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Uber Doubles China Expansion Plans, Relishing Underdog Role

CEO Travis Kalanick enjoys a good fight.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images News

Uber is adding more gas to its China endeavor, with CEO Travis Kalanick announcing plans to expand to 100 cities over the next year. That’s double the number of cities he told investors three months ago.

It’s no secret that China is a significant part of the company’s strategy and a big reason why Uber has reached a $51 billion valuation. The market there is huge, and four out of Uber’s 10 largest cities in terms of numbers of trips are now in China, according to the company. It needs to succeed there if it wants to return money to its latest-stage investors, who are banking on the Asian market as Uber’s next source of growth.

Aside from the rational reasons for Uber to commit to China, there is some emotional motivation as well, highlighted in a recent Fast Company profile on Travis Kalanick.

Asia is the last place Uber is still an underdog, and Kalanick does his best work when the odds are stacked against him. According to the profile, he always has, from the time he ran track in high school — and was put on the final leg of the 4×400 meter relay because he was more driven when coming from behind — to his era of struggle as CEO of his former company RedSwoosh — which he called a “revenge business” against big media companies who sued him.

Now that Uber is winning, Kalanick has had to shift his tactics, albeit reluctantly. No more chucking mud at competitors or mocking customers who complain about surge pricing on Twitter. He’s had to clean up his act, read from scripts and soften his image.

But in China, there’s still a war raging, and Kalanick can don his general’s cap. He has to overcome daunting challenges like the communist government, notoriously unfriendly to outsiders. He also has to take on a bigger incumbent, competitor Didi Kuaidi, which is estimated to own 70 percent to 80 percent of the ride-hailing market. If Uber succeeds, it will be one of only a few American companies to crack the China market, and the riches that await will be huge.

Once again, Kalanick can relive his internal dark horse narrative. With $1.2 billion in new funding specifically earmarked for China and plans to reach 100 cities over the next year, he appears to willing to take on the risks and hit the pedal on his big China dreams.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.