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Billionaire Investor Chris Sacca Has Fixes for Uber’s Culture Problem

Sacca recently retired from startup investing, but he still has advice for the embattled ride-sharing service.

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BY Zoe Henry - 15 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Chris Sacca, the billionaire founder of Lowercase Capital, recently retired from his role as a startup investor--but he's not done working with entrepreneurs. In fact, Sacca has more than one piece of advice for Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and chief executive of Uber.

"Uber is truly an adolescent company," Sacca said, speaking in conversation with CNN's Laurie Segall at the Collision Conference in New Orleans this week. The investor, who famously made an early, $300,000 bet on the ride-sharing giant, admits that he'd grown estranged from its founder in recent years. Now, admid a tumultuous period for the company, Sacca and Kalanick have made inroads. "Travis is in a very vulnerable and introspective state right now, in a way that I've never seen him--for the good," he added. "He is really acknowledging the places in which he could use help."

Uber has come under fire multiple times in recent months. In February, Alphabet's Google filed a lawsuit against the company--alleging that a former employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole company secrets when he launched an autonomous car startup that Uber ultimately acquired. That same month, a former Uber computer programmer, Susan J. Fowler, published a lengthy blog post detailing her experience with sexual harassment while at Uber. Most recently, video footage emerged of Kalanick berating an Uber driver, forcing the entrepreneur to admit that he needs to seek leadership help and "grow up." A number of key executives have left the company in the wake of these scandals, including its former president, Jeff Jones, and vice president of maps and business Brian McClendon.

Of course, Uber is by no means floundering. With gross revenues of more than $20 billion and a valuation of $70 billion, it remains the most valuable private business in the world, and stands to generate billions more when it ultimately decides to go public. That's perhaps why Sacca characterizes Uber as a rebellious teenager--inasmuch as it has "lacked empathy" in the past--though sees massive potential for growth and change. He applauds, for example, Kalanick's decision to hire a second in command to help him run the company, and says he recently met with the entrepreneur to suggest a few more fixes.

He insists, for instance, that Uber lead the charge for diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley. "Uber can start bringing in the activists in this space, the people who have found the courage and strength and rolled the dice and come out publicly about what matters," Sacca said, pointing to women such as Ellen Pao, who in 2012 sued her former employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, alleging gender discrimination.

More specifically, he suggests that Uber make at least one of its massive conference rooms available to local activist organizations. "Even if you don't believe we have to make up for hundreds of years of oppression of people of color, and subjugation of women in the workplace, you should just do it because you'll make more money," he added. "Uber is going to be front and center for making up for decades of this bullshit."