What will Travis Kalanick do now that he has resigned as CEO of Uber?
My experience-based guess is he will work on, and obsess about, redemption. Even if he doesn’t think of it that way.
Ousted CEOs that drove a company to some real level of success end up in a challenging state. The money doesn’t help. And the potential joy from celebrating the successes are too tainted by the ouster.
You think about it every day, 10, 20, 50 times a day. You “need” redemption.
You can build Pixar and Next, and have Apple come back and beg you to take the CEO spot again. That’s one example. There are plenty of others.
Most founders who sell their companies and have a shot to buy them back, try. Even if it makes no logical sense. It’s a related feeling.
So what might accomplish that?
- Setting up a foundation to deal with the large, important issues that came up at Uber. That is certainly worth doing. But it may not be enough to feel redemptive.
- It may be that remaining on the board with a great new CEO is enough, if it’s an operational role, but that sounds very unlikely at the moment.
- It could be starting something new. That sounds crazy, but it might feel redemptive. This seems the most common path.
- Sometimes, it’s going on a warpath against your prior company. That seems highly unlikely here, but you see that sometimes.
- Sometimes, it’s starting a direct competitor. Again, highly unlikely.
- Coming back. Travis did many things wrong as a CEO, but he was the driving force building the highest valued startup of all time. If the next CEO fails, it is possible he could come back.
There is no chance he will be a VC or anything like that, at least not long term. It’s not redemptive. The scale is simply too small.
Whatever he chooses, he made many terrible mistakes at Uber. But 1,000+ employees signed a petition asking to bring him back – that’s enough to do another startup. Right or wrong, he will be able to recruit a team, and the capital, to do whatever he wants.