is something that bothers you, well, vote with your wallet, and encourage others to do the same.

With regards to the writing, there are several issues that stem from switching from quickly-penned online articles to a full-length book. Uncaught typos / grammatical errors pop up frequently, transitions between chapters can be awkward, and the digressions into each introduced individual's biographical background are tedious. But overall, the book is very well done, both fascinating and thoroughly researched. Let's hope we as a society learn something from the story of Uber (though history tells me we probably won't).
Profile Image for Romulus.
752 reviews41 followers
October 1, 2020
Nic mnie w tej książce nie zaskoczyło. To, co się działo w Uberze i z Uberem śledzę od dawna. Dla mnie ta firma to przykład patologii, którą jest "postęp" technologiczny z Doliny Krzemowej. Jedyne co oferują użytkownikom to ogłupiające aplikacje społecznościowe, śmieciowe gry lub dewastację wolnego rynku, czy kapitalizmu w ogóle.

Nie jestem zapaleńcem krytykującym to w czambuł. Sam korzystam aktywnie z tych mediów. Ale zawsze powtarzam, że trzeba być ich świadomym "konsumentem". Wiedzieć, że czy to dla Goodreads czy dla Google jesteśmy tylko towarem. Wiem to, nie podoba mi się to, ale godzę się świadomie decydując. Choć czy to jest wybór: Facebook i reszta albo cyfrowe wykluczenie? Długo można to rozkminiać. Rzecz w tym, że znam cenę.

Uber to inna para kaloszy. Od początku pod szczytnymi "ideami" kryła się ponura strategia. Zniszczyć rynek przewozów, zmonopolizować go, a potem kosić kasę na frajerach. Cel ten osiągano przy użyciu aplikacji, minimum kosztów, maksimum zysków. A na "koniec" z kierowców zrobiono niewolników regulaminów i umów. Czym się to skończyło opowiadał mi kiedyś znajomy znający to od podszewki (nie taksówkarz tylko kierowca Ubera).

Ta książka opowiada o tym, jak ten biznes powstał, jak się rozwinął. I jak skończył jego założyciel. A po drodze opisy korporacyjnych patologii, od kłamstw, oszukiwania kogo się dało, bezwzględności, korupcji, molestowania seksualnego. Nie wiem, gdyby ktoś napisał, że Uber ma krew na rękach z powodu jakiegoś zabójstwa - nie byłbym zaskoczony.

Rzecz jednak w tym, że autor nie ocenia, on to wszystko opisuje, bogato, widać że miał dobre źródła. Zresztą, tym tematem zajmował się wcześniej jako dziennikarz. Dlatego dałem pięć gwiazdek. Nie ma tu bowiem pogoni za sensacją, tropienia bracholskich orgii itp. Jest tu opisanie pewnej emblematycznej dla tej "branży" historii.

Choć swoją drogą, to kolejne źródło umacniające mnie w przekonaniu, że libertarianizm, mizoginia czy zwykłe skurwysy.stwo, są ze sobą nieodłącznie związane.

Cieszy mnie jednak to, że zjazd jaki Uber zaliczył w dniu premiery na giełdzie i kolejne ciosy, które regularnie zbiera (w Polsce właśnie weszło w życie prawo porządkujące ten burdel) przekłuł bańkę bezmyślnego pompowania pieniędzy w tego typu "cuda" biznesowe. Pewnie nie na długo, ale zawsze jakaś frajda. Martwi mnie to, że takie indywidua jak Kalanick i jemu podobni "brachole” w zasadzie chodzą bezkarni. I nawet jeśli w niesławie to mimo to na tyle bogaci, że mogą mieć to w nosie. Taki świat.

Reasumując, czy kochacie Ubera, czy - jak ja - uważacie, że to patologia, książka ta wam się może spodobać. Świetna historia wzlotu i upadku jednorożca w branży technologicznej, w tle wielkie pieniądze i intrygi. I nic tu nie zostało zmyślone.
Profile Image for Bryan Rahija.
91 reviews7 followers
February 5, 2020
A poor man’s Bad Blood. Isaac seems to borrow a lot from John Carreyrou’s corporate thriller on Theranos, starting with an endorsement from Carreyrou on the back cover, and also including a chapter about two thirds the way through, where Isaac inserts himself into the story a la Carreyrou, as he recounts meeting a source in the first person.

Both books show the dangerous results of the recent firesale on venture capital: companies run by megalomaniacs who blatantly disregard the rules. Isaac dials up the drama but somehow this one doesn’t land as hard, perhaps because Uber’s spectacularly bad year in 2017 pales in comparison to Theranos' own implosion, and perhaps because the story of Uber is still being written.

Still, there was plenty to enjoy here for industry enthusiasts. It was fascinating to read about how Uber flipped the power dynamic relationship on VCs (making them feel desperate to invest in Uber), about the company trying to obscure code in their app that violated Apple’s rules on harvesting user info (by making code invisible to people in Cupertino), and combating fraud in China. I left with mixed feelings for the founder, Travis. On the one hand, he condoned douchery, rulebreaking, and somehow convinced his employees and the world that they were underdogs fighting against local governments and taxi drivers (“Big Taxi”), despite having near infinite access to capital, talent, and industry relationships. Not super admirable! On the other hand, it seems like he's had a rough go of things: he suffers personal tragedy at the moment his company is flying apart, and seemed to give his life completely away to achieve early retirement floating around on yachts...he leaves with a fractured soul like someone whose created too many horcruxes.

I guess this book helped me build context for today’s tech boom. Some people make it through a combo of pluckiness and luck (e.g. Ryan Graves, the company’s first CEO, who got a job that made him a billionaire when he sent a tweet as a 26 year old). And some people succeed by being utterly, completely relentless.
Profile Image for Vuk Trifkovic.
513 reviews43 followers
October 14, 2019
Pretty poor book. It's such an NYT thing. The author is, as it is typical for tech press, totally in thrall of the companies they cover. It is not so much that he's "pro" Kalanick, it's more than total mediocrity of Kalanick actually really resonate with Isaac. He bends over backward to paint an aggressive everyman (well, almost) into a super-being just because he calculated ETA in a car once. In the end, he even openly fawns over Kalnick *IN COURT*.

More to the point, the book brings very little new for anyone who did not read the tech blogs at the time. Moreover, the book only explodes to life at the very last, and actually not that interesting or important part - boardroom struggles behind the scenes. That's the kind of "he said, she said, they said" limit of the book.
80 reviews31 followers
November 14, 2019
I don't even know why I picked this book. It is just a collection of randomly pieced news articles about all the misgivings of Uber. Please note, only misgivings. Also, other key takeaway, all executives at Uber are over 6 feet tall with hustle in them. What a waste of time!
Profile Image for Penner.
55 reviews17 followers
August 12, 2020
So I have now read this entire hardback book about Uber, and still don’t understand what its great innovation was. What did everybody think was so new about it? In the old days you had to call a cab using your phone. Now, with Uber, you can call a cab with… your phone. Except that instead of a licensed and vetted professional driver backed by state insurance, you get some dude with a car. And lest you think “some dude with a car” is the true innovation, let me remind you of the hundreds of gypsy cabs constantly roaming New York honking to attract fares without having gone to the expense of a TLC medallion. New York is the only big city I know well, but I’d be surprised if other cities don’t have something similar.

Now, this is my failure, not Mike Isaac’s. It’s clear that everyone (except me) really does see something revolutionary and valuable in Uber’s service, to the point that many of my friends no longer seem to be aware of any other way to get around. I live in a small town now and don’t pay much attention to social media, so I am following all of this from an extremely remote perspective. But, the phenomenon of Uber’s rise has seemed to me akin to that of Spotify: It’s become so dominant that people use it reflexively without even considering the obvious fact that it doesn’t offer anything substantive that couldn’t be had through previous, more traditional, channels. There is actually a term for this, which Isaac explains: “negative churn” means that people who use the service are more likely to use it again.

This phenomenon, of Uber brainwashing everyone into forgetting that there are alternatives to Uber, is not a focus of the book. Even so, it is woven through the story: The “syndicate” of venture capitalists who collude to bring down Travis Kalanick continue to discuss their plot even as they get into Ubers that they know are bugged. The author himself, Mike Isaac, takes Ubers to clandestine off-the-record meetings with current and former Uber employees. Uber über-alles.

I wanted to consider myself a technocrat back in the days of Walkmans and DOS, but since then have realized I’m more Luddite than most. I’ve never owned a cellphone and have only ever ridden in an Uber once, when visiting a friend in Minneapolis. But it seemed to me then, as now, that what customers really like about Uber is being able to watch the cab crawl toward them on their little phone screen map. Which means that if the San Francisco Transportation Commission (or even one of the gypsy cab companies) had decided to make an app for calling their cabs, none of what’s in this book would have happened.

But happen it did, and it’s a bonanza for armchair schadenfreude-hustlers like me. Mike Isaac’s account is bristly, snappy, and suffused with an understanding of Silicon Valley culture. He takes us from Travis Kalanick’s early efforts as an entrepreneur – suffering setbacks but coming away with enough green to get started on his Next Big Thing – all the way to the ugly, public efforts to remove him from the company he had founded (and also nearly drove to destruction). It starts out seeming like a biography, but as Uber grows the story takes on a global, giants-in-the-playground aspect. If you have nothing riding on it, it’s great fun to read about the shenanigans of over-wealthy entitled “tech-bros” with plans for world domination and little respect for laws, rules, norms, or boundaries of any kind. The company, built deliberately to mirror Kalanick’s own mindset, becomes a freewheeling, cutthroat, sexist bacchanalia celebrating adversarialism, conquest, and money. Based on Isaac’s descriptions of the company’s founding mission and stated objectives, it should have been called Qo’noS.

When the adults finally enter the room, i.e. the scions of the professional manager class and big money investors who demand board seats and transparency, things start to tighten for Kalanick. Even for someone like me who didn’t already know what had happened, the writing was on the wall. It couldn’t have helped that Uber’s base business model relied on two practices that could be seen as shady at best: expanding into territories without proper governmental or regulatory clearance; and treating their entire driver base as contractors who don’t have to be paid health care coverage, time off, or pretty much anything else. Without these, is the ride-hailing business model even theoretically profitable? I have no idea; Isaac doesn’t address the question.

But he does a great job telling the story of the personalities, places, and technical hurdles involved in turning one simple smartphone app into a global behemoth. As an outsider, the way this company was run is mindblowing to me. Is it an outlier, a unicorn among unicorns, or is it a bellwether of an entire reckless, headlong, move-fast-and-break-things industry?
Profile Image for Mindaugas Mozūras.
306 reviews167 followers
March 3, 2020
The law isn’t what is written. It’s what is enforced.

I vividly remember the LOGIN conference in May 2016. That was before the nightmare year Uber survived in 2017. Uber was still seen as cool, even if it had blemishes to its name.

During LOGIN, my co-worker came up to me, and passionately described the workshop conducted by Uber engineers. He detailed Uber's values and how we could use some of them at our company. The longer I listened, the more passionately I felt that we definitely should not use those values at Vinted. I don't want to be "super-pumped."

I did not predict Uber would end up as it did. But I was not surprised. I was surprised though by a lot of the details in this book. Super Pumped tells quite a compelling story. Very much recommended for anyone at least a little interested.

The book worked for me as a study on corporate values and how they stem from the founders. While it's a cautionary tale on how values can go wrong, Uber still ended up a company worth billions. It was not explored in the book, but it would be interesting to think through which values were the good ones and how the good ones could've worked without the bad ones.
Profile Image for Mahesh Naidu.
61 reviews4 followers
August 5, 2020
If you live in the Bay Area or have anything to do with Tech companies this one is a MUST READ. The book sheds light on some of the deepest darkest secrets as well as success stories originating from the silicon Valley. Mike does a great job at keeping the audience in mind in every little detail shared through the book which keeps you wanting for more. LOVED IT!
Profile Image for Peter Knox.
606 reviews74 followers
December 17, 2019
This may stand as the breakout ‘business’ book of the year in that a knowledgeable insider who has been covering the company for years successfully gives the full context surrounding the specific circumstances that allowed for Uber to exist, explode, and implode.

Decades from now I predict students may turn to this book to try to understand 2010-2019 startup culture, ride sharing, and the gig economy.

As curious a study as Travis is, this book goes beyond his biographical study into what actually builds and breaks a company. I loved getting an inside look into the culture (shocking anecdotes as expected) and venture capital valuation - as well as a full on inter company takeover (a la Succession) that seems impossible then inevitable.

It’s the story of a company culture warped around the perceptions of a single principal, unchecked and unleashed. And how when that reputation was exposed and soured, it sunk.

Amazing book, easy to read, and compelling. (But not life changing). Well done.
596 reviews40 followers
November 17, 2019

302 reviews217 followers
April 27, 2021
Great reporting in one of my favourite genre: biographies of companies. And this is a fascinating story starring an Uber-Aggressive founder, Best VCs in the world, Taxi corporations connected to mafia, China and of course softbank.
If you liked Bad Blood you are probably going to like this one as well.

However, it does not include non journalistic perspective. Which makes the picture really really incomplete.

But this is not a problem of anyone that got equity early. Everyone got massively rich, even in the scenario in which the company won't survive. I guess that if you shoot for the moon and fail (which I hope they won't) you still manage to grab a handful of stars.
64 reviews4 followers
September 20, 2019
This is a fascinating story poorly told. Isaac is so excited to tell salacious stories that he completely skips over the building of the company. The timeline jumps all over the place which muddles the narrative to an extreme level. It would have been great if this book were written by a journalist instead of by someone with a weird axe to grind (at least it sure feels that way).
Profile Image for Danilo Weiner.
192 reviews4 followers
November 23, 2020
Livro super divertido, uma compilação das histórias mais escabrosas do Uber ao longo dos últimos 7/8 anos, acho que a maioria já publicadas!

Dito isso, é importante colocar algumas coisas em perspectiva. Primeira coisa é a inevitável comparação com Bad Blood. Arrisco dizer que os tons vermelhos da capa devem cumprir algum objetivo semiótico, até porque o Uber é muito associado a cor preta; os Bros gostam de usar camisetas pretas e a logo deles é preta. Dois vilões sob medida (Elizabeth Holmes e Travis Kalanick) para serem apedrejados, só que aqui não vamos muito além das camadas mais superficiais do personagem. O Travis passaria por um empreendedor ambicioso, com pouca ética e muita vontade de fazer as coisas acontecerem, como deve existir milhares de outros empresários menos bem sucedidos e midiáticos.

Segunda coisa é, talvez por problema de tradução, relativo ao texto. Acho que as histórias são tão boas que deve ter batido uma preguiça no autor em elaborar melhor a escrita. Como exemplo dessa preguiça, destacaria a incrível capacidade do autor em descrever as pessoas em função da altura. Não sei se é coincidência, mas parece que a característica dividida entre a maioria dos personagens é a altura.

Por fim, o livro dá uma desacelerada no final, em teoria o clímax da história. Em toda a discussão da sucessão de comando do Uber, desconfio que o autor teve menos acesso a informações privilegidas do que gostaria, provavelmente baseando a disputa entre os executivos da GE, HP e Expedia a meros fatos especulativos.

De qualquer maneira é um livro super divertido, daqueles que você não consegue parar de ler. Legal para quem gosta de tecnologia, empreendedorismo, diferenças culturais (capítulos dedicados a tentativa do Uber entrar na China e Sudeste Asiático são ótimos!), crises de relações com a imprensa, etc. Daria um ótimo filme!

A propósito, recomendo o David Fincher como o diretor. Assim como ele resumiu a personalidade do Zucka àquela cena final em que ele manda uma mensagem pra ex-namorada e fica atualizando a tela esperando uma resposta, acredito que ele conseguiria ir uma camada além na psique do Travis e representá-la com uma cena parecida...
Profile Image for Meghana Devotta.
27 reviews14 followers
June 20, 2022
I skipped the show and read the book, and I'm glad for the choice.
Mike Isaac has crafted a fairly balanced portrait of Travis Kalanick- The Problematic CEO. While vilifying him has been the easy choice to make over the years, the early chapters of the book gives you a good sense of why he is the way he is. You (almost) sympathize.

The Uber story is equal parts inspiring and horrifying. It really is a story of unpredictable extremes. The chapters skim through its greatest hits and scandals- and when they're all lined up chapter after chapter- one can't help but be dazzled and revolted all at the same time. I will say that the extent of its criminal activity ('Greyball' 'Heaven' and 'Hell') was news to me, this despite Uber making it to the front pages for all the wrong reasons for a whole year.

This book also makes a brilliant case for why ethics needs to be made front and centre in everyday functioning in tech and STEM education. Also a great illustration of what can go wrong if there isn't a single social scientist in the room (The Legal and Policy wing was toothless).

Uber is a reflection of the founder- yes. But the 'always hustlin' culture of Silicon valley can shoulder a fair bit of the blame as well. Enabling behaviour runs across its length and breadth.
But. More than anything, this book helped me appreciate the sheer scale of what Travis Kalanick built and lost in Uber. Like I said- I sympathize with the man (almost).
I hope he got therapy.
Profile Image for Deepthi.
60 reviews93 followers
January 11, 2020
In Super Pumped, Mike Isaac, a tech reporter working with the New York Times traces the ups and downs of Silicon Valleys’ once darling unicorn Uber. At the outset it appeared that this could be a 5 star book, however it was not to be.
While Mike Isaac does a good wrap up of the Uber story right from its founding till its IPO, his work doesn’t match the investigative journalism standards of Brad Stone’s or John Carreyrou’s accounts of Amazon and Theranos respectively. The writing feels formulaic in several parts and there are forced attempts to infuse drama into the narrative where there is none. It’s disappointing that the character descriptions lack depth and everyone involved seems to have been described at an arms length including the founder Travis Kalanick himself. A 3 star read.
Profile Image for Rhys.
8 reviews
February 9, 2022
In a story which he himself became engrained, Isaac precisely recalls the events from Ubers inception as an outlandish idea, only appreciated by the disruptive few, to a global juggernaut of transportation. The story of Uber is truly bewildering, including political strife, fraud, outright violence, and incomprehensible sums of money. Broader motivators to events in Uber’s story are not unique; Isaac also educates on the modern history and evolution of Silicon Valley’s ethos.
Profile Image for Kestutis.
61 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2020
Excellent memoir of Travis Kalanic, co-founder of Uber, the most successful startup of 21st century so far.

This book allows you to live the life of the super-scaling startup, with all its advantages and drawbacks. Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll is part of it, of course, when a CEO of 10 poeple becomes the CEO of 15,000 corporation in less than 5 years.

Bad management practices, PR tragedies and a lot of internal drama arise when billions are at stake.

Very very good read and an excellent book to listen to.
Profile Image for Thijs Niks.
91 reviews
September 17, 2019
Mike Isaac masterfully narrates the struggle for power over Uber and its main characters.
Profile Image for Maleeha.
27 reviews7 followers
December 29, 2020
Super pumped Review:

This book was a wild ride to say the least. The antagonist of the book and of Uber is a CEO named Travis Kalanick. Driven, ambitious, and deeply committed to his cause, all qualities that are embraced by the world but they are especially welcomed with open arms in the the tech industry. While early in his career these traits were an asset they ultimately led to his downfall as the CEO of Uber.

Interestingly enough in the beginning of the book I saw Uber as the savior as it battle against its biggest rival: the taxis industry. The book didn’t go too much into how taxis operated but it highlighted one major flaw which is that the industry operates based on scarcity marketing. Taxi drivers have to purchase medallions ,which ran upward of one million dollars , to be able to pick up customers. The part thats unsettling about this is given the average income of a taxi drivers (even in a major city like New York) the price of the medallions are completely unjustified and the only reason the price is that high is because it can be. Admittedly, Uber’s intentions here were pure. This marks the beginning and end of any good Uber tried to achieve.

One thing this book made extremely clear is that inventors, innovators, or founders are not always fit or have the leadership skills to run a company. Kalanick's insistence about running the company as if it were still a startup even after it had grown into a giant company with 14,000 employees led to so many problems that could've easily been avoided. The lack of a proper HR department which eventually led to Sarah Fowler publishing her blog post opened the flood gates on how women are treated in tech. Equally as dangerous was the complete disregard Uber had for its drivers as many were assaulted and some even murdered. The case in India of a young woman being raped in an Uber and subsequently having the incident questioned because an Uber employee obtained illegal medical records that listed the hymen of the young woman intact was horrifying. Often times in the book, while I didn't agree, I understood why the CEO pushed legal boundaries in the name of advancement but never found any justification for pushing moral boundaries. In an effort to operate under the "growth at all cost" basic human rights were seriously violated.

Even though Kalanick was eventually ousted from the company he wasn't dumb. He was incredibly calculating and anticipated any objections he might have in the future and planned accordingly. This led to him being surrounded by "yes men" (this seems to be a trend for disgraced Silicon Valley CEOs...I'm looking at you Elizabeth Holmes) who never dared question Kalanick and if anyone questioned him they were reprimanded and made into an example of the type of behavior Uber would not allow. In addition to this Kalanick set an example of the type of behavior that would be tolerated at Uber which is anything as long as you were "growing." If the number of riders, drivers, interactions, or revenue was growing it could act as a bandaid for any bad behavior exhibited by employees.

Part of the reason it took so long for me to complete this book is because there is so much packed in it. There are no filler chapters or any unnecessary details. So much went on in the company's history over the course of 7 years that there is no needed to add anything irrelevant. Last thing I want to add is up until the end of the book it was incredibly difficult to imagine, by the way he acted and his victim mindset, that Kalanick was a grown man. If anything he reminded me one of those kids that would run off to their parents anytime things didn't go their way.

I recommend this book because the story is nothing like you've read before ( I've read Bad Blood and Kalanick seems way more outrageous than Holmes...if thats even possible) but be warned this left me in a really sour mood. I'm still having a hard time understanding how some these leaders are so far removed from reality that they dont understand how to treat people with a little bit of humanity and dignity...you dont need a fancy degree or an Ivy League education for that.

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