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Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber Hardcover – September 3, 2019
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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Based on hundreds of interviews with current and former Uber employees, along with previously unpublished documents, Super Pumped is a page-turning story of ambition and deception, obscene wealth, and bad behavior that explores how blistering technological and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.
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From the Publisher
- John Carreyrou, author of Bad Blood
“[Isaac’s] meticulously reported account of Uber’s trajectory avoids the easy paths.”
- Nitasha Tiku, WIRED
“Isaac is great at the ticktock of events as they unfold, but his best work comes when he steps back to examine the bigger picture.”
- Leslie Berlin, New York Times Book Review
“[Isaac] spins a compelling yarn. . . [Super Pumped] is no dry business profile but a tale that Isaac has deeply reported yet still made accessible.”
- William Nottingham, Los Angeles Times
“A devastating expose.”
- John Arlidge, The Times
“The first thing to know about Mike Isaac’s new book is that it’s wildly entertaining. But it’s also a very important read, because Isaac shows how Uber’s messy inner workings and dramatic power struggles have made a company that, for better and worse, is now part of the fabric of modern life.”
- Bethany McLean, author of The Smartest Guys in the Room
“Travis Kalanick changed an entire industry, made billions of dollars, and made a company into a verb, and he did so by destroying anything and anyone who stepped in his way. A riveting read about bro culture gone awry.”
- Nick Bilton, special correspondent, Vanity Fair
“A gripping, masterfully reported book that offers an essential window into what can go wrong with Silicon Valley’s growth-at-any-cost culture.”
- Sheelah Kolhatkar, author of Black Edge
“Reading more like a soap opera than a business book. . . Super Pumped goes beyond the business profile to reveal something deeper and darker. The Uber of Super Pumped―most likely still the Uber of today―is not just a business; it’s a Beast.”
- B. David Zarley, Paste
“A detailed, unsparing account of entrepreneurial arrogance, breathtaking excess, and cutthroat competition at one of the tech industry’s most vaunted, loathed, and socially transformative companies. In tracking Uber’s turbulent trajectory and Kalanick’s eventual fall from grace, Mike Isaac illuminates―and indicts―some of the business practices, cultural values, and mythologies shaping our new social infrastructure.”
- Anna Wiener, author of Uncanny Valley
- Edward Niedermeyer, The Drive
“Many people have an Uber story – this is the Uber story, and it’s a corporate nightmare. Once poised to take its place beside Amazon, Facebook and Google as a blue-chip tech giant, Uber’s disastrous IPO was the result of ruthless ambition, misconduct and billions of dollars gone awry.”
“[E]xpansive and lucid. …the definitive Uber book.”
- Noah Kulwin, The Baffler
“Mike Isaac’s new book about Uber provides many lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs, technologists and elected officials, and for society as a whole.”
- Dylan Schleicher, Porchlight Books
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (September 3, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 408 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393652246
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393652246
- Item Weight : 1.41 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #525,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #232 in Venture Capital (Books)
- #933 in Company Business Profiles (Books)
- #1,106 in Workplace Culture (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on December 16, 2019
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Top reviews from the United States
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So far, and admittedly I haven't seen all of it, I think it feels fair and even-handed, not over-sensational.
The writing is also very good -- fast reading and I'm finding myself obsessed with this story.
Hard not to compare it to Bad Blood, equally juicy. The difference is that we all saw this -- we were all riding Ubers and loving the convenience and celebrating the fact that is has transformed urban transportation.
And we all knew someone who worked there and hated the culture -- but who wanted to stay to cash out.
Will update more in a day or two, with more thoughts and details.
UPDATE: <100 pages to go
I am obsessed with this book and the story. I find it so amazing that such a large, transformative company was run just so poorly. I'm at the point where Bad Boy Travis is taking a break from the company -- and I do feel sorry for him, up to a point. I don't feel sorry for the enablers -- some whom I think Isaac let off pretty lightly. In fact, many of the characters he describes show up (at least up to this point) as quite admirable, such as the CTO Thuan Pham, among others.
I cannot wait to talk about this book with friends and observers. I am less sanguine that it cannot happen again, and again and again, because the whole startup/crazy money chasing the next big thing/bro culture has no reason to change.
UPDATE: finished the book and just raced through toward the end. I think everyone interested in startups/disruption and tech in general should read this book, for what it says about the whole cycle of money-funding-new-ideas.
Was riveted by the ins and outs of Benchmark's actions and how one of the most founder-friendly firms in Silicon Valley, could push out a CEO who controls the shares and the board!
Yes, I loved reading the book but am saddened the the problems will not go away because there's too much money sloshing around looking for the next big thing, with investors all FOMO about the next bro startup. Kalanick, who Mike Isaac described as having a philosophy of "Ayn Rand meets Wolf of Wall Street," is part of the system, not an outlier. Susan Fower's "very strange year" at Uber is happening again in firms all over, venture firms are ignoring women founders, and tools like AI propogate the same old ideas. Sigh.
Still, it's great to dissect how this very visible company jumped the shark, and keep the conversation going about how Silicon Valley, innovators, and investors can do much, much better.
OK, sermon over.
Thanks for reading.
My biggest gripe is that it's rife with odd factual and narrative errors. A lot of these things are easy to find via a cursory Google search. Others contradict themselves a few pages later. Just a few-- the author writes that a modem that downloads at 1.5MBPS is "thousands of times" faster than one that downloads at 28KBPS. Simple math tells you that that isn't the case. Similarly, the author declares Kalanick to be a savant because he could calculate the approximate time it takes to get somewhere given the average speed and distance remaining. Maybe those kind of calculations are tough for an elementary schooler. After that, it's not difficult. These errors don't take away from the book's message, but they do cause one to wonder whether the author had a copy editor.
Other errors are factually wrong. For instance, founders are described as a rare species, of which each company can only have one. Conveniently, that's not true of.... Uber itself, which was notably co-founded by Kalanick and Garrett Camp, as well as its main rival Lyft (Logan Green and John Zimmer). But it's not even true of old tech giants-- Mark Zuckerberg was certainly the lone face of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter... but Microsoft was co-founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and Google by Sergey Brin and Larry Page. How that got past a copy edit is beyond me. Others are less obvious but equally off the mark. Cooley and Paul Weiss, for instance, are presented as powerful Silicon Valley law firms. Cooley certainly fits the bill. But Paul Weiss, while a very prominent New York law firm, not only doesn't have a strong Silicon Valley presence; it is one of a relative few New York powerhouse firms that don't have an office in the Bay Area at all. Such errors, together, lead me to question some of the factual reliability of the other claims made in the book.
So while I enjoyed the book itself, I'm not certain how much of it to believe.
Top reviews from other countries
Shoe Dog (Nike) – Phil Knight
Super Pumped (Uber) – Mike Isaac
That will never work (Netflix) – Mark Randolph
The Airbnb story – Leigh Gallagher
I would rank it at #2. A very engaging read from an author who clearly had the inside track. A bit odd that it finished at 80% read and then went on for an Epilogue, a Postscript and then notes to the Postscript. My only other criticism is that I did not need the childhood and high school background to many of the secondary characters.