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WTF is happening at Uber?

For the ride-sharing juggernaut, this is a “What kind of month has it been?” sort of month.

A photo of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Asa Mathat

The first three months of 2017 have been rough for Uber: Some customers have boycotted it; Alphabet has sued it; and, most notably, former employees have alleged rampant sexism at the company, leading to the resignations of several top executives over the past month.

On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s senior transportation editor Johana Bhuiyan joined Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode to explain what is going on.

“Uber’s notorious, aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to its internal culture and external relationships is coming to a head in a way that Uber has never seen before,” Bhuiyan said. “The company has had public scandals before, but unlike those, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has not been able to manage his way out of it this time.”

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Uber is currently searching for a COO to serve as Kalanick’s right hand, as the company tries to fix that internal culture. The search is being led by board members Bill Gurley and Arianna Huffington, and Bhuiyan said the way they’re describing it is significant.

“They keep throwing out this word, ‘partner, partner, partner,’ which is a weird word to throw out in relation to Travis,” Bhuiyan said. “He’s known to be incredibly combative. He likes to be really involved in a lot of the company’s operations and decision-making and he doesn’t like to share.”

She said it’s extremely unlikely that Kalanick would be pushed out as CEO any time soon because of how many allies he has on the board.

“What could change that is if Arianna Huffington — who’s really smart about her image, really good at managing her PR — if it becomes too toxic to be on Travis’s side, if she flipped,” she said. “Up until now, she’s defended him really staunchly, has said he’s evolving. She’s seen change in him.”

And although there is a lot of angry noise directed at Uber right now, the business itself isn’t in any imminent danger, either. The #deleteuber campaign earlier this year led to about 200,000 deleted accounts — which is about the same number of accounts Uber gains every week.

“All of this is happening at a time where there’s this sort of newfound sense of activism among people in the Trump era, so that’s adding to Uber’s current issues,” Bhuiyan said. “But the bottom line is, Uber is as popular as it is because the technology is good. It’s efficient, it’s better than all of its competitors and it completely turned the transportation industry on its head.”

Have questions about Uber that we didn’t answer in this episode? Or have another tech topic on your mind? You can tweet any questions, comments and complaints to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. You can also email your questions to, if Twitter isn’t your thing.

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we're looking for questions about a specific topic.

If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.
  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcherand SoundCloud.
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If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!

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