Uber CEO aims to pare losses and get ‘the love back’

Above, the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber’s share of the ride-hailing market in the US fell from 82 percent at the start of last year to 70 percent in the fourth quarter. (AP)
Updated 15 February 2018

Uber CEO aims to pare losses and get ‘the love back’

SAN FRANCISCO: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is focused on cutting the company’s massive losses and “getting the love back” after a year of damaging revelations about the ride-hailing service’s sometimes heartless treatment of its employees, drivers, regulators and rivals.
“We strive to be and should be a brand that is as beloved as Amazon and Google,” Khosrowshahi said late Wednesday during an appearance at a Goldman Sachs technology conference. “We have a long way to go, but we have to re-earn our consumer and driver trust. Just getting the love back is a very important priority for us.”
The job is proving to be even more difficult than Khosrowshahi anticipated five months ago after Uber lured him away from online travel agency Expedia to replace its embattled co-founder, Travis Kalanick, as CEO.
Khosrowshahi inherited a mess after Uber acknowledged rampant sexual harassment within its ranks and its use of duplicitous software to thwart government regulators while dealing with the fallout from a video that captured Kalanick berating one of its own drivers.
To make matters worse, Khosrowshahi discovered that Uber had covered up a computer break-in that stole personal information about millions of riders and drivers. He also landed in the midst of a court battle that pitted Uber against a Google spinoff alleging that the ride-hailing service had conspired to steal its self-driving car technology while Kalanick was running things.
“It looked messy and it was messy,” Khosrowshahi said.
As part of the cleanup, Uber last week agreed to pay $245 million to settle the trade secrets case brought by Waymo, the company spawned by a self-driving car project started by Google. The settlement came after four days of trial testimony that included a dramatic appearance by Kalanick, who fended off accusations of orchestrating a elaborate high-tech heist during more than two hours on the witness stand.
“I thought Travis was terrific,” Khosrowshahi said. “I thought he really held up well, and spoke his mind. I think that helped us get to the settlement.”
Uber didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement that gave Waymo’s corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., more stock in the ride-hailing service. Google, which is also owned by Alphabet, had already accumulated Uber stock as one of the company’s early investors.
Alphabet and other investors stand to reap big gains on their stakes if Uber files for an initial public offering of stock next year, as Khosrowshahi plans. But how well Uber’s stock fares on Wall Street will likely be tied to whether the company proves it can make money — something it isn’t close to doing now.
Uber lost $4.5 billion in 2017, widening from a $2.8 billion setback in the previous year. The results released earlier this week showed Uber pared its fourth-quarter loss by 25 percent from the third quarter, a modestly encouraging sign.
Gross revenue for the year rose 85 percent over 2016, to $37 billion.
Uber’s results are difficult to decipher because it only divulges pieces of data, taking advantage of its status as a privately held company. Khosrowshahi detailed them on a conference call with investors Tuesday, and the company disclosed some data to a website called The Information.
A person briefed on the results provided some numbers and confirmed the accuracy of The Information’s story to The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person didn’t want to be identified because Uber remains a private company.
In a sign that the negative publicity surrounding its problems alienated many consumers, Uber’s share of the ride-hailing market in the US fell from 82 percent at the start of last year to 70 percent in the fourth quarter. People’s view of Uber has become “appropriately negative,” Khosrowshahi conceded Wednesday.
Those numbers underscore Uber’s tenuous position, despite its pioneering role in the ride-hailing industry that enabled it to build a substantial lead over rivals such as Lyft, said Stephen Beck, managing partner of cg42, a management consulting firm. “Their app is just a download away from people moving on to a competitor,” he said.
In his appearance, Khosrowshahi said Uber could quickly reverse its losses by retreating from less-developed markets outside the US and reducing the money it pours into expensive projects like its work on self-driving cars. That, he said, is something Uber isn’t ready to do yet.
“I am pretty confident that we can turn the knobs to make this business profitable, but it would sacrifice growth and innovation,” Khosrowshahi said.
While Uber’s losses are significant, the company appears to be on the right track under Khosrowshahi’s leadership, said Rohit Kulkarni, managing director of SharesPost, a research group focused on privately held companies. “If you draw that out further, a year from now, this could be a significant IPO waiting to happen,” he said.


A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

Updated 05 December 2019

A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

  • Products used by WashyWash are non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral
  • Amman-based laundry service aims to relocate to a larger facility in mid-2020

AMMAN: A persistent sinus problem prompted a Jordanian entrepreneur to launch an eco-friendly dry-cleaning service that could help end the widespread use of a dangerous chemical.

“Dry cleaning” is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not really dry. It is true that no water is involved in the process, but the main cleaning agent is perchloroethylene (PERC), a chemical that experts consider likely to cause cancer, as well as brain and nervous system damage.

Kamel Almani, 33, knew little of these dangers when he began suffering from sinus irritation while working as regional sales director at Eon Aligner, a medical equipment startup he co-founded.

The problem would disappear when he went on vacation, so he assumed it was stress related.

However, when Mazen Darwish, a chemical engineer, revealed he wanted to start an eco-laundry and warned about toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning, Almani had an epiphany.

“He began to tell me how PERC affects the respiratory system, and I suddenly realized that it was the suits I wore for work — and which I would get dry cleaned — that were the cause of my sinus problems,” said Almani, co-founder of Amman-based WashyWash.

“That was the eureka moment. We immediately wanted to launch the business.”

WashyWash began operations in early 2018 with five staff, including the three co-founders: Almani, Darwish and Kayed Qunibi. The business now has 19 employees and became cash flow-positive in July this year.

“We’re very happy to achieve that in under two years,” Almani said.

The service uses EcoClean products that are certified as toxin-free, are biodegradable and cause no air, water or soil pollution.

Customers place orders through an app built in-house by the company’s technology team.

WashyWash collects customers’ dirty clothes, and cleans, irons and returns them. Services range from the standard wash-and-fold to specialized dry cleaning for garments and cleaning of carpets, curtains, duvets and leather goods.

“For wet cleaning, we use environmentally friendly detergents that are biodegradable, so the wastewater doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals,” Almani said.

For dry cleaning, WashyWash uses a modified hydrocarbon manufactured by Germany’s Seitz, whose product is non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral.

A specialized company collects the waste and disposes of it safely.

The company has big ambitions, planning to expand its domestic operations and go international. Its Amman site can process about 1,000 items daily, but WashyWash will relocate to larger premises in mid-2020, which should treble its capacity.

“We’ve built a front-end app, a back-end system and a driver app along with a full facility management system. We plan to franchise that and have received interest from many countries,” Almani said.

“People visiting Amman used our service, loved it, and wanted an opportunity to launch in their countries.”

WashyWash has received financial backing from angel investors and is targeting major European cities initially.

“An eco-friendly, on-demand dry-cleaning app isn’t available worldwide, so good markets might be London, Paris or Frankfurt,” Almani said.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian
and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.