Travis Kalanick's resignation should be a warning to other big personalities in Silicon Valley, says investor

Key Points
  • Travis Kalanick became known for his aggressive, brash larger-than-life personality.
  • Paul Meeks said Uber and Snap's chief executives are more focused on themselves than customers.
  • The "arrogance and narcissism" of many founders can trip them up, Meeks said.
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Yu Lei | VCG | Getty Images

Travis Kalanick is like many founders in Silicon Valley, said investor Paul Meeks: He built a company, but he didn't have skills to run it.

"There's a difference between founder, visionary and day-to-day operations," said Meeks, chief investment officer at Sloy, Dahl & Holst.

Kalanick stepped down from his role as the CEO of Uber on Tuesday, after five major investors in the ride-hailing service demanded his resignation.

"It happens all too often that you get an aggressive, young, high-energy founder — but that person doesn't necessarily have the credibility to run a company," said Meeks. "You can't assume that a great founder will be a great operator, it's actually very rare that those two things dovetail," he said.

Uber's story is in many ways a warning for other young tech founders, Meeks said.

Snap's chief executive, Evan Spiegel, has a few things in common with Kalanick, he said. Both founded multibillion-dollar companies, and both have been running those companies since the very beginning (or until Tuesday in Kalanick's case).

"Snap is already public so unless something happens [Spiegel] is OK. But if it has one or two quarters where user growth is a disappointment he may have to resign," said Meeks.

Like Kalanick, Spiegel is known for saying things that have been viewed as controversial, especially about Facebook, one of Snap's biggest competitors. "Part of the problem with Snap is not only the arrogance, but they're also a little mysterious. You don't know much about these guys and when they open their mouths they sound insensitive," said Meeks.

"[Speigel and Kalanick] have vision, but sometimes their arrogance and narcissism gets in the way," he said. "Whether it's by their actions or what they say, they seem to think they're God's gift," Meeks said.

Uber isn't the first well-known tech company to lose its CEO in the midst of controversy. In 2015, Ellen Pao — former interim CEO of Reddit — said that she was leaving the company because of a disagreement with the company's board of directors, not because of public criticism over the way she handled the firing of an employee. In 2008, Mozilla's former CEO, Brendan Eich, stepped down after his donation to an anti-same-sex marriage campaign drew public outrage.

There is pressure for these big personalities to deliver big results, Meeks said. "If you have blow away financial success, people will look the other way. But when you have a company like Uber that's not even public yet, that has to support that $68 billion valuation or it's under the gun like Snap ... I do think the culture of the company, the leadership of the CEO how he or she is perceived is definitely significant," said Meeks.

Uber and Snap did not immediately respond to requests for comment.