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優步的崛起與墜落

更新時間:2019/9/21 8:43:27 來源:紐約時報中文網 作者:佚名

How Uber Got Lost
優步的崛起與墜落

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

“從一開始,”這篇博客文章的開頭寫道,“我們就致力于為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.”

當時是2014年4月,優步(Uber)宣布加收1美元車費,稱之為“安全乘車費”。這家初創公司稱,這筆費用是支持“一個業界領先的背景調查程序、定期機動車檢查、司機安全教育、應用安全特性的開發以及保險”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.

但這是一種誤導。無論收多少車費,優步的獲利幾乎是固定的,在20%至25%左右,其余部分歸司機所有。據參與該項目的員工說,安全乘車費的設計主要是為了給每次出行增加1美元的純利潤。法庭文件顯示,隨著時間的推移,它為該公司帶來了近5億美元的收入,收取的這筆費用從未專門用于提高安全性。

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.

當時,“司機安全教育”只是一個簡短的視頻課程,應用程序內的安全功能直到多年以后才成為重點。當時公司正面臨保險和司機背景調查成本不斷上升的問題,但最終,一起集體訴訟指控公司的營銷——聲稱“業界領先”的調查和“最安全”的乘車——是不實的。優步最終支付了約3000萬美元,這只是加收車費帶來的收入的一小部分。

“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.)

“我們提高了利潤率,還聲稱乘坐我們的車更安全,”去年,當我撰寫一本關于優步的書時,一名前員工告訴我。“恬不知恥。”(優步及其創始人特拉維斯·卡蘭尼克[Travis Kalanick]拒絕就本文置評。)

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年這個節制的優步,很難想象會有這樣的膽大妄為。在卡蘭尼克被趕下臺兩年后,以及在平淡無奇的公開募股三個月后,這家公司在很多方面只是當初那家傲視全球的巨頭的影子。

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.

作為一家私營初創企業,優步呈現了絕對的潛能——在鼎盛時期,它像是一個價值690億美元的破拆球,同時威脅著出租車行業、公共交通網絡和汽車巨頭等龐大的實體。卡蘭尼克在公司的營建中投射了自己殘忍而志得意滿的形象,拆毀總部建筑的混凝土墻壁,安裝發光的玻璃與黑石臺階——他形容這種美學是“銀翼殺手與巴黎的結合”。這家初創公司不僅邀請碧昂絲(Beyoncé)來員工派對演出,還以600萬美元限制性股票的形式支付報酬給她。

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.

上市后的優步很少表現出這種浮夸,而競爭對手和批評人士也在步步進逼。勞工維權人士正在反對司機缺乏工人保護,立法可能會提高紐約等城市司機的最低工資。對優步無人駕駛汽車的熱炒已經冷卻,在這種車成為現實之前——假設真的能實現——公司需要費很大力氣降低付錢給司機帶來的成本。

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,優步公布了有史以來最大的季度虧損,約52億美元,營收增長創下歷史新低。在世界各地的城市,優步面臨著資金充足的競爭對手,它們提供的產品基本類似。而其送餐業務——公司高管以此為增長前景的一個亮點——可能會成為又一個燒錢的無底洞。優步及其大多數基本上沒什么區別的競爭對手(在最近的一份文件中,優步列出了10家競爭對手)都在貼錢給訂餐的顧客,以爭奪市場份額,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.

這些挑戰投資者都看在眼里。自優步上市以來,做空其股票的興趣只增不減,根據IHS Markit的股票借貸數據,悲觀人士押了20億美元賭它的股票下跌。

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.)

兩年前的本周,達拉·霍斯勞沙希(Dara Khosrowshahi)接替卡蘭尼克出任首席執行官。目前,他面臨著盡可能削減成本的壓力——數百名營銷人員被裁,公司甚至用貼紙取代傳統的氦氣球,作為員工在入職周年紀念日的禮物。空氣中彌漫著緊縮的氣息。在最近的一次全公司會議上,一名員工問,工程部門是否會成為下一個面臨裁員的部門。對于一家士氣依賴于招募全球頂尖編程人才的科技公司來說,這是一個壞兆頭。(優步已經停止了美國一些特定團隊的招聘。)

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.

在為本書做研究期間,我梳理文檔,采訪競爭對手,與200多名現任和前任員工交談,這種上市與私人公司的區別一次又一次地浮現出來——卡蘭尼克建立了一個初創公司,靠著風險投資、閃電戰擴張策略和道德上可疑的侵略性手段發展起來,但是這套攻略對上市的實體毫無意義。

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.

為了創建自己想要的公司,卡蘭尼克需要員工近乎被催眠般的服從。為此,他需要的不僅僅是員工——他需要真正的信徒。

The cult of the founder

創始人膜拜

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.”

硅谷最浮夸的頭銜是“創始人”,過去如此,將來也永遠如此。這與其說是個頭銜,不如說是一種宣示。“這是我做的,”創始人宣稱,“我從無到有的發明。我像變戲法一樣變出來的。”

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.

如果這聽上去像救世主,那是因為它的確如此。創始人文化——或者更確切地說,創始人膜拜——從一些準宗教的哲學流派中脫穎而出,成為了硅谷信仰的基石。20世紀60年代,受解放意識和烏托邦社區的夢想啟發,舊金山迎來了一場性、毒品、嬉皮士主導的革命。這種反體制的反主流文化意外地與有關個體貪婪的效率和創造性破壞信條的新興觀點融合得很好。科技專業人士開始創建服務,鏟除根深蒂固的權力結構,為社會創造新的運行方式。幾十年來,這種思潮為蘋果、網景(Netscape)、貝寶(PayPal)和優步等企業的創辦提供了依據。

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年優步創立時,在硅谷,愿意改變甚至打破規則不再被視為一種不幸的特征,而是預示著一個前途光明、有希望的企業家。認識卡蘭尼克的人往往會提到這點:他玩的任何游戲、參加的每場比賽、任何需要與他人競爭的事情,他都要尋求絕對的主導權。

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,這家初創公司被稱為UberCab——為“土豪”提供高端轎車服務。但沒過多久,到2011年的時候,卡蘭尼克看到成為全球運輸企業的大好機會。與此同時,他意識到實現這一愿景需要玩一個已經很齷齪的游戲。交通行業的公平競爭標準很多年前就已被他所認為的一群貪腐政客所破壞,全都在大的士(Big Taxi)手里——他常用“卡特爾”來稱呼他那黃黑相間的強大競爭對手。他們一心要阻止這個數十億美元市場的任何挑戰者。這意味著卡蘭尼克必須招募愿意不惜一切代價贏得勝利的忠實追隨者。

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.

這種世界觀造成了優步至今仍在為此付出代價的狀況。為在世界各地運營當地分部,卡蘭尼克雇傭了和他想法一樣的副手:冷酷無情,并確信錢永遠花不完。他講述優步終將無處不在的故事,可以提供“像自來水一樣可靠的交通服務”。(員工悄聲說,拉倒吧,世界很多地區的供水基礎設施并不總是可靠。)一個從未管理過任何大型企業的新員工,進入優步總部并被派去接管一座新城市,這樣的事也并非聞所未聞。

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.

卡蘭尼克賦予了員工相當大的權力。各個城市的總經理有如準首席執行官,擁有做出重大財務決策的自主權。卡蘭尼克認為,賦予員工權力好過設法對每個城市進行微管理。在很多方面,這種做法都很聰明:比起從舊金山空降人員,一個土生土長的邁阿密人更愿意將優步融入自己的城市。但缺點是成本太高。各市的一把手幾乎無需向總部匯報,他們僅僅依據直覺和個人電子表格上的數據,就會批準七位數的促銷活動。

16 murders

16起謀殺

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

對于硅谷的任何一家初創企業來說,沒有什么比增長更緊迫的了。

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.

這是每個企業家的座右銘。從創始人簽署投資人第一份投資意向書的那一刻起,他們就作出承諾,要讓這家初創企業不斷成長。如果沒有成長,你的公司就會消亡。

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.

但是它也分為成長、不惜一切代價的成長,以及優步式不惜一切代價的增長。到2015年,一些公司內部人士認為,卡蘭尼克對全球擴張的癡迷已經超越了界限。他聘請Facebook前高管埃德·貝克(Ed Baker)來增加南美的客流量。在巴西,貝克鼓勵圣保羅和里約熱內盧的分公司管理者盡量聚集乘客和司機。為了減少“摩擦”,優步允許乘客在注冊時只提供電子郵件(很容易造假)或電話號碼,無需其他身份證件。大多數巴西人使用現金的頻率遠高于信用卡,這意味著在長時間當班之后,司機可能攜帶大量現金。

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.

小偷和憤怒的出租車卡特爾發起了攻擊。一個人可以用偽造的電子郵件注冊優步,然后玩起“優步輪盤賭”:他們叫車,然后制造混亂。車輛被偷、被燒毀;司機們遭到襲擊、搶劫,有時甚至被殺害。盡管暴力事件不斷增加,但該公司仍堅持這種低摩擦注冊系統。

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歲的司機小奧斯瓦爾多·路易斯·莫多洛(Osvaldo Luis Modolo Filho)被一對十幾歲的夫婦謀殺,他們用假名叫的車。這對夫婦用兩把藍色手柄的菜刀反復刺傷這名司機之后,開著他的黑色SUV逃離,讓他在大街中央死去。

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.

卡蘭尼克和優步的其他高管并非完全無視新興市場司機面臨的危險。但由于他們對增長的執著,對技術解決方案的信仰,并且隨意運用經常激化現有文化問題的財政激勵方案,他們的視野存在很大的盲點。卡蘭尼克確信,軟件讓優步出租車本質上比傳統出租車更安全,因為行程可以被GPS記錄下來并跟蹤。他堅信優步可以通過代碼提高司機的安全保障。

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.

修復措施來得還不夠快。在產品和營銷負責人的巨大壓力下,卡蘭尼克的產品團隊最終為巴西客戶改進了應用程序中的身份驗證和安全性。但在此之前,巴西至少有16名司機被殺害。

‘Now is our time to prove ourselves’

“現在是我們證明自己的時候了”

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

沒有了肆無忌憚的好斗,優步還剩下什么?

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.

對于一家燒錢的企業,投資者正在失去耐心。一位首席執行官發起了平和的攻勢,其口號是“我們做正確的事——就這樣”。他們向電動自行車和貨運等新業務領域發起了攻擊,做出遙遠的承諾,要把公司變成盈利的“運輸平臺”。與此同時,客戶們意識到,許多模仿優步的公司也完全有能力把他們從一個地方帶到另一個地方,核心業務正日益商品化。

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.

卡蘭尼克創造了一家改變世界的公司,這值得稱贊。這家公司令人目眩神迷,從舊金山一家不起眼的高級轎車服務公司發展成為在數百個城市擁有業務的全球品牌。最先投資的人獲得了驚人的回報。在早期,一位名叫奧倫·米歇爾(Oren Michels)的常客給卡蘭尼克開了一張5000美元的支票。到2017年底,這些股份的價值已經增長了3300倍,價值超過1500萬美元。

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.

正如許多金融評論人士所指出的,問題在于,收益幾乎完全被上市前的私人市場投資者占據了。任何在優步上市首日購買其股票的人都是虧損的。公司首席執行官霍斯勞沙希表示,公司虧損可能會持續到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.

上市當晚,在紐約證券交易所舉行的派對上,霍斯勞沙希向員工們敬酒。他們手里拿著麥當勞巨無霸(這是在向Uber Eats平臺致意)和香檳,其中許多人痛苦地意識到,他們手中持有大量下跌的股票。霍斯勞沙希試圖激勵大家。

“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.”

“現在是我們證明自己的時候了,”他說。“五年后,在我們之后上市的科技企業將站在這個交易大廳里,看看我們取得了什么成就。”

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

他說了一句臟話,“他們會說‘我去,我也想像優步這樣’。”

They might. The question is: which Uber?

有這個可能。問題是:哪個優步?

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