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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick takes stand against critics who want IPO

Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of ride-hailing service Uber, said Wednesday he's going to take as long as possible to go public — responding to critics and stressing he's focused on product and innovation, not liquidity.

"We are 5½-years old. And it's a little early in our lifecycle go there," Kalanick told CNBC's "Squawk Box," referring to the IPO process. "We'll go there eventually. We have to find liquidity for ... [investors]."

Back in February, Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson was critical of Kalanick, saying: "He's wimping out. [Uber] should be a publicly traded company. ... You have a responsibility to give me my money back sometime."

Kalanick told CNBC that Wilson does not have money in Uber. "He passed on the Series B [funding round,] if I remember correctly. That was a $300 million valuation. Just putting that out there."

The Series B closed in January 2012. Since then, Uber's valuation has skyrocketed, currently estimated at about $62 billion.

Listening to the interview, CNBC's Kayla Tausche tweeted out Kalanick's response to Wilson. Moments later, Wilson responded to her tweet, writing Kalanick was "correct" about his passing on Uber.

Political and legal pressure on Uber

Uber also faces political critics in many cities across America and around the world, claiming among other things Uber drivers are taking jobs away from licensed taxi drivers and causing traffic problems.

"What we see is wherever Uber does well we eventually see resistance. And it's because we happen to be in an industry that has set things up [so] that essentially competition has been outlawed," Kalanick said.

In a speech outlining her economic policies in July, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton raised questions about services like Uber.

"As the on-demand economy creates exciting opportunities and unleashes innovation, it's also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future."

Kalanick countered by telling CNBC the average Uber driver works fewer than 10 hours per week. Uber "can become a safety net" for people looking for jobs or seeking the flexibility of working when they want.

"On the Uber system, it's not just about the on-demand economy where you're pushing a button and getting a ride," he said. "On the driver side, I can push a button and start work. And I can push a button and stop work whenever I choose."

"I think that's the story we need to get better at telling," he said.

In addition to political pressure, Uber has found itself at the center of thorny legal issues. Just last week, Uber agreed to pay $100 million to settle a class action lawsuit over how it classifies its drivers in California and Massachusetts.

Kalanick said the settlement "reaffirms independent contractor status" for drivers who "appreciate and prefer" that status.

"But it holds us to account in some ways. You should have a deactivation policy that's straightforward and transparent and essentially fair. There are things we have to do to get better, too," he said, referring to stipulations in the settlement.

Arianna Huffington joins Uber's board

Also Wednesday, Kalanick announced that Arianna Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, is joining Uber's board of directors.

He told CNBC he's known Huffington for a few years and he felt that they had a connection from the beginning. "We have a simpatico thing on building companies.

In a post on Uber's website, Kalanick wrote:

"For those of us who know Arianna, it's clear she knows a thing or two about being an entrepreneur."

"From the start of our friendship it was obvious that she believes deeply in our mission."

"[Her] ability to tell stories is invaluable for an engineer like me, whose natural tendency is to rely on data."

Huffington, sitting next to Kalanick, told CNBC she was briefed extensively about the company in the lead-up to becoming a board member.

Kalanick walked her through "the big-ball bets for the future, through the controversies, through the cultural values," she said, adding the final meeting to get her on the board was last week.

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