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优步的崛起与坠落

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How Uber Got Lost
优步的崛起与坠落

“From the beginning,” the blog post began, “we’ve always been committed to connecting you with the safest rides on the road.”

“从一开始,”这篇博客文章的开头写道,“我们就致力于为您提供路上最安全的交通工具。”

It was April 2014, and Uber was announcing a new $1 charge on fares called the Safe Rides Fee. The start-up described the charge as necessary to fund “an industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, development of safety features in the app, and insurance.”

当时是2014年4月,优步(Uber)宣布加收1美元车费,称之为“安全乘车费”。这家初创公司称,这笔费用是支持“一个业界领先的背景调查程序、定期机动车检查、司机安全教育、应用安全特性的开发以及保险”所需。
But that was misleading. Uber’s margin on any given fare was mostly fixed, at around 20 to 25 percent, with the remainder going to the driver. According to employees who worked on the project, the Safe Rides Fee was devised primarily to add $1 of pure margin to each trip. Over time, court documents show, it brought in nearly half a billion dollars for the company, and after the money was collected, it was never earmarked specifically for improving safety.

但这是一种误导。无论收多少车费,优步的获利几乎是固定的,在20%至25%左右,其余部分归司机所有。据参与该项目的员工说,安全乘车费的设计主要是为了给每次出行增加1美元的纯利润。法庭文件显示,随着时间的推移,它为该公司带来了近5亿美元的收入,收取的这笔费用从未专门用于提高安全性。

At the time, “driver safety education” consisted of little more than a short video course, and in-app safety features weren’t a priority until years later. The company was facing rising costs on insurance and background checks for drivers, but an eventual class-action lawsuit alleged that its marketing — which claimed “industry leading” checks and “the safest” rides — was untrue. Uber settled for some $30 million, a fraction of what the fee earned the company in revenue.

当时,“司机安全教育”只是一个简短的视频课程,应用程序内的安全功能直到多年以后才成为重点。当时公司正面临保险和司机背景调查成本不断上升的问题,但最终,一起集体诉讼指控公司的营销——声称“业界领先”的调查和“最安全”的乘车——是不实的。优步最终支付了约3000万美元,这只是加收车费带来的收入的一小部分。

“We boosted our margins saying our rides were safer,” one former employee told me last year, as I was reporting a book about Uber. “It was obscene.” (Uber and its founder, Travis Kalanick, declined to comment for this article.)

“我们提高了利润率,还声称乘坐我们的车更安全,”去年,当我撰写一本关于优步的书时,一名前员工告诉我。“恬不知耻。”(优步及其创始人特拉维斯·卡兰尼克[Travis Kalanick]拒绝就本文置评。)

That level of chutzpah is difficult to imagine from the chastened Uber of 2019. Two years since Mr. Kalanick’s ouster, and three months since a humdrum public offering, the company is in many ways a shadow of the juggernaut whose global presence once felt just shy of inevitable.

2019年这个节制的优步,很难想象会有这样的胆大妄为。在卡兰尼克被赶下台两年后,以及在平淡无奇的公开募股三个月后,这家公司在很多方面只是当初那家傲视全球的巨头的影子。

As a private start-up, Uber represented pure possibility — at its peak, a $69 billion wrecking ball threatening entities as vast as the taxi industry, mass transit networks and automotive giants, all at the same time. Mr. Kalanick built the company in his brutal and triumphant image, knocking through concrete at company headquarters to install luminous glass-and-black stone staircases — an aesthetic he described as “Blade Runner meets Paris.” It was a start-up that not only booked Beyoncé to play a staff party — it paid her with $6 million in restricted stock that quickly surged in value.

作为一家私营初创企业,优步呈现了绝对的潜能——在鼎盛时期,它像是一个价值690亿美元的破拆球,同时威胁着出租车行业、公共交通网络和汽车巨头等庞大的实体。卡兰尼克在公司的营建中投射了自己残忍而志得意满的形象,拆毁总部建筑的混凝土墙壁,安装发光的玻璃与黑石台阶——他形容这种美学是“银翼杀手与巴黎的结合”。这家初创公司不仅邀请碧昂丝(Beyoncé)来员工派对演出,还以600万美元限制性股票的形式支付报酬给她。

The public Uber displays little of this braggadocio, and competitors and critics are moving in. Labor activists are pushing back against the lack of worker protections for drivers, and legislation could push up the driver minimum wage in cities like New York. The hype around Uber’s autonomous cars has died down, and until they arrive — if they ever do — the company will have a hard time reducing the costs it incurs paying drivers.

上市后的优步很少表现出这种浮夸,而竞争对手和批评人士也在步步进逼。劳工维权人士正在反对司机缺乏工人保护,立法可能会提高纽约等城市司机的最低工资。对优步无人驾驶汽车的热炒已经冷却,在这种车成为现实之前——假设真的能实现——公司需要费很大力气降低付钱给司机带来的成本。

In August, Uber posted its largest-ever quarterly loss, about $5.2 billion, as its revenue growth hit a record low. In cities around the world, Uber faces well-financed competitors offering a substantially similar product. And its food delivery business — a bright spot that executives point to for growth prospects — is in danger of becoming another cash-suck. Uber and most of its basically indistinguishable competitors (it names 10 of them in a recent filing) are subsidizing customers’ meals in a bid for market share, with profitability a secondary concern.

今年8月,优步公布了有史以来最大的季度亏损,约52亿美元,营收增长创下历史新低。在世界各地的城市,优步面临着资金充足的竞争对手,它们提供的产品基本类似。而其送餐业务——公司高管以此为增长前景的一个亮点——可能会成为又一个烧钱的无底洞。优步及其大多数基本上没什么区别的竞争对手(在最近的一份文件中,优步列出了10家竞争对手)都在贴钱给订餐的顾客,以争夺市场份额,盈利能力是次要的。

Investors are internalizing these challenges. Interest in shorting Uber stock has only grown since the I.P.O., according to share borrowing data from IHS Markit, with pessimists betting some $2 billion that the price of shares will continue to fall.

这些挑战投资者都看在眼里。自优步上市以来,做空其股票的兴趣只增不减,根据IHS Markit的股票借贷数据,悲观人士押了20亿美元赌它的股票下跌。

Dara Khosrowshahi, who replaced Mr. Kalanick as chief executive two years ago this week, is under pressure to cut costs wherever possible — laying off hundreds of marketing employees and even replacing the helium-filled balloons workers traditionally get on their hiring anniversary with stickers. Deflation is in the air. At a recent companywide meeting, one employee asked if the engineering division would be next to face reductions, a bad sign for a tech company in which morale rests on the ability to recruit the world’s top coding talent. (Uber has instituted a hiring freeze for some specific teams in the United States.)

两年前的本周,达拉·霍斯劳沙希(Dara Khosrowshahi)接替卡兰尼克出任首席执行官。目前,他面临着尽可能削减成本的压力——数百名营销人员被裁,公司甚至用贴纸取代传统的氦气球,作为员工在入职周年纪念日的礼物。空气中弥漫着紧缩的气息。在最近的一次全公司会议上,一名员工问,工程部门是否会成为下一个面临裁员的部门。对于一家士气依赖于招募全球顶尖编程人才的科技公司来说,这是一个坏兆头。(优步已经停止了美国一些特定团队的招聘。)

In combing through documents, interviewing opponents and talking to more than 200 current and former employees while researching my book, what came up again and again was this sense of a public-private divide — that Mr. Kalanick had built a start-up that thrived on venture investment, blitzkrieg expansion tactics and an ethically questionable aggressive streak, but that the playbook made little sense for a publicly traded entity.

在为本书做研究期间,我梳理文档,采访竞争对手,与200多名现任和前任员工交谈,这种上市与私人公司的区别一次又一次地浮现出来——卡兰尼克建立了一个初创公司,靠着风险投资、闪电战扩张策略和道德上可疑的侵略性手段发展起来,但是这套攻略对上市的实体毫无意义。

Mr. Kalanick required an almost hypnotic level of obedience from his staff in order to build the company he wanted. For that, he needed workers who were more than employees — he needed true believers.

为了创建自己想要的公司,卡兰尼克需要员工近乎被催眠般的服从。为此,他需要的不仅仅是员工——他需要真正的信徒。

The cult of the founder

创始人膜拜


The most vaunted title in Silicon Valley is, has been, and ever will be “founder.” It’s less of a title than a statement. “I made this,” the founder proclaims. “I invented it out of nothing. I conjured it into being.”

硅谷最浮夸的头衔是“创始人”,过去如此,将来也永远如此。这与其说是个头衔,不如说是一种宣示。“这是我做的,”创始人宣称,“我从无到有的发明。我像变戏法一样变出来的。”

If this sounds messianic, that’s because it is. Founder culture — or more accurately, founder worship — emerged as bedrock faith in Silicon Valley from several strains of quasi-religious philosophy. 1960s-era San Francisco embraced a sexual, chemical, hippie-led revolution inspired by dreams of liberated consciousness and utopian communities. This anti-establishment counterculture mixed surprisingly well with emerging ideas about the efficiency of individual greed and the gospel of creative destruction. Technologists began building services to uproot entrenched power structures and create new ways for society to function. Over the decades, the ethos informed the creation of ventures like Apple, Netscape, PayPal — and Uber.

如果这听上去像救世主,那是因为它的确如此。创始人文化——或者更确切地说,创始人膜拜——从一些准宗教的哲学流派中脱颖而出,成为了硅谷信仰的基石。20世纪60年代,受解放意识和乌托邦社区的梦想启发,旧金山迎来了一场性、毒品、嬉皮士主导的革命。这种反体制的反主流文化意外地与有关个体贪婪的效率和创造性破坏信条的新兴观点融合得很好。科技专业人士开始创建服务,铲除根深蒂固的权力结构,为社会创造新的运行方式。几十年来,这种思潮为苹果、网景(Netscape)、贝宝(PayPal)和优步等企业的创办提供了依据。

By 2009, when the company was founded, Silicon Valley saw a willingness to bend — and even break — the rules not as an unfortunate trait, but as a sign of a promising entrepreneur with a bright future. And people who knew Mr. Kalanick tended to remark on one thing: In every game he played, every race he entered, in anything where he was asked to compete against others, he sought nothing less than utter domination.

到2009年优步创立时,在硅谷,愿意改变甚至打破规则不再被视为一种不幸的特征,而是预示着一个前途光明、有希望的企业家。认识卡兰尼克的人往往会提到这点:他玩的任何游戏、参加的每场比赛、任何需要与他人竞争的事情,他都要寻求绝对的主导权。

Early on, the start-up was called UberCab — a high-end black-car service for “ballers.” But quickly, by 2011, Mr. Kalanick recognized a moonshot-sized opportunity for a global transportation company. As he saw things, realizing this vision would require playing a game that was already dirty. The standards for fair play in the transportation industry had been crossed years ago by what he viewed as a mass of corrupt politicians, all in the pocket of Big Taxi — a “cartel,” as he frequently called his giant, yellow-and-black adversary. They were bent on blocking any challengers to the multibillion-dollar market. That meant Mr. Kalanick had to recruit dedicated followers who were willing to do whatever it took to win.

在早期,这家初创公司被称为UberCab——为“土豪”提供高端轿车服务。但没过多久,到2011年的时候,卡兰尼克看到成为全球运输企业的大好机会。与此同时,他意识到实现这一愿景需要玩一个已经很龌龊的游戏。交通行业的公平竞争标准很多年前就已被他所认为的一群贪腐政客所破坏,全都在大的士(Big Taxi)手里——他常用“卡特尔”来称呼他那黄黑相间的强大竞争对手。他们一心要阻止这个数十亿美元市场的任何挑战者。这意味着卡兰尼克必须招募愿意不惜一切代价赢得胜利的忠实追随者。

This worldview created conditions for which Uber is still paying a price today. To run local branches around the world, Mr. Kalanick hired lieutenants who thought like him: ruthless and confident the money would never run out. He spun stories of Uber’s eventual ubiquity, providing “transportation as reliable as running water.” (Never mind, employees whispered, that water infrastructure isn’t always reliable in much of the world.) It wasn’t unheard-of for a new hire to enter Uber’s headquarters having never managed any significant enterprise, and be sent out to take over a new city.

这种世界观造成了优步至今仍在为此付出代价的状况。为在世界各地运营当地分部,卡兰尼克雇佣了和他想法一样的副手:冷酷无情,并确信钱永远花不完。他讲述优步终将无处不在的故事,可以提供“像自来水一样可靠的交通服务”。(员工悄声说,拉倒吧,世界很多地区的供水基础设施并不总是可靠。)一个从未管理过任何大型企业的新员工,进入优步总部并被派去接管一座新城市,这样的事也并非闻所未闻。

Mr. Kalanick trusted his employees with significant power. Each city’s general manager became a quasi-chief executive, given the autonomy to make major financial decisions. Empowering workers, Mr. Kalanick believed, was better than trying to micromanage every city. In many ways, the approach was smart: A Miami native would be better prepared to meld Uber to their own city than a transplant from San Francisco. But the drawbacks were costly. City bosses rarely had to check in with headquarters, and they began greenlighting seven-figure promotional campaigns based on little more than hunches and data from their personal spreadsheets.

卡兰尼克赋予了员工相当大的权力。各个城市的总经理有如准首席执行官,拥有做出重大财务决策的自主权。卡兰尼克认为,赋予员工权力好过设法对每个城市进行微管理。在很多方面,这种做法都很聪明:比起从旧金山空降人员,一个土生土长的迈阿密人更愿意将优步融入自己的城市。但缺点是成本太高。各市的一把手几乎无需向总部汇报,他们仅仅依据直觉和个人电子表格上的数据,就会批准七位数的促销活动。

16 murders

16起谋杀


For any start-up in Silicon Valley, there is no stronger imperative than growth.

对于硅谷的任何一家初创企业来说,没有什么比增长更紧迫的了。

It is the maxim by which every entrepreneur lives. From the moment a founder signs their first term sheet from investors, they’ve made a pledge to make the start-up grow, grow, grow. If your start-up isn’t growing, your start-up is dying.

这是每个企业家的座右铭。从创始人签署投资人第一份投资意向书的那一刻起,他们就作出承诺,要让这家初创企业不断成长。如果没有成长,你的公司就会消亡。

But there’s growth, there’s growth at all costs, and then there’s Uber’s version of growth at all costs. By 2015, some company insiders believed Mr. Kalanick had an obsession with global expansion that crossed a line. He had tapped Ed Baker, a former Facebook executive, to increase South American ridership. In Brazil, Mr. Baker encouraged city managers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to amass as many riders and drivers as possible. To limit “friction,” Uber allowed riders to sign up without requiring them to provide identity beyond an email — easily faked — or a phone number. Most Brazilians used cash far more frequently than credit cards, which meant that after a long shift, a driver could be expected to be carrying a lot of money.

但是它也分为成长、不惜一切代价的成长,以及优步式不惜一切代价的增长。到2015年,一些公司内部人士认为,卡兰尼克对全球扩张的痴迷已经超越了界限。他聘请Facebook前高管埃德·贝克(Ed Baker)来增加南美的客流量。在巴西,贝克鼓励圣保罗和里约热内卢的分公司管理者尽量聚集乘客和司机。为了减少“摩擦”,优步允许乘客在注册时只提供电子邮件(很容易造假)或电话号码,无需其他身份证件。大多数巴西人使用现金的频率远高于信用卡,这意味着在长时间当班之后,司机可能携带大量现金。

Thieves and angry taxi cartels struck. A person could access Uber with a bogus email, then play a version of “Uber roulette”: They’d hail a car, then cause mayhem. Vehicles were stolen and burned; drivers were assaulted, robbed and occasionally murdered. The company stuck with the low-friction sign-up system, even as violence increased.

小偷和愤怒的出租车卡特尔发起了攻击。一个人可以用伪造的电子邮件注册优步,然后玩起“优步轮盘赌”:他们叫车,然后制造混乱。车辆被偷、被烧毁;司机们遭到袭击、抢劫,有时甚至被杀害。尽管暴力事件不断增加,但该公司仍坚持这种低摩擦注册系统。

In 2016, Osvaldo Luis Modolo Filho, a 52-year-old driver in Brazil, was murdered by a teenage couple who ordered a ride using a fake name. After stabbing Mr. Filho repeatedly with a pair of blue-handled kitchen knives, the couple took off in his black S.U.V., leaving him to die in the middle of the street.

2016年,巴西52岁的司机小奥斯瓦尔多·路易斯·莫多洛(Osvaldo Luis Modolo Filho)被一对十几岁的夫妇谋杀,他们用假名叫的车。这对夫妇用两把蓝色手柄的菜刀反复刺伤这名司机之后,开着他的黑色SUV逃离,让他在大街中央死去。

Mr. Kalanick and other Uber executives were not totally indifferent to the dangers drivers faced in emerging markets. But they had major blind spots because of their fixation on growth, their belief in technological solutions, and a casual application of financial incentives that often inflamed existing cultural problems. Mr. Kalanick was convinced that software made Uber cars inherently safer than traditional taxis, namely because rides were recorded and trackable by GPS. He held out faith that Uber could improve driver safety with code.

卡兰尼克和优步的其他高管并非完全无视新兴市场司机面临的危险。但由于他们对增长的执着,对技术解决方案的信仰,并且随意运用经常激化现有文化问题的财政激励方案,他们的视野存在很大的盲点。卡兰尼克确信,软件让优步出租车本质上比传统出租车更安全,因为行程可以被GPS记录下来并跟踪。他坚信优步可以通过代码提高司机的安全保障。

The fixes didn’t come soon enough. Mr. Kalanick’s product team eventually improved identity verification and security in the app for Brazilian customers, after intense pressure from product and marketing leaders. But not before at least 16 drivers in Brazil were murdered.

修复措施来得还不够快。在产品和营销负责人的巨大压力下,卡兰尼克的产品团队最终为巴西客户改进了应用程序中的身份验证和安全性。但在此之前,巴西至少有16名司机被杀害。

‘Now is our time to prove ourselves’

“现在是我们证明自己的时候了”


Take away Uber’s unbridled bellicosity, and what do you have left?

没有了肆无忌惮的好斗,优步还剩下什么?

A cash-burning enterprise with which investors are losing patience. A chief executive on a humility offensive, with the slogan “We do the right thing — period.” Stabs at new lines of business, like e-bikes and freight, with far-off promises that they will turn the company into a profitable “transportation platform.” Meanwhile, the core business is increasingly commoditized, as customers realize that many imitators are perfectly capable of getting them from A to B.

对于一家烧钱的企业,投资者正在失去耐心。一位首席执行官发起了平和的攻势,其口号是“我们做正确的事——就这样”。他们向电动自行车和货运等新业务领域发起了攻击,做出遥远的承诺,要把公司变成盈利的“运输平台”。与此同时,客户们意识到,许多模仿优步的公司也完全有能力把他们从一个地方带到另一个地方,核心业务正日益商品化。

Mr. Kalanick deserves credit for creating a world-changing company, one that scaled vertiginously from a modest black car service in San Francisco to a global brand in hundreds of cities. Those who invested first saw staggering returns. One frequent customer, Oren Michels, cut Mr. Kalanick a check for $5,000 early on. By the end of 2017, the stake had multiplied in value some 3,300 times, worth more than $15 million.

卡兰尼克创造了一家改变世界的公司,这值得称赞。这家公司令人目眩神迷,从旧金山一家不起眼的高级轿车服务公司发展成为在数百个城市拥有业务的全球品牌。最先投资的人获得了惊人的回报。在早期,一位名叫奥伦·米歇尔(Oren Michels)的常客给卡兰尼克开了一张5000美元的支票。到2017年底,这些股份的价值已经增长了3300倍,价值超过1500万美元。

The issue, as a number of financial commentators have pointed out, is that the gains have been captured almost entirely by pre-I.P.O. investors in the private market. Anyone who bought shares of Uber on the day of its stock market debut is in the red. Mr. Khosrowshahi, the C.E.O., has indicated that the company could lose money through 2021.

正如许多金融评论人士所指出的,问题在于,收益几乎完全被上市前的私人市场投资者占据了。任何在优步上市首日购买其股票的人都是亏损的。公司首席执行官霍斯劳沙希表示,公司亏损可能会持续到2021年。

On the night of the I.P.O., at a party on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Mr. Khosrowshahi toasted his employees. They were holding Big Macs — a nod to the Uber Eats platform — and glasses of Champagne, and many of them were painfully aware that they personally owned a great deal of the declining stock. Mr. Khosrowshahi attempted to inspire the troops.

上市当晚,在纽约证券交易所举行的派对上,霍斯劳沙希向员工们敬酒。他们手里拿着麦当劳巨无霸(这是在向Uber Eats平台致意)和香槟,其中许多人痛苦地意识到,他们手中持有大量下跌的股票。霍斯劳沙希试图激励大家。

“Now is our time to prove ourselves,” he said. “Five years from now, tech companies that come I.P.O. after us will stand on this very trading floor and see what we’ve accomplished.”

“现在是我们证明自己的时候了,”他说。“五年后,在我们之后上市的科技企业将站在这个交易大厅里,看看我们取得了什么成就。”

Using an expletive, he added, “They’ll say ‘Holy crap. I want to be Uber.’”

他说了一句脏话,“他们会说‘我去,我也想像优步这样’。”

They might. The question is: which Uber?

有这个可能。问题是:哪个优步?
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