Just a few years ago, Uber Technologies saw itself as the little brother to Alphabet, but that cozy bond quickly dissolved into a turf war and ultimately a high-stakes legal battle, a jury heard on Wednesday.
Former Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick described how his own relationship with Alphabet Chief Executive Larry Page deteriorated as their companies competed in ride-hailing and autonomous car development, producing a tense rivalry that eventually led to a lawsuit and trial in San Francisco federal court.
Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo sued Uber, a year ago saying that former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential documents in 2015 before leaving to found a self-driving startup that Uber snapped up in 2016.
Waymo has estimated damages in the case at about $1.9 billion, which Uber rejects. Levandowski is not a defendant in the case.
Kalanick's testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday is a crucial part of the trial, which promises to influence one of the most important and potentially lucrative races in Silicon Valley - to create fleets of self-driving cars.
Kalanick's testimony showed the personal nature of the lawsuit, which is as much about big personalities at wealthy technology companies as it is about the technology itself. Uber was once a prized investment for Alphabet, whose venture capital arm made a $258 million bet on Uber in 2013.
In Uber's early days, its relationship with Google was "like a little brother to a big brother," Kalanick said under questioning in court, and Page and Alphabet executive David Drummond were like mentors to the less-seasoned Kalanick.
After Uber heard Alphabet was dabbling in ride-hailing services, Uber's business, Uber moved into self-driving cars, a project Alphabet had been working on since 2009. Uber hired away 40 experts from Carnegie Mellon University to set up a self-driving car lab in Pennsylvania, a move that upset Page.
"He sort of was a little angsty and said 'Why are you doing my thing?' and was just upset," Kalanick testified.
Uber's acquisition of Levandowski's startup, Otto, only added to the animosity, and days after the deal was announced, Drummond resigned his seat on Uber's board of directors. Recalling Page's raw feelings that surfaced with the Carnegie hires, Kalanick feared a lawsuit was coming.