“How Uber Did It" with Emil Michael

February 18, 2019

By Robert Wagenseil

"Ambition with vision. Power to the people. Bits and atoms." That's how Uber became Uber (as we know it) according to Emil Michael, who joined us last week for a special guest lecture as part of Southern Glazer's Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series.

Michael, who is an Egyptian immigrant, was instrumental in Uber’s fundraising and global expansion. Before joining the company as its chief business officer (CBO), he was chief operating officer at Klout and a founding member of Tellme Networks.

As Uber’s CBO from 2013 to 2017, he oversaw the company’s rapid business development and led its expansion into China and Russia, which resulted in more than $70 billion in market value creation. He also raised more than $15 billion in capital from investors worldwide and struck partnerships with leading global corporations such as American Express, AT&T, Softbank and Toyota.

So how did Uber do it? Michael attributes its success to three essential philosophies.

Ambition with vision.
“We wanted to make transportation as reliable as running water for everyone everywhere,” said Michael. Contrary to its competitors, Uber maintained a long-term vision that included innovative transportation offerings such as UberEats, Uber Freight and UberRush.

Power to the people.
One key strategy to Uber’s successful expansion was how it leveraged grassroots support to overcome unique barriers to entry in each new city, particularly legal regulations and legacy cab companies. Despite some notable exceptions such as Vancouver and Austin, Uber gained its ability to operate legally by building a critical mass of loyal drivers and converting riders into a political base.

Bits and atoms.
Uber deployed both technology (comprised of bits) and people (comprised of atoms) in an unprecedented way to drive growth. “We ushered in a whole generation of tech companies that are not afraid to put humans on the ground in every country and city to make the business work.”

Lessons learned
Despite its enormous growth as a business and transformative impact on how we get around, the company was continually met with controversies, culminating in an infamous 2017.  Recalling his experience, Michael advised budding entrepreneurs to find a formula for success that carefully balances innovation and sustainability, growth and stability – the Innovator’s Dilemma.

“As your business grows, you have to marry that growth with human resources, finance, and legal – all the things that make a corporation stable over time and successful,” said Michael. “The art of it is how you put enough structure in place to tame this wildly growing entity without taking innovation out.”

Want to learn more? Click here to watch the whole lecture.

Southern Glazer’s Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series at Miami Business School brings students, alumni and other members of the UM community together with top business leaders throughout the year. For more information and a complete schedule of upcoming special guest lectures, click here.

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