As Uber founder Travis Kalanick prepared to leave Uber’s board of directors in 2019, he was already hyping his next venture: a startup called CloudKitchens that rents out space to restaurants for delivery-only services. He predicted at the time that the startup would be “bigger than Uber.” The Wall Street Journal reported last October that CloudKitchens had purchased more than 40 properties in some two dozen cities, for more than $130 million.
But a new report from Insider suggests that many of the tactics that became infamous at Uber — the always be hustlin’ mentality and aggressive internal culture — are in place at CloudKitchens.
Inside CloudKitchens, people describe an alpha-male organization helmed by a “temple of bros,” in which Kalanick and two pals reign supreme and where a “Fight Club”-like code of secrecy affects all aspects of the job. Visual cues, like “No Quinoa” T-shirts worn by Kalanick loyalists, reinforce a hard-knock culture that frowns on coddled techies.
Kalanick’s time at the helm of the ride-hailing startup was riddled with controversy. Former engineer Susan Fowler wrote a now-infamous blog post alleging that Uber had serious sexism problems; the company’s Project Greyball was designed to mislead authorities, allowing Uber to continue operations in places where it had been banned; and Kalanick was recorded yelling at an Uber driver while he was still CEO of the company. He resigned in 2017 under pressure from the company’s board of directors and shareholders.
There seems to be a good deal of Uber-like chaos at CloudKitchens, according to Insider, and it has led to a lot of turnover:
Since the start of the year, more than 300 corporate employees have left the company, some of whom say they quit over paltry bonuses and a contentious new leveling system. And now, with the pandemic lockdowns easing and competitors pilling into the food-delivery market, the ousted Uber founder’s comeback plan will be put to the test — with his critics and fans watching closely.
It seems like the strategies that propelled Uber to be (at one time) one of the most valuable startups in the world are in effect at Kalanick’s new venture. Whether CloudKitchens suffers the same fall from grace (and rebound) that Uber did is still very much up in the air. Go read this excellent deep dive by Insider that delves into the dark corners of the hot startup company.