Uber’s ‘ruthlessness’ is key to its success

Uber's "ruthlessness" has been an important asset to its success, said venture capitalist Fred Wilson, but the mobile dispatch service needs to tone down its corporate culture as it matures. Wilson, a legendary Internet investor who backed Twitter, Foursquare, crafts retailer Etsy and music site SoundCloud, was commenting on recent controversies involving Uber, which has been accused of invading the privacy of a critic and aggressively recruiting drivers from competitors.

Uber app Spain
Quique Garcia | AFP | Getty Images

Wilson is the managing partner at New York-based Union Square Ventures. He is not an investor in Uber. Wilson was speaking at Le Web 2014, a technology conference in Paris that is in its eleventh year. Some 3,000 participants are expected to attend over three days.

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"When I think about Uber as a company, I see them as [having an] incredible, almost ruthless, execution, combined with a swagger, almost an arrogance. Their ability to execute the way they execute sometimes comes from that swagger," Wilson said. But "as they mature, they have to figure out how not to have the negative side effects."

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Wilson said Uber's aggressive style was reflected in its approach to regulators. "Early on, they decided it was best to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission," said Wilson. "That was a very good strategy; at some point, that strategy stops working." Wilson said he believed that regulated and unregulated transportation would eventually find a way to coexist.

"Early on, they decided it was best to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. That was a very good strategy; at some point, that strategy stops working." -Fred Wilson, Managing Partner, Union Square Ventures

An IPO candidate?

Wilson said he believed companies involved in the sharing economy—such as Uber and Airbnb, health and wellness companies and crowdfunding start-ups—could be candidates for public offerings in the coming year. He said he did not believe that valuations for some of the high-profile start-ups were extreme.

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Citing a recent valuation of Uber at $40 billion, Wilson noted that the company had set a goal of $200 million to $250 million in revenue in 2015; that puts the valuation at 20 times revenue, a ratio that investors had embraced in recent IPOs.

He said he did not believe that investors were in a new bubble that would lead to a crash as in 2000 and 2007. "I don't think we're heading for that kind of environment, where two-thirds of the companies are going out of business."