Opinion | Food Delivery Is Keeping Uber Alive. Will It Kill Restaurants?

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kara swisher

Last year COVID-19 upended the way we get around, from cutbacks in mass transit, and echoing airport terminals, to a run on used cars. The use of ride hailing services, no surprise, went off a cliff. Revenue from Uber’s ride bookings was down more than 50% last year. But also last year my guest, Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi scored two big wins. The first was California’s Proposition 22, which carved out an exemption for protections for gig workers in the state. Uber and other gig companies spent $200 million in a flood of advertising to back the initiative and it passed by a huge margin. The second big hit was delivery. The more people stayed home, the more they needed to pay other people to bring things to them. Uber Eats, the food delivery service, more than doubled its revenue in 2020 and it gobbled up a competitor, acquiring Postmates. Let’s talk about eats and delivery. The one bright spot for you in the pandemic has been food delivery obviously. Is Uber now a delivery company instead of a taxi service? What’s the breakdown between the two businesses?

dara khosrowshahi

So the delivery business now is at a 40 plus billion dollar run rate and I think the delivery business, as far as bookings go, will be larger than the mobility business in 2021 but I think ultimately we’re going to be 50-50 as a company. We’re going to be the only company out there that will be the global leader in rides and mobility, will be the global leader in delivery, and essentially anywhere you want to go or anything that you want to get delivered to your home, we are going to be there. We think that’s a unique proposition.

kara swisher

And what happens post pandemic, you’ve got people in New York are used to delivery full time. People across the country haven’t been. You expect this to drop off, what do you expect to happen to the delivery business elsewhere?

dara khosrowshahi

We’ve looked at this pretty closely and we track how our delivery business performs in markets where mobility is coming back. And what we see is there’s a bit of a drop off as it relates to new customers. New customers come back to the platform slower but it looks like the habit is sticking. It’s just a better way, Kara, if you can — going out to a restaurant is awesome and I absolutely want that experience to continue but as every restaurant essentially in a market signs up and you have incredible choice, you have great personalization. You can get wonderful hot meals delivered to your door or your groceries or your prescriptions, et cetera. We think that’s just the better way. And so we think that acceleration in delivery is going to stick.

kara swisher

Better for whom? That’s better for customers.

dara khosrowshahi

I think, is better for customers and ultimately, the delivery business is keeping many, many small business restaurants alive during this period of time.

kara swisher

All right, well let’s get into business and you’re not allowed to get away with saying you’re a lifeline for restaurants. I’m not going to let you do that, because everyone knows that restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic. 110,000 have closed, that’s 17% of restaurants in the country. Meanwhile one way they can stay open is to offer delivery through a service like Uber Eats or several other services. Delivery services like you charge up to 30% in fees when the profit margin for restaurants as you know is normally between 3 to 5%. How are restaurant owners supposed to make that math work?

dara khosrowshahi

So I think first of all, I’m going to accuse you of incomplete math.

kara swisher

OK.

dara khosrowshahi

The 30% doesn’t include the cost of the courier, right? And so if you’re looking at the economics that anyone is charging for delivery services, you’ve got to look at the cost of the courier and for example our Uber Eats service, our revenue take rate net of the courier cost this last quarter was 13%. And we think that’s a very, very reasonable take rate. At the same time, restaurants have a choice, if they want to use their own couriers, then the cost is typically 15%. If they want to use our service essentially for pickup, we charge them nothing and we offer them the ability to essentially build their own website. And if they’re bringing the customers, essentially to order, we charge them nothing. So when you look at that picture, 13% net of courier, bring your own courier 15%, pick up zero. Demand that you’re providing zero, we think that’s a very, very fair proposition and we are having restaurants sign up in record numbers. You could argue is it because they have to.

kara swisher

They have to. I’m going to argue that.

dara khosrowshahi

Well, I think, listen, it is a new way. I think more and more consumers are going to come on to these platform, they’re going to sign up for delivery but I think the economics that we’re charging I believe are more than fair.

kara swisher

All right, but the reason you can offer those lower delivery rates is because you have so much money you can afford to lose billions a year. Restaurants don’t have that luxury. They’ve got food costs, rent, employees, and Uber Eats hurts their razor thin margins to the ground because you’re allowed to do this and they are not. Am I mischaracterizing that or?

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah, I think you are. I think you fundamentally are mischaracterizing it because we’re bringing restaurants a whole new set of customers. We are losing money, so it’s not like we’re making huge revenue margins at the restaurant expense. Right now we’re providing the service at below cost. As a company we’ve said that we’re going to get to profitability this year so —

kara swisher

In Uber Eats or at the whole company?

dara khosrowshahi

Whole company and Uber Eats both are going to hit profitability sometime this year. So we’ll be providing the service at cost. And again, I think a 13% take based on what we bring a global audience, the technology that we bring, is a very reasonable take and it is providing restaurants with a significant amount of incremental volume that they wouldn’t have access to.

kara swisher

All right, but there’s that argument, you know we’re selling it for less than cost and we’re making it up in volume. It doesn’t really fly for a lot of restaurants because they’ve complained the fees you charge them are killing their businesses. You know this, this is a back and forth. I understand some of it is —

dara khosrowshahi

Well, Kara, 30% is not truthful.

kara swisher

It’s 13%.

dara khosrowshahi

It’s incomplete and 13% —

kara swisher

But some cities have capped it at 10%. Is that something you see happening as a trend is cities, once again getting involved and regulating your business?

dara khosrowshahi

I think we live with local regulation all the time. We think that that kind of regulation is misguided. Essentially, if we’re capped at 10% then we have to increase delivery fees to the consumer, which reduces the volume that restaurants get. Right now an Uber Eats order is incremental volume that restaurants need, so we think that caps are legislation that doesn’t work, that reduces demand during a time when restaurants need demand. But ultimately, the business can adjust one way or the other.

kara swisher

What is your outreach to restaurant owners who are struggling? This is not unions that want to win one over on you, this is real businesses that cannot take more costs and cannot take more decline in business.

dara khosrowshahi

Well, I think that we represent a growth in business and we have a team that is reaching out to these restaurants and I will tell you that the vast majority of restaurants believe that our business is going to be a core part of their operation going forward and increasingly we’re building tools for these restaurants, where they can essentially build up their own websites. We offer them an Uber Eats microsite completely for free, so that they have the tools to bring their business direct. And in cases where the business comes indirect we charge essentially a net 13%, which we think is a fair take rate. If you look at the charges of eBay and their merchants or Amazon, et cetera, the take rates that we offer are actually pretty attractive.

kara swisher

So I see where you’re trying to give them more business. I have to say, every restaurant I go to I ask and they — hey, like they, maybe it’s unfair.

dara khosrowshahi

I’m sorry to hear that.

kara swisher

Well, I ask specifically and I’m like what do you think about this? I say doesn’t this make your business better, doesn’t this? Well, we have to do it. We’re forced to do it. There’s no other choice. And the only thing they hope for is that there’s more competition in the delivery service and so fees go down. Like between Caviar or yours or whatever. That’s their great hope. But it’s not that they like any of you I have to say, and not particularly Uber but it’s all of them DoorDash, they hate DoorDash more than they hate you I think. I believe.

dara khosrowshahi

Well, I guess that’s a silver lining.

kara swisher

But they’re not liking you. It’s not like we love these guys.

dara khosrowshahi

I think this is not a happy time. And I think that every restaurant owner, not every restaurant owner, the vast majority of restaurant owners are having a hard time and we have pivoted more of our technical spend to actually help restaurant owners in terms of their IT and building out the functionality so that they independently can attract business, they can form a relationship with you, right. They can get their email, et cetera and they can reach out to customers directly and I will consider it my job to have you talk to a restaurant owner who’s happy with us in the next couple of years. There you go.

kara swisher

You’re going to find one for me?

dara khosrowshahi

No, listen. It’s we got to earn it.

kara swisher

But let me say, as a consumer. I use Uber Eats every day now. I think I do. I think I — well, I use Caviar too. I use them all. I don’t —

dara khosrowshahi

You’re a snob with Caviar.

kara swisher

No I’m not. They just have some restaurants you don’t have.

dara khosrowshahi

Yes they do.

kara swisher

In any case, I feel badly. I have to say I feel badly the whole entire — it’s just like using Amazon. And not every consumer is an annoying liberal city person like myself like that kind of thing. But what do you say to consumers who are discomforted that they’re benefiting from one, drivers that aren’t paid enough, restaurants that are going to go out of business, and everything else that it does feel like a menace economy that we’re all pulled into?

dara khosrowshahi

I think that that assumption, which is drivers aren’t paid enough, couriers aren’t paid enough, et cetera, that this is a period of time where with the demand coming into these services drivers and couriers are actually making very good money compared to alternatives, compared to their having a job as a barista or working at a fast food restaurant or working at a warehouse someplace. And they get to do so on their terms in a very, very flexible way. So I think the notion that you’re talking about now, blue collar work and the blue collar worker, let’s say versus a white collar worker, et cetera, is disadvantaged and we have to create ways for blue collar workers to move into the IP and education economy, et cetera. That is something that we have to do as a society. That’s something that Uber for example, we’re taking classes of drivers and we are moving them into our call center because they understand what drivers need, et cetera. We move them into Greenlight Hubs where they can sign up drivers, they can inspect cars, et cetera. And then we’re moving the top call center employees and Greenlight Hub workers, we’re teaching them how to code to become coders at Uber. So like you actually have to do this work. And by the way, the numbers right now of drivers who become coders I can count them on my hands but every single year we’re going to get better at this, we’re going to get bigger at it. The program’s going to improve and like you can either complain about it or do something about it.

kara swisher

Certainly, but it’s the idea of like what, 20 million lords and 300 million serfs, does this idea of income inequality and I know Silicon Valley people are going on about compassionate capitalism. I just don’t believe it. I think a lot of people feel as if Silicon Valley has taken advantage of workers for far too long and you have rules that are different. Uber has been able to lose money for a long time. Amazon was the same way. And it is on the backs of these workers. How do you change that narrative that it’s clear that these companies have people who work for them, have gotten richer and richer and there’s an inequality to the people at the very bottom.

dara khosrowshahi

I think you have to look at the core underlying system and why these issues are happening because they’re happening, Kara. The issue that I see as far as these systems go is that in the ‘50s, ‘60s capital increasingly became digitized. Intellectual property became the new property. And capital and IP essentially can move, are completely digital, and governments essentially have no leverage over capital and IP versus labor that is stuck in a particular place. So all of the leverage is against labor, and capital and IP are essentially free to do anything that they want. And the old systems that our governments have in place, which is oh, economy is not doing well, people need help, let me actually reduce interest rates, et cetera. But the investment doesn’t go into plants that puts more people to work, the investment goes into automation or code that increasingly automate work and reduce the need for labor and allow these companies to essentially buy back more stock and to create more wealth for the capital owners. The system itself I think has real issues and the system is doing exactly what it’s meant to do, which is to maximize capital and labor is a cost there. The New York Times is not an employer of yours?

kara swisher

Yes, I’m not an employee. I want flexibility.

dara khosrowshahi

You want flexibility. So I looked this up before we had this conversation, The New York Times, a great company that I was on the board of, The New York Times is, it’s a capital entity. It’s a great capital entity but it’s a capital entity, if you look at 10 years ago, The New York Times had 7,000 employees. OK, how many employees do you think they have now?

kara swisher

No idea. Not me.

dara khosrowshahi

4,500 employees. OK so the labor footprint of The New York Times has actually gone down by 40%. Now they got out of some businesses, The Boston Globe et cetera, and —

kara swisher

Sure. Yes, that’s what I was going to say.

dara khosrowshahi

If you don’t include that, the labor footprint has gone up by 23, 24%. OK.

kara swisher

Yes, they’ve increased the newsroom really dramatically.

dara khosrowshahi

No, that’s over 10 years. 23% over 10 years is nothing. It’s nothing.

kara swisher

Right, we’re a small business, Dara. You’re right, we don’t have VC money just to like throw around like —

dara khosrowshahi

But the stock price of The New York Times —

kara swisher

Scrooge McDuck, we don’t like smoke our dollars.

dara khosrowshahi

Look at your defending the whole time.

kara swisher

No, I’m not defending it, it’s just that rules that you all play by in Silicon Valley are not the rules that old media companies do.

dara khosrowshahi

No, no that’s not the point. They’re playing by the same exact rules and the stock price has gone from $11 to almost $50, right? So the capital footprint over 10 years has gone up by 25%, sorry the labor footprint, and the capital footprint has almost gone up by 5x. That’s what businesses are incented to do right now. They’re incented to optimize essentially capital. And labor in our system has very, very little leverage and those are the outcomes that you see. So essentially, it’s not that technology companies are bad companies. I think every single company is looking to automate, is looking for software, is closing down data centers, et cetera. And it’s essentially going more and more digital, which keeps increasing this divide.

kara swisher

Sure. I see your point you’re trying to make here but drivers have a lot less leverage than Kara Swisher I suspect.

dara khosrowshahi

You’ve got flexibility and yes you’re right, because you work in IP.

kara swisher

Yeah.

dara khosrowshahi

And so like it’s bigger than just tech companies and I think tech companies are the natural target, but actually technology companies if you think about employment, technology companies are the ones that are aggressively hiring more workers all over the place and —

kara swisher

Except on their terms alone. But let me get — I want to stop this for a second. The business of Uber has been a fascinating one to cover over the many years and obviously one of the big parts of it is the worker issue and the changing workplace and you and I have argued about this and gone back and forth about it. Let’s start with the news that some Google employees have formed a union, still small, but it seems significant in an industry has mostly resisted organized labor. Talk about this trend because this is something you’ve been working on for a while, you’ve been dealing with this idea of unionization of tech workers or people that are tech adjacent.

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah, so I think for us unionization of full time employees has really not been a factor. I think the bigger issue as it relates to our business is representation of drivers and/or couriers who use our service. And what’s different there is that drivers and couriers aren’t full time, so actually they can’t unionize. But we have had discussions regarding the idea of sectoral bargaining. And sectoral bargaining is the idea of a group of service users really bargaining with the industry as a whole versus bargaining with a particular company. And that’s something that we’ve been open to and I will tell you our product people who are building delivery product and building our driver app for example, actively now talk to drivers and couriers as we introduce new services. So they are a voice of how we build going forward.

kara swisher

Uber and others, DoorDash and others, have this idea about choice. This is their choice, you’re free to do what you want and I get that appeal. That people want to work when they want and it’s a very good argument for you, let people decide. But you’ve been fighting to keep drivers defined as contractors not employees. Since we last spoke California passed Proposition 22 and you pushed really hard to get it passed. You spent a lot of money, hundreds of millions of dollars. Why did you feel the need to call them that versus employees, besides the fact that it’s an existential threat to your business?

dara khosrowshahi

Well, I think first of all, it’s not just an argument that choice is a good thing. The vast majority of drivers want choice. That’s why they pick our platform. Right, like they can go work in other places. There are lots of opportunities out there. There’s a self selected group of people who want flexibility as it relates to how they work, when they work. And I think that I don’t know of any full time employer who would say, hey you can just come in and work anytime you want. If you’re a barista, you can leave for the lunch shift and then go work for a competitor in the afternoon if you want, if the competitor’s closer to home. That doesn’t exist. So we are arguing for choice because it’s fundamental to our product and we are a product to drivers and couriers who want to make money.

kara swisher

So there was some talk in 2019 of Uber and Lyft drivers forming a union, this idea of a union, a different kind of union. What is the status of that, did Proposition 22 kill that?

dara khosrowshahi

That’s the sectoral bargaining that I was talking about. We had dialogue with union leaders. So that we could introduce the idea of flexibility, benefits, and representation. As it relates to drivers and couriers. It didn’t get anywhere. And ultimately we got to Prop 22 and the voters agreed with our point of view as did the majority of drivers, which is ultimately why Prop 22 passed.

kara swisher

But you did spend $200 million to back the initiative. So break down how you got this passed, from your perspective what were the key parts of doing that?

dara khosrowshahi

I think the most important part of doing that was to introduce a proposal that made sense for everybody, right? We went out and talked to drivers, talked to many representatives out there, Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported us, et cetera, to the most important part is that this is actually a fair solution. You talk to anyone common sense and say should you just take away all flexibility, make everyone an employee or should you retain flexibility, and add benefits, and add minimum earnings, and add protections against discrimination, et cetera, which is better? You talk to a normal person they would say the second is better. That’s ultimately the most important part. The proposition itself we think was very reasonable and then there was some work to be done to make sure that it was represented in a fair way and ultimately I think the results speak for themselves.

kara swisher

Well, now some grocery stores in California I think, Vons and Albertsons have used Prop 22 as cover to fire their delivery drivers and use app based delivery service instead. I think they’re using DoorDash. Is this a bug or a feature of the measure?

dara khosrowshahi

I don’t know the particulars, right, Kara. So for me to fairly answer that question would require me to understand more. I think that the feature of independent contractors in this kind of work is that it creates a huge amount of flexibility for a certain portion of the population, if they’re students, if they need to take care of family, if they need to take their kids to school, et cetera, to be able to work and to make decent money. The important part here is to set expectations in a fair way. You’re not going to make $50 an hour delivering, you’re going to make $15, $20 an hour or more and have flexibility and we think that’s a decent proposition and clearly drivers and couriers are kind of voting with their phones so to speak.

kara swisher

What would you say to those delivery drivers that have now been fired because this is an alternative for other companies, this is a repercussion of this law.

dara khosrowshahi

I don’t know if it’s a repercussion of the law.

kara swisher

Come on.

dara khosrowshahi

It might have happened one way or the other but I think it is the progress of technology, which makes new ways of behavior possible and I do think that there are consequences and often the human consequences can be painful. And that’s why I think as a society, we need protections to make sure that the folks who are hurt land properly.

kara swisher

Well, let’s talk about what you’re going to do to make those society wide changes. Are you lobbying for universal health care for example?

dara khosrowshahi

We’re not lobbying for universal health care. I think that our health care system is quite broken and I think that universal health care quote unquote, is a better solution than what we have. What we’re doing is essentially providing for flexibility, minimum earning standard, a health care essentially benefit fund that is able to be used flexibly by drivers and couriers depending on how they want to use it, whether they want to take time off or they want to use it for health care, et cetera.

kara swisher

So you started to give these benefits to drivers in California although they’re not all the benefits that your employees of Uber get.

dara khosrowshahi

Correct.

kara swisher

Talk about what you’ve given these drivers and then when will you roll out benefits to drivers outside of California?

dara khosrowshahi

So what we’ve given the drivers is essentially a health care subsidy depending on how many hours that they work. And so it really depends on the driver. If they work 40 hours a week, they’re going to make more as it relates to this health care subsidy. If they work fewer hours they make less. They also have an earnings guarantee of 120% of minimum wage and they get $0.30 per mile of compensation for expenses as it relates to their car, et cetera. They’ve got protection against discrimination and sexual harassment. And we also provide that they have mandatory safety training. That is what we provide in California. Outside of California we have not rolled this out. We are having dialogue.

kara swisher

Why not?

dara khosrowshahi

Because we have to have dialogue with lawmakers. It’s going to be a state by state discussion as to what we roll forward with and what the right choices are in New York, what are the right choices in Massachusetts. And we’re actively having these dialogues to come forward with this IC plus solution which we support.

kara swisher

Why not do the best version you can in every state? Is it oh, Louisiana won’t ask as much of us and so therefore we won’t give as many benefits because it’s better for your bottom line?

dara khosrowshahi

Because ultimately we have to move forward as an industry and the industry together has to move forward. And legally the more essentially you offer to drivers or couriers, the more they look like employees. So legally we need to create the room for us to provide benefits, et cetera and not fall into the territory of their being declared employees and losing all the flexibility, et cetera.

kara swisher

One of the issues around this is the reactiveness, that you are always reacting as states push you with whether it’s the legislation from California that you didn’t like the language of, do they need to keep pushing you with legislation to get results and why do you need to be pressed if you’re a worker friendly environment, why do you need to be pressed?

dara khosrowshahi

I think that’s a fair criticism first of all, I think that we have been reactive to regulation, et cetera, but we’ve been advocating for portable benefits since 2017. This is something that we’ve talked about for a while but the legal system takes a while to change but I think if you would argue hey, we’ve been too reactive as an industry, I think that’s a fair argument. And we’re trying to change that. And we’re trying to be proactive. And we’re proactively going out to other states arguing for this IC plus model. And by the way, we’re doing so on a global basis. So for example, in India there was a statute that recently passed which is essentially IC plus, flexibility and benefits we think is a better way.

kara swisher

So we use the word flexibility, so it’s like that when you’re in a pandemic it’s brought to strong relief these workers and how vulnerable they can be. And I think fairly a lot of people who are your critics have talked about the idea that companies like yours, not just Uber, but others, are part of a menace economy. That they depend on workers almost like they’re in the matrix and they’re the energy that fuels your businesses. Do you feel guilty about these workers during this time period where they are left without health care benefits, where they’re left without any kind of alternative but to avail themselves to your flexibility?

dara khosrowshahi

So do I feel guilty about it? No, I think that these workers are essentially using our service in order to make money and in order to make a living entirely essentially as they choose to. And I think that our platform actually can be a platform to get hundreds of thousands of earners who need to make money right now back making money in a very flexible way.

kara swisher

But in the midst of a pandemic many of these people do not have health care benefits for example, and I get on their own thing and like we’re Americans and we’re on our own, but this idea of what an employee is, the idea of employee in general was to take care of people in terms of the basic things like health care benefits, safety benefits, sexual harassment benefits, all stuff like that. What has to happen between you and legislators and unions that hasn’t happened?

dara khosrowshahi

Well, I think a constructive dialogue has to happen. We’ve been offering exactly what you’ve described for well over a year and having dialogue with legislators and having dialogue with unions and essentially Prop 22 is a step in that direction. And we’re having those discussions now all over the US. And we’ve been pushing for this. We haven’t been resisting this. We’ve been pushing for this. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit subscribe. You’ll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my interview with Parler CEO, John Matze and you get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Dara Khosrowshahi after this break. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Before they bought rival delivery service Postmates, Uber was in talks to acquire Grubhub. If that happened, that deal would have made Uber the largest delivery player in the United States. At the time there was grumbling that Uber might draw antitrust scrutiny like some other prominent tech companies have recently.

All the attention towards tech regulation, is Congress going to break up companies like Amazon, do you see — not Congress, the Justice Department. How do you look at all this activity around Google and do you think Uber would be in the cross-hairs of this at some point?

dara khosrowshahi

I think that we are from an Uber standpoint, we’re just too small a target right now. That could change but we’re too small a target. I do think that some of the larger technology companies have enormous leverage and I think that could be and should be dealt with one way or the other, whether it’s through breakup or regulation it is something that government should look at.

kara swisher

And do you think that’s a good thing? Do they hinder your businesses? You and Netflix and others are smaller businesses.

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah, do they hinder our businesses? Not directly but the concentration of power is worrying. And so while I think it’s not something that affects us directly today or tomorrow. I think from a societal standpoint, you don’t want too much concentration of power in any individual or any company and we’re seeing concentration of power in a way that we haven’t historically.

kara swisher

You just sold off Uber’s autonomous vehicle division to Aurora, which is run by Chris Urmson, who was at Google, what does this mean because you’ve sort of — I’m not going to use the word stumbled, but it’s been a difficult area, the autonomous vehicle. There was a lot of money put in initially by previous Uber executives, a lot of talk about it. How do you look at this journey, what are the mistakes that Uber made in doing this?

dara khosrowshahi

I think that from my perspective we are in the network business. We’re in the demand business. We’re about running mobility networks and delivery networks. And fundamentally, we want to have access to autonomous technology so that when autonomous drivers essentially get their driver’s license or approved regulatorily, when they’re safe, et cetera. We can have autonomous drivers on our network just like we want every driver essentially to be on our network. We don’t need to own and build the technology to do so.

kara swisher

What made you decide this? Because you had been we’re going to keep investing, you had talked about that early in your —

dara khosrowshahi

Ultimately you have to decide what you’re going to be great at and if you’re not going to be great at it, you shouldn’t be in the business. And I looked at my time, how much time was I spending on mobility, how much time was I spending on delivery. And that took the vast majority of my time. And I’m not saying I’m the only person here. But as an organization, I came to the conclusion that we couldn’t be great at autonomous and we would have access to that tech. So I think it was a bit of a win-win.

kara swisher

So this is a business you didn’t want to be in making or doing the technology?

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah, I want to be in the network business. I don’t need to build autonomous cars.

kara swisher

But isn’t Uber’s long term profitability dependent on self-driving cars? I mean, this is one thing Travis had said to me in interviews, that this is sort of the future. If autonomous driving is at the core of your future business — maybe you don’t think that, I do. Can you afford not to be controlling the supply, especially with Amazon now owns Zoox, there’s Tesla, there’s so many others. How do you look at that, if you don’t control the supply, you are then dependent or do you feel like you’re not dependent by owning a piece of Aurora?

dara khosrowshahi

So first of all, our rides businesses is profitable today. So I think the statement that profitability is dependent on autonomous has proven to be false.

kara swisher

I’m talking about long term profitability in terms of your business going forward.

dara khosrowshahi

I think and I will stand behind that statement that our mobility business will be long term profitable today, it’ll be profitable five years from now, it’ll be profitable 15 years from now.

kara swisher

Whether there’s drivers in these front seats or not?

dara khosrowshahi

There will be drivers, the driver may be a human or may be software. I think it’ll be a long period of time in which it will be hybrid.

kara swisher

The driver may be human or it may be software. That’s your best quote so far, but go ahead.

dara khosrowshahi

Well, thank you. And we’ll have access to both. So as long as we have access to the software driver. And we think with Aurora we have a best of breed team building the software driver, that protects our network business and having the best technology out there and essentially having the most dependable, safe network out there. So I think that we are now in a position where our present and our future is protected.

kara swisher

We’ll move on. Your competitor in delivery, DoorDash, had an IPO last month and their valuation is astronomical compared to their actual revenue and much larger factor than Uber is. What is up with these valuations? How do you see the market progressing because it’s kind of a craze — it’s kind of the markets have pretended the pandemic never happened.

dara khosrowshahi

I think it’s wrong to say that they pretended the pandemic never happened. There’s a class of company that is benefiting from the pandemic you could argue, there’s a class of company that’s not. The former is doing much better than the latter. And I think as it relates to the pandemic or as it relates to the market, because interest rates are so low, the value of a dollar of revenue 10 years from now is almost equal to the value of a dollar of revenue today if you strictly look at these discount rates. So the market is paying for forward growth at rates that I’ve never seen. If interest rates in the next two or three years move up then that will have been a profound mistake. But anyone who has bet on interest rates going up has bet wrongly. So is it right, is it wrong? I don’t know and fortunately, I picked a career where I get to run a business that is based on moving people around and moving things around and the stock price will take care of itself one way or the other. I can’t control it.

kara swisher

Does it make you nervous, do you have to worry about the growth that Uber needs to do in delivery other businesses to fill in the valuation, that if you had to pick what fills in that valuation you’re essentially saying just more network, more Uber in different places?

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah, for us it’s essentially the delivery business has been growing at over 100% year.

kara swisher

It has.

dara khosrowshahi

When I took over, the delivery business was probably 3 billion, 4 billion in run rate now it’s 40 billion in run rate. So that growth should continue. We want that business to hit profitability and I think it can. And if the rides business comes back, then we will be the mobility and delivery leader all over the world. No other company can claim that. And I think that the stock price will absolutely take care of itself. So I think we stand in pretty good stead right now. And I’m not in a position where I’ve got to chase a stock price.

kara swisher

OK. When you took over in 2017, you thanked reporters for your job, including me at a holiday party. I’ve asked this before.

dara khosrowshahi

It was a joke.

kara swisher

It was a joke. It was a good joke. Are you thankful now after the year you’ve had?

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah, so this year has been the toughest year I’ve had professionally. Like I talk to friends, they say are you having fun? I say no. I’m not having fun, but I’m really thankful for this job. Like this is a really important company and we are fundamentally linked with transportation around cities, both in terms of transportation of people and delivery of things and we’re going to be shaping how people live over the next five, 10 years. And it’s a great responsibility, but it’s also a great opportunity. And the tech that we work on is really freaking cool. So 2020 has been a really tough year. I am very, very happy to have it behind us but I wouldn’t change my place with anyone in the world right now.

kara swisher

And when you came in. I mean, one of the things is you came in after a very controversial CEO who had a very bad reputation I would say. One of the things you spent a lot of time is cleaning up that reputation. I’d love to know what you think you wish you had done differently.

dara khosrowshahi

I wish I had — so I think that I spent too much time early on defining what we weren’t versus defining what we were. And I spent too much time saying oh, we’re not that Uber 1.0, et cetera.

kara swisher

We don’t suck?

dara khosrowshahi

Yeah. We don’t suck, we’re not evil, et cetera. And not enough time kind of defining where we are going forward. The focus that we have now on mobility, on delivery, the global scope that we have, the businesses that we’ve chosen to lean into and the businesses that we chose to lean out of, the management team and the leadership team that we have, the work that we’re doing in terms of diversity within the company, et cetera. This is the new Uber, we have our own identity and identity is about what we’re going to build in the next five years, not what we’re not.

kara swisher

But did you have a choice?

dara khosrowshahi

You asked me what I’d do differently, I don’t know. I would have gone on with it quicker. I think I took too long. And I think we’re in a good place now and the company has its own identity and we’ve got a bunch of people who are excited about building. Like if Amazon kind of owns next day right, with Prime, I think we can own next hour. You want to go anywhere in the next hour, you want anything delivered to you in the next hour, Uber can be the company that you can come to. That is incredibly exciting and we’ve got a bunch of engineers, operators, marketers, et cetera, who are working their ass off building it and we’re going to have some fun.

kara swisher

But when you go up against a company like Amazon, does that worry you that they’re going to move into your space, they’re moving everywhere else, whether it’s pharmacy?

dara khosrowshahi

They’re moving everywhere. I think any company who’s in any kind of movement or delivery of things has to view Amazon as a competitor. So do I worry, absolutely. But I think we have our natural strengths and proclivities as far as short, one hour, two hour delivery. And I think that’s unique and I would put our brand and capabilities up against anyone.

kara swisher

Can you deliver vaccines? That needs some help. I was just talking the other day, I was like literally if Amazon and Uber and maybe Walmart took it on, we’d all be vaccinated. They can deliver right now if I think of a ginger ale it’ll be at my house in 14 seconds.

dara khosrowshahi

Capitalism is not all bad, right. There’s efficiency that we can build and we are —

kara swisher

All right, OK. Don’t start.

dara khosrowshahi

We are looking — no, no, we seriously are looking at it. We want to help and do our part.

kara swisher

Well, it would be nice if someone would deliver the vaccines but it should actually be our federal government but I’m not going to get into that. Anyway, Dara, thank you so much.

dara khosrowshahi

I was happy to do it and thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Sway is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Matt Frassica, Heba Elorbani, Matt Kwong and Vishakha Darbha. Edited by Paula Szuchman, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Erick Gomez, and fact checking by Kate Sinclair. Special Thanks to Renan Borelli, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast. So subscribe to this one. If you’re listening on the Times website and want to get each new episode of Sway delivered as fast as my nightly pint of Guinni, I mean, I think we all need that these days, download a podcast app like Stitcher or Google podcast, then search for Sway and hit subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.


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