Tech

Shira Ovide is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering technology. She previously was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

All you enemies of Uber: This is your chance.

Even before a group of Uber investors successfully pushed CEO Travis Kalanick to quit overnight Tuesday, the company was dealing with a serious leadership vacuum. One of Kalanick's most trusted but controversial lieutenants, Emil Michael, left last week on the recommendation of an internal investigation. Uber has also been operating without a chief financial officer, a chief marketing officer, a general counsel and a head of engineering.

And now what had been a hunt for a strong chief operating officer to run the company with Kalanick is turning into a CEO search. Good luck to the person who won't have a smooth road as Uber's next CEO with a deposed Kalanick looking over his or her shoulder. Kalanick still essentially has majority voting control of Uber.  

Of course one company's leadership vacuum and constant crises are other companies' prime opportunities.

All the world's non-Uber companies should have their knives out now. Same for companies working on autonomous driving, and groups such as regulators and workers' rights activists who have tangled repeatedly with the Kalanick-led Uber. Everyone who is annoyed at Uber Technologies Inc. has a chance to demand their pound of flesh. 

We Are the World
Uber wants to dominate transportation globally, but it has formidable and richly valued rivals in many countries
Source: CB Insights

There are some signs that rivals may already be capitalizing on the near-constant negative headlines about Uber's misdeeds. The Financial Times recently used data from credit card purchases to show that Uber's toughest rival in the U.S., Lyft, is steadily gaining market share. (Even the FT report said Uber still controls more than three-quarters of the U.S. market.) On-demand rides remain a fraction of all personal transportation, and that should mean plenty of opportunity for both Uber and Lyft.

Outside of Uber's home market, it doesn't get any easier. Singapore-based Grab said it was scouting for potential acquisitions and more tech workers to expand its on-demand rides in Indonesia, Myanmar and other fast-growing countries that Uber also wants to win. Other on-demand taxi startups such as Ola in India and Indonesia's Go-Jek also have a better chance to press their advantage while Uber is distracted -- to put it mildly. What better chance to collect more money from investors and go even harder after Uber.

Uber already didn't have it easy trying to operate in as many countries as possible against competitors that knew how to create services the locals want and had the backing of deep-pocketed investors such as Softbank. A Chinese upstart forced Uber to capitulate in that country after a long and expensive fight. And countries like Brazil and India are likely to be nearly as messy for Uber.  

And it's not just rivals who can capitalize on Uber's drama. For politicians, regulators and labor leaders, this is a chance to again demand all those things that the company refused to do under Kalanick.

The city of Portland, Oregon, is trying to get Uber to fess up about technology that the startup apparently used to evade city regulators. Time to ask again, Portland. In Europe, some drivers are are trying to negotiate work and pay conditions with Uber. It's time to ask for the moon, drivers. While it deals with leadership crises, is Uber going to continue battling in court with Google's parent company over pilfered driverless car technology?

In any fight now Uber looks less like a valiant underdog fighting against entrenched interests or jealous competitors; Uber instead looks like a scandal-ridden bully. The next CEO of Uber has an opportunity to wipe the slate clean with all the many people who have been burned by the aggressive startup. "We're the kinder and gentler Uber," the new CEO can say. "We want to repair our relationship. Tell us everything you want."

It's healthy for Uber to have fewer enemies, but it's also dangerous for the company to let its guard down for even a second because the stakes are so high. Uber's stratospheric valuation of nearly $70 billion implies investors think the company can grab a huge slice of the market for personal transportation, trucking and much more -- and on financially viable terms. Anything short of domination is failure. And domination is looking increasingly tough for a rudderless Uber ship. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Shira Ovide in New York at sovide@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.net