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  • Mark 4:48 pm on November 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , great disruptive project, growth, , , ,   

    The Great Disruptive Project of Uber 

    I’ve blogged in the past about The Great Disruptive Project. We should understand a company like Uber, at least in its earlier stages, as in part a moral project. By this I mean there is a vision underlying the company, a critique of the existing order associated with this vision and a commitment to changing the world in line with both. There are many other things going on here. For example it is easy to be enamoured by a vision which is also making you fabulously wealthy. But if we reduce the vision to a front for avarice then we miss an important element in why such a company comes to be the way that it is.

    Reading Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber has left me more convinced of this then ever. It charts the evolving corporate culture of Uber and how Travis Kalanick sought to build a company which reflected the hyper-competitiveness with which he approached the established transportation order from the outset. The author Mike Isaac deftly explores how the rapid growth of the company was dependent on giving regional managers a wide latitude in their mission to entrench Uber within a new municipality, as well as ensuring they backed staff and drivers to the hilt when it came to the inevitable pushback.

    Uber has been notorious for its willingness to flout the law, bulldozing its way through each new municipality. What Isaac conveys is how this had some of the characteristics of a movement, uniting intensely ambitious young (mostly male) staff in a project to change the world and get rich in the process. His book left me with such a vivid sense of how the pathologies of the company were incipient in its model of growth, as Kalanick’s libertarian impulses coupled with the glut of capital they had access to produce a lawless juggernaut enthusiastically seeking to destroy anything which got in its way.

    While Uber might be an extreme case, it nonetheless highlights characteristics of (successful) startups which render them different to other firms: they grow at a remarkable pace with huge implications for on-boarding processes and corporate culture, access to capital can give senior management an astonishing degree of latitude, the startup’s fundraising depends on a plausible account of how it will change the world and the key people involved stand to become fabulously wealthy if they succeed in this endeavour.

    It embodies the tensions of contemporary capitalism and, as Emily Chang observes in another book I’m enjoying at the moment, creates an environment in which an endeavour which involves a large amount of luck (particularly when it comes to the economic juncture in which Uber were able to raise such an astonishing amount of capital while being so far from profitability) comes to be coded as the alpha bros rising to the top. Given the persistence of the underlying conditions, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that things will get worse before they get better.

     
  • Mark 7:12 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital publishing, growth, , , , , , ,   

    Staying small in order to grow 

    I thought this was an interesting extract from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth about the rise of Vice. Limiting their circulation was a deliberate strategy to facilitate its expansion in the longer term, enabling them to side step some of the pressures they would have been subject to if they had dived headfirst into growth. From pg 45-46

    “We realized if we were going to try to go mass,” 10 Smith said, “and try to go for a million copies, we were going to have to dilute how we wrote and how we did everything.” Instead they doubled down on catering to the cool kids and consciously kept their circulation number lower than market demand. They printed 150,000 issues to distribute across the U.S. and similarly small batches overseas, in Japan, then the U.K., then Germany. “We got to a million copies that way,” Smith said. Each of those cool kids would pass their issue on to six or eight friends, expanding the magazine’s circulation by word of mouth.

     
  • Mark 8:41 pm on August 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , growth, imminence, the last man,   

    The claustrophobia of imminence 

    I woke up with this phrase stuck in my mind recently, after a strange and vivid dream. It involved a landscape somewhere between Deep Space Nine and Snowpiercer, dark corners filled with metallic pools and steam hissing across braying crowds. I can’t remember the narrative of the dream but a crucial idea from it remains clear in my mind.

    The Last Man is about the suffocation of growth rather than the end of the impulse to grow. It is the end of resonance rather than the cessation of our search for it. It is the loss of our capacity to give birth to stars and a forgetting that we ever had it:

    And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: It is time for man to fix his goal.  It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.  His soil is still rich enough for it.  But this soil will one day be poor and exhausted; no lofty tree will be able to grow from it.  Alas!  The time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond mankind— and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to twang!  I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star.  I tell you: you have still chaos in you.  Alas!  The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars.  Alas!  The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.

    The dream left me with a vivid sense of the claustrophobia of imminence which might still be felt after this forgetting. The sense of being hemmed in, aspiring to be something more while denied the conditions which would make this growth possible.  Many of the questions I’m interested in ultimately relate to this feeling, its sociology and psychology. It’s odd to realise that I’m only now coming to understand the final object of years of work.

     
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