Skift Take

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi thinks Uber's next phase of growth will come from scaling and product innovation. Hint: Uber Teens and Uber Freight?

Series: Skift Global Forum 2023

Skift Global Forum was held in New York City on September 26-28, 2023. Read coverage of the event at the link below.

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CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took the stage at Skift Global Forum in New York City last week and discussed Uber’s high burn rate, its use of artificial intelligence, and the United Kingdom as a test market.

Khosrowshahi also discussed upcoming product releases like Uber Teens, Uber becoming a super app and how essential the delivery service (Uber Eats) is to the business today. 

He also touched upon the company’s use of AI and said, “Uber has been an AI powered company for years and years and years. When you’re routing your estimated time of arrival, whether we batch your delivery pricing, all of it is based on AI algorithms.”  

Watch the full video of Khosrowshahi’s interview below.

Rafat Ali: All right. We’re here for the best session of the day Dara has promised

Dara Khosrowshahi: No pressure. No pressure.

Ali: Dara has promised. At this point, Uber is a verb, Dara is a verb in the industry.

Khosrowshahi: I was not aware.

Ali: Dara’s not aware. Okay. In our world, Dara is a verb. Can we play this video with the first video? Is it set up?

Dennis: TripAdvisor instant booking. You’ve been shut at.

Khosrowshahi: Where’s the softball question here, Dennis? Come on.

Ali: The context for that question when you were at Expedia and Dennis, who you know very well, obviously, was just coming at you from left and right and left and right for all types of questions.

Khosrowshahi: That’s why you’re interviewing me and Dennis isn’t.

Ali: Dennis isn’t.

 Khosrowshahi: I’m kidding.

Ali: Let me start with a softball. I’m going to read a quote. “Uber has…” This is the Financial Times. “Uber has proven that it can stop the bleeding, but it has $33 billion of accumulated deficit on the balance sheet. It has not yet proven that it is a high return on investment business, a high return on capital business.” That’s my softball.

Khosrowshahi: Thank you. You want me to respond to that?

Ali: Yes.

Khosrowshahi: I think the Financial Times is right. Since I joined the company six years ago, the company was burning, call it, $3-$4 billion in cash flow a year. We were a verb. We are a verb. It was a very large asset, incredible company, incredibly innovative. But we have had to adjust to the realities of life, which is at some point you have to turn from that burn and growth at any costs to profitable growth.

 I think in certainly our industry, and by any metric, we have been a leader in the field. In the last quarter we did over 2.3 billion transactions just in the quarter, over 30 billion in bookings, growing at 18% on a constant currency basis — very, very strong growth rates. But more importantly, we had $1.1 billion in free cash flow and we were profitable for the first time for the company. That was the first time, but now it’s up to us. 

I think we absolutely have the right path to consistently be profitable, consistently be that profitable compounder and grower, the kind of company that can continue to innovate, that can grow in the high teens and twenties, but then can throw off cash the way that our investors certainly expect us to. We got more to prove what I’m certainly happy about, where we are now versus where we were six years ago.

 Ali: Where we were six years ago. In terms of where the profitability will come from, is it take rate, is it going into other parts of the business, other parts of different parts of the ecosystem, et cetera? Where do you think that profitability will come from?

Khosrowshahi: It really is going to come from scale. If I do my job correctly… For us, take rate with a revenue has a bunch of merchant agency in it. The revenue has a bunch of accounting adjustments. But if I’m doing my job, we grow the company at the same take rate that we are today or lower over a period of time, which is essentially as we scale, we should actually give some of that back to our partners. 

We don’t want to be guilty of… there’s a Bill Gurley blog of “a take rate too far.” To the extent that your take rate is too high, that invites competition, but it’s also not the right thing to do for our earners. We’ve got over 6 million earners now on our platform. 

Ali: Six million earners, you’re saying drivers?

 Khosrowshahi: Drivers and/or couriers on our platform who are engaged on our platform and who are earning money on our platform. We certainly don’t want to be taking away the take rate from them, so to speak. The growth is really going to come from scaling the business. If you are running at a $2 billion transactional growth rate growing at 20% a year with essentially a fixed cost base, the incremental profitability from that growth is going to come to the bottom line. 

That’s the formula that got us here and that’s certainly the formula going forward. We’re not dependent on take rate, but the business is growing really fast at a big scale and that’s what it’s going to be about: keep growing and keep costs the same.

Ali: The sort of go-get paradigm that you have come up with… Explain to people who don’t know the go-get paradigm that you and why is that important for you?

Khosrowshahi: Yeah, absolutely. When I started at Uber, we were essentially a transportation company. Uber was known for push-a-button, get a ride, go anywhere. About 90% of the business was transportation. Uber Eats was an incredible experiment that a couple of great, great innovators within our company had set up and came upon this experiment. We started scaling Uber Eats. Then the pandemic hits us like a ton of bricks. 

The mobility business comes down by 85%. This is during a time where we’re already losing billions of dollars, so more losses. This was not a fun time. But the mitigating factor, and it was a very big mitigating factor, is that the delivery business absolutely exploded in a great way. It also allowed us to keep a number of our partners, of our drivers working and earning. Instead of driving people, they started delivering food.

Now that we are out of the pandemic, about 50% of the business is mobility and about 50% of the business is delivery. It’s an extraordinary transformation of the company. What we’re seeing is that our audience, we have about 137 million consumers who come to our platform every single month. 

We’re kind of building this operating system for daily life for them, which is anywhere you want to go, anything you want to get, we’re going to be there for you. It translates into pretty incredible loyalty. Our average customer is using us five and a half times per month. The number of touch points that we have with them is pretty extraordinary. And then on top of that, we’ve introduced a membership program.

Ali: Yeah, Uber One.

Khosrowshahi: Uber One.

Ali: Your team was very smart to advertise on the New York Subway, which is kind of a slap in the face of Subway. 

Khosrowshahi: We love the Subway too. We have subways on Uber as well. But for $9.99 a month essentially no delivery fee, and then you get cash back on your rides as well. There’s a very strong lock-in now that we have with our customers, making your day a little bit easier, saving you time, taking you anywhere, and getting anything. 

Really, “anything” now is expanded from food to grocery to pet food to liquor. We essentially want to empower the local merchant to out Amazon, Amazon by delivering not the next day but delivering next hour. That’s really what we’re about.

Ali: Do you think that there’s awareness from a consumer perspective about the breadth beyond, say, Uber Eats, just the restaurants you have today?

Khosrowshahi: No, but over a period of time we can work on that from a product front. The fact is when you’ve got 130-plus million consumers coming to your front door every single month, we essentially now have personalized AI algorithms that are looking at you, looking at your occasion, and determining what to put in front of you based on a personalized basis. In the morning, we’ll know you’re going to work, so you have a work address right there, get your ride, but we might offer you, for example, a cup of coffee at Starbucks on the way. When you come home at night, then we’ll upsell you to Uber Eats, et cetera.

It’s a pretty extraordinary selection of services that we have. Over a period of time what we’re seeing is that consumers are getting more and more locked into the ecosystem where we know you, we’ve got your payment details, we know where you are, we know where you go, et cetera. We can give you targeted offers more and more. And then on top of that, we’ve got an advertising business that can-

Ali: Which I just got hit by. I think it was IHG Hotel’s ad. For those of you, if you’ve seen the ad once you… Explain how the ads come up.

Khosrowshahi: We’ve got a ad business now. It’s about 650 million and growing and-

Ali: That came out of nowhere.

Khosrowshahi: We go fast at Uber. Most of the ad business at this point is restaurateurs getting more exposure in front of the Uber East customer. But more and more on our mobility app, the Uber demographic is a very attractive demographic. It’s a young demographic. About over 50% of our consumers are 18 to 34, mostly parents. 

Over 50% of our consumers are parents, 50% more likely to make 150,000 or more. It’s a relatively well off consumer base as well. Again, we can target specific messages. For example, when you’re waiting for your Uber, we allow certain brands like Apple or IHG or Marriott or a lot of movie companies advertise with us to get in front of you and advertise their brand as well.

Ali: You have described but we haven’t used the word super app.

Khosrowshahi: Not yet.

Ali: Where’s your ambition on the super app front?

Khosrowshahi: Well, I mean, the super app word is a loaded term. We want to be that operating system, because it is not that we’re doing it for great business. We want to be that everyday use case for consumers and we want to surprise and delight them and make their life a little bit easier. You can call it a super app if you want. You can call it George if you want, but our ambition is to be that go-get app and to be that everyday app that you go to.

Ali: You recently launched… speaking of, we were chatting about families backstage and you launched-

Khosrowshahi: Uber Teens.

Ali: Uber Teens. Explain. This sounds dangerous.

Khosrowshahi: Well, without Uber Teens, it’s dangerous. When I started at Uber, you had to essentially be 18 or older to take an Uber. It makes a lot of sense, safety, et cetera. What we saw, what our drivers told us is that there are many circumstances in which teenagers were taking Uber. Not only did it go against the terms of conditions, but it made our driver partners feel pretty uncomfortable. But it was happening and it was very difficult. They were using their parents’ account, et cetera.

We decided to really focus on building a product that would make me, as a parent, feel safe enough putting my teen in an Uber. We have been very, very focused on safety as being absolutely prominent in terms of our own initiatives. Standing for safety is a cultural value of the company. And so when you build this Uber Teens account, first of all, parents have an account and can invite their teen to sign on to Uber. We restrict the pool of drivers to only the best drivers in a particular market who have a lot of history, et cetera.

The parent can track the teen automatically when there’s a pickup, when there’s a drop-off. We have a pin so that it’s not just Uber for Rafat.

Ali: And there’s a live audio recording?

Khosrowshahi: Yeah. And then there’s live audio recording so that we are recording the ride in case something happens. Actually, you as a parent can call the driver directly just to make sure that your teen is okay. We have really embedded a set of features for teens that we think is absolutely best of breed. It is delightful. I’ve gotten a ton of comments from friends who’ve used this product. It’s a delightful product. Listen, the safest thing you can do is stay home. But the fact is, especially in our world here, we’re going out, et cetera, and I don’t think there’s any safer way other than you are driving your team yourself. Your teen is getting around in the city, because you can see exactly where they’re going, when they’re going, when they get there, et cetera. It’s a pretty extraordinary product that we built.

Ali: In terms of… By the way, we will have time for questions. If you want to send questions, please do so through the app and I’m going to try and get to as many as we can. Uber Boats, Uber Freight, I think, in India, is that correct?

Khosrowshahi: Uber Freight in the US, actually.

Ali: In the US?

Khosrowshahi: In India we have Tuk Tuks, three-wheelers. In Brazil, we have two-wheelers, Uber Moto, et cetera. Lots of Ubers going around.

Ali: Let’s step back for your original love, which is travel.

Khosrowshahi: Yes.

Ali: Still on the Expedia board.

Khosrowshahi: I am.

Ali: Expedia, but you chose Hopper for your Uber Flights?

Khosrowshahi: Yes.

Ali: Expedia and Hopper are having a fight.

Khosrowshahi: They are.

Ali: They just had a divorce. Both of them spoke on this stage about that. As a board member you’re conflicted.

Khosrowshahi: Yeah. Being plain spoken as a board member, I am conflicted, so I had nothing to do with that decision.

Ali: Okay.

Khosrowshahi: I can’t tell you if it’s right or wrong.

Ali:Okay. Dennis, that’s your answer. Dennis asked me to make sure I asked this question. Please say something more if it’s more controversial.

Khosrowshahi: No, listen, it’s too close to home. Of course I would’ve picked Expedia, but I’m the CEO of Uber, so I’ve got to leave it up to the team. The team made a determination that they wanted to pick Hopper and that’s their determination.

Ali: In terms of how much Uber can lean into travel, Uber Boats I guess is one. Uber Flights is another you’ve experimented, I think, in India with air. I forget maybe you did…

Khosrowshahi: Most of our experimentation in travel has been in the UK, actually.

Ali: In the UK?

Khosrowshahi: Yeah.

Ali: Why that market?

Khosrowshahi: Well, the UK is one of the top markets that we have in the world. When you look at travel, it’s actually a very, very interesting target market for us. The average Uber customer… Of the 2.3 billion trips every single quarter that customers are taking on Uber every quarter, about 6% to 8% of those trips are international trips. 

It’s you using Uber in France, for example. Every quarter, about 22% to 24% of trips that are being taken, or 22% to 24% of our Uber users, are traveling someplace outside of their home market. When we add that all up, last year we had about 700 million trips happening on Uber outside of your home market. These are Uber users-

Ali: Travelers.

Khosrowshahi: … who are traveling, who are travelers. We know that the audience is very large audience, very big travel audience. We decided, “Hey, let’s put actually a travel product in front, because people are traveling on Uber today.” And we decide, “Let’s take a leading market like the UK and let’s actually build in travel functionality to Uber.” 

What we’re seeing is actually very encouraging results. For example, consumers in the UK who have booked a coach or train on Uber, 60% of them are already repeating flight users. About 30% of them are already repeating as well. We have this giant travel audience. For us to actually start to market travel product to them through partners at this point is, we think, a great, great opportunity. Early on, our travelers in the UK love the products.

Dennis: I got a question.

Ali: Oh, Dennis was going to ask.

Khosrowshahi: Oh, no, you again?

Dennis: Yeah, me. Jason wanted to ask this question, but he was too chicken to come out. Just kidding, Jason. 50% of your revenue is rides, 50% of your revenue is mobility, 0% is travel. When you got into travel, everybody was saying, “Uh-oh, watch out. Here’s another Expedia in the making.” But if I have a problem with my flight, it’s canceled, I can’t get the right seat, do I really want to go through Uber for customer service for flights?

Khosrowshahi: Well, I think, as we build out those experiences, we will build a full fledge experience. If we can’t delight you in terms of your flight experience on Uber, we’re not going to build it. We’re very early on the journey, but when you have 700 million people traveling on your platform and an audience that’s as loyal to us… Again, we’ve got your information, we’ve got your payments information. We can stitch together your movement to, from hotel. Our Uber Reserve product is one of our top products as well. We think we can build a delightful end-to-end experience. If we can’t build that delightful end-to-end experience, we’re going to stay out of it.

Ali: Have you become more product person since you joined Uber?

Khosrowshahi: Yes. The amount of innovation happening at Uber… I think the biggest delta I’d say-

Ali: Because you were a deal guy.

Khosrowshahi: What’s that?

Ali: You’re a deal guy.

Khosrowshahi: Yeah, but I get to change.

Ali: No. I mean, I’m just giving the history. Yeah.

Khosrowshahi: Yeah. I mean, listen, originally I came as a deal guy and I’d say the biggest difference between Uber and, let’s say, Expedia was that the OTAs are very dependent on traffic and especially external traffic and, let’s say, Google traffic as well. A significant amount of energy was spent on how we acquire customers, how do we retain customers, et cetera. Uber has the Uber audience, 130-million plus. This is the audience that comes direct, this is the audience that comes often. Much more-

Ali: Are you just happy not to spend so much money on Google?

Khosrowshahi: Well, listen… And then it’s all about the product. You’ve got to build delightful products for the customer. And if you look over the past six years, we’ve scaled out Uber Eats, we built out a grocery product from scratch. We now built a direct product where essentially we’ve taken our fulfillment back in to empower every single merchant to ship next hour, anything that they want to the customer. We built out Uber Reserve, we built out Uber Teens. You can get New York City cabs on Uber as well. We built Uber Taxi. The amount of innovation coming out of Uber and the focus on product is different and it’s much higher and it’s something that I love.

Ali: Do you speak to Brian Chesky?

Khosrowshahi: Yes.

Ali: What advice would you have for him-

Khosrowshahi: For him? Okay.

Ali: … on the regulation challenges that he’s having. Have you overcome the regulation challenges, by and large?

Khosrowshahi: I don’t know if you can say we’ve overcome the regulation challenges. Even those words to me are wrong, which is that we play a really important role in people’s lives and earners lives. That means that regulators are a constituency and a very important constituency. They’re not looking to overcome. You want to build product that fits within the regulatory framework. Regulators, typically, they’re trying to do good things. For us, for example, with our earners, when I started Uber, we had independent contractors. It’s all about flexibility, et cetera. We have now, with many regulators in dialogue, built out a product, for example, in the UK that has minimum earning standard, that has vacation pay, pension pay, et cetera. That’s a win for regulators because it’s important for that country, that standard, and it’s a win for us because it makes Uber more attractive as a place to get flexible work at.

I think that I’ve absolutely learned that, with the regulators, it’s about understanding what it is that they’re after. It’s making sure that they understand your point of view and then looking to co-create a solution that works for everybody. No, we’re not overcoming regulation. We’re going to work with regulators for the rest of time, because they’re very, very important voice in what we build.

Ali: Has the battle of gig workers, not employees, employees, somewhere in the middle… Is that battle over?

Khosrowshahi: It’s not over, but I do think that more and more of regulators around the world are realizing that the… First, they recognize that 80% of our drivers don’t want to be employees. If you want to be employed, there are lots of jobs available here and many places around the world. Our drivers want the flexibility to be able to earn on their own terms, their small businesses in and of themselves. Marrying that with protections like minimum earnings just makes sense. I do think that answer is proving out to be the better answer. It’s taken some time, and I think more and more of the countries in which we operate recognize that as the better way forward. Flexibility plus protections makes a lot of sense.

Ali: Let’s shift gears for a second. I asked you in 2017 when you were Expedia CEO on what keeps you up at night and what are you worried about. These were the early days. What would disrupt Expedia? That was my question. This was the early days of Alexa. Alexa had just launched and you gave an answer, which in, I guess, six, seven years from then to now is pressing in AI perspective, which is you said, “If the interface of search changes.” This was the days of voice search. Obviously, that didn’t work. It’s back again on the map.

Khosrowshahi: Yeah, it’s definitely back. Yeah.

Ali: One, what do you think… Obviously, you use a lot of AI even before generative AI became a thing. How are you thinking about AI, and will the interface of Uber change?

Khosrowshahi: Generally, Uber has been an AI powered company for years and years and years. When you’re routing your estimated time of arrival, whether we batch your delivery pricing, all of it is based on AI algorithms. By the way, there’s strength and weaknesses to that. Sometimes it makes the system outputs less predictable, so you need better technology to be able to audit those system outputs. AI isn’t like the perfect solve everywhere.

As it relates to generative AI and this new generation of AI there, I think the number one, and it’s kind of boring but it’s a wonderful opportunity, is actually productivity. Building out gen ai co-pilots for our devs, building out gen ai co-pilots for our customer service agents to make sure that if something goes wrong, we’re there for you. Building out a copilot for drivers and earners. How do I earn, where do I go, what do I do, et cetera?

I think that, as far as having gen AI building an agent interface, I think that that certainly has potential. But if I were to rate, you have a hundred opportunity set, that’s probably 10 of the hundred, and there’s 90 opportunity set as far as how you build out these systems, how you percolate knowledge, and then how much productivity you can get from your employees, and then especially customer service. For us, this earner copilot is a very, very big deal.

Ali: Okay. Let’s get to some questions and then I do have a closing question, but let’s go, Seth. I’m guessing this is our Seth Borko. “I’ll admit I switched to Lyft because of Chase perks. How important are credit cards to your strategy? Is rideshare the new airline in terms of credit card rewards?”

Khosrowshahi: Well, Seth, thank you for the question. Uber One is better than Chase perks and you should get a platinum card. Listen, I think that our relationship with credit cards, with airlines is very important. I wouldn’t call it the thing, but it certainly is an element that can get consumers to change. Lyft is a good competitor but I think we’re doing just fine.

Ali: Any plans to bring back the loyalty program for frequent riders, buyers? 

Khosrowshahi: That’s Uber One. We had a loyalty program and we decremented that loyalty program to bring in Uber One. You have to pay 9.99 for it. Our average consumer transactions with us five times a month. Typically, after two transactions or three transactions, Uber One becomes profitable. We just thought it was a better product for consumers, especially because we have so much frequency on the platform.

Ali: Okay. How do you justify… Oh, this is a question that has been there from day one for Uber and particularly in New York. “In insane surge prices, especially for New Yorkers, I’ve seen Uber prices at 1.50 for two miles per travel, even during peak pandemic.”

Khosrowshahi: Yeah. I can’t say I can justify those prices. I think the marketplace… Uber will search for those kinds of prices when there’s an enormous shortage of drivers. The way to get a driver for you is to search. By the way, drivers are getting a significant portion of the dollar pool that comes from search. I think post-pandemic, unfortunately we had much more demand than we had drivers on the platform. The good news is we have many more drivers on the platform. Their engagement on the platform is increasing and surge generally in every single market, including New York, is coming down. Hopefully, you won’t see those prices too often now in New York.

Ali: What did the experience of you becoming a driver teach you?

Khosrowshahi: It taught me that, one, it’s hard to be a driver. There’s a lot that you have to deal with in terms of taking care of your rider, making sure that you’re driving safely, getting your next ride, understanding where to go, et cetera. I think the second for us was that drivers spend a lot more time on the app. How you build the Uber app for drivers is different than for consumers, which is… with consumers, essentially you want to build the shortest interaction for the consumer. Get into the Uber app, get what you want, and then finish.

With drivers, our drivers are on the app for four, five, six hours a day. The quality bar, making sure that the fit and finish of the app is absolutely excellent, and being able to personalize the app for every use case. Do you like short trips, do you like airport trips, et cetera? That quality bar has to go up in terms of how you build for your earners.

Ali: Okay. “Will you be selling travel products?”

Khosrowshahi: Yes.

Ali: Do you think… Yeah, I guess you already-

Khosrowshahi: We are very excited about travel.

Ali: “Do you think you’ve solved the connected trip faster than Booking, given the challenge of last mile mobility?” Glenn has been talking about connected trip forever, but I guess Jai’s question is, do you think you’ve solved the connected trip faster than Booking, given the challenge of last mile mobility?

Khosrowshahi: I think that I haven’t seen exactly what Booking has done, so I don’t want to compare us to booking. I’d say we’re very early in the travel path. We’ve only been at it for about a year and a half. The signal that we see from travel is awesome. Our customers seem to love the integration of travel into Uber. Certainly, with 700 million rides happening outside of your home city, we’ve got the audience. But I wouldn’t put ourselves up against, because frankly at this point, I don’t know. I use Expedia for my travels, so…

Ali: Exactly. Couple of questions. Is the driverless car dream over?

Khosrowshahi: No, the driverless car-

Ali: I know your investments are gone.

Khosrowshahi: Well, we have… You have to focus on what you’re great at. And what we are really great at is building out essentially this network of go-get in the largest network. You got 130 million users connecting with 6 million earners and connecting them every single day in a delightful way. That’s what we focus on. The building out autonomous vehicles is something that great companies like Waymo and Cruise and Aurora are working on. We would much rather partner with industry rather than try to build those solutions ourselves.

We are actively bringing autonomous content onto Uber. Today, when you order Uber Eats in Los Angeles, you might get that delivery delivered by a little Serve sidewalk robot. In Las Vegas, when you take an Uber, we might get a robot to take you from point A to B in Vegas today. It’s absolutely a dream on Uber that we’re working on.

Ali: 10 years?

Khosrowshahi: 10 years, it’ll be a small but decent part of our business. Absolutely.

Ali: Okay. EVs, obviously, you’ve made a big commitment on.

Khosrowshahi: Yes.

Ali: A lot of people in all parts of the world will get introduced to… This is the pitch that I’m sure the car makers are giving you in terms of adoption. They will get introduced to EV as a result of using Uber.

Khosrowshahi: Yeah. We’ve got about 85,000 EVs on Uber. We’re the largest network of on-demand EVs in the world. It’s a billion-dollar business for us now. In California today, 10% of your trips are now EVs. The great news is that the earners, the drivers who use EVs and the customers who take EVs, it’s an absolutely delightful experience. The problem with EVs right now is twofold, which is EVs largely, other than Tesla, are a luxury product. 50, 60, $80,000 that doesn’t work for a driver pool. And the charging infrastructure in cities and then in the neighborhoods where our drivers live is not yet robust enough.

We need big time investment and chargers in the right places and we need more cars that are affordable for our drivers. So we’ve got partnerships for example with Hertz, who’s bringing not just Teslas but other electric vehicles onto the platform. Or we have direct relationships with Ford that is making Mach-Es available to our drivers as well. That affordability gap is something that everybody needs to work on, including ourselves.

Ali: Okay. I want you to play this last video and I have a question following that.

Khosrowshahi: You look at Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon, Jack Welch. Greatness takes time. It takes time to build your craft. People talk about the magic of compounding. There’s a career compounding that’s magic. I think if you are three or four years and out kind of a person, you’re really missing out on that career compounding. It does take time, but when you take advantage of that, magic happens then.

Ali: This was an interview, Dara, you gave maybe last year to the CEO of LinkedIn. This is his series. At the end of this 10-minute interview, he said, “Give three pieces of advice on the career.” I don’t know what you were thinking if it was a throwaway advice or not, but it affected me a lot, because the word career compounding was a word that touched on, put a pulse on something that I’ve been thinking through as an entrepreneur, as a person who hires people, wants them to do well in life over a period of time, wants them to fly out of the coop and have wings after that. Explain what you mean by that.

Khosrowshahi: Listen, the first thing that I talked about here is that it takes time to do great things. I’ve been at Uber for six years and a couple folks are like, “So what are you looking for next?” I’m like, “No, I’m staying. I love this and I’m not even nearly done.” How long have you done Skift?

Ali: 11 years.

Khosrowshahi: Yeah, 11 years. I see young people who are too impatient. I see young people who are making career plans not based on what they’re going to do or whom they’re going to work for, but based on what their title is going to be or how much they are going to get paid. When you have targets like that… I never planned. I used to be a banker. I never planned to go work for Barry Diller. 

Yes, I was a deal person. I never planned to go to Expedia. I never planned to go to Uber, but I was open-minded and I’ve always been much more focused on what I’m going to do. Is it interesting? Is it impactful? Who is it that I’m going to work with? Can I learn from this person? Because another part of career compounding is not only do you get the benefit of your own work, but you get the benefit of learning from your team. If you have a successful team, they’re going to move you up as well, lift you up as well.

And then lastly, is a place that I’m going to go to or the people that I’m working with… Do they want to have an impact? Am I having impact in an impactful place? If the answer of those three things, which is what I’m doing interesting, are the people that I work with interesting, someone I can learn from, and is that work that we’re all coming together impactful, then you’ve got me for life. That is what’s always guided me. I do think that the best opportunities often are the opportunities that surprise you.

Just don’t be too linear. People always look for signals that agree with their assumptions, and it’s sometimes those unexpected signals that move you off into another corner that do the best things for you. I never ever expected Uber to be an opportunity for me, but it’s been six amazing years, really hard years for me to develop. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. If I had a very specific view of what I wanted to do by X time, I would’ve missed it. That’d be a crime.

Ali: Okay. All right. With that, Dara, we’re out of time. Thank you very much. That was great.

Khosrowshahi: Thank you.

Ali: Appreciate it.


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Tags: ceo interviews, sgf2023, skift global forum, skift global forum 2023, uber, ubereats

Photo credit: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Skift CEO Rafat Ali at Skift Global Forum 2023 in New York City. Source: Skift

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