Brad Stone’s The Upstarts, which follows Uber and Airbnb from their formations, is a riveting read with a couple of problems. The first is that the book was published a year ago, just before Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick committed a series of disasters that led to him being pushed out of the company. Stone, with Eric Newcomer, has told that story here, and perhaps the paperback edition due out in April will include Kalanick’s fall.
The second problem with The Upstarts – and this isn’t Stone’s fault – is that it is a story without heroes or much in the way of consequences at the point the book ends. Uber developed its business by breaking regulations and only then campaigning to change them. Airbnb’s leaders and staff believed they were making the world a better place, but Stone shows they used many of the same tricks as Uber, if less aggressively.
For The Register last month I looked at how Big Tech companies avoid taxes, although some governments are making efforts to change this. Meanwhile Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg blogged about how wonderful local news is, after having crippled its business model. (The Register covered these thoughts of the man it hails as Techno Jesus, possibly with a touch of sarcasm.)
As I wrote a couple of months ago, tech is not inherently evil – but some companies do a pretty convincing impression.
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