Uber CEO: We need to get better at telling our story

Uber is still learning how to articulate its values and tell its brand story to the wider world, its CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick told the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on stage at Dreamforce

Speaking at the Salesforce-hosted event yesterday (16 September), Kalanick said developing an effective communications strategy is one of the biggest challenges facing the car-sharing app as it continues to expand and gain widespread publicity, not all of which is positive.

Taxi operators have staged protests against Uber in several countries over concerns that the service is undercutting their business and breaching government regulations around licensing and safety. There have also been negative stories in the global media about Uber’s internal corporate culture and its treatment of the drivers that use its system.

Kalanick, who founded Uber with Garrett Camp in 2009, claimed  he is still an engineer at heart, focused first and foremost on improving the functionality and reliability of Uber’s service.

He acknowledged, though, that a big priority for the company moving forward is around brand storytelling. Uber currently has around 4,000 employees and claims to serve “thousands of rides every minute” around the world.

“As an engineer you make stuff and you let the work speaks for itself. For most of Uber’s five year history we’ve been doing that. But if you’ve grown like we’ve grown and you’re like a black box, not telling your story, then people fill that box with whatever gets clicks,” he said.

“Really getting out there, getting in front of it and telling our story is one of the things we’re still learning about.”

Kalanick sought to position Uber as a force for good in the world, arguing that car sharing reduces congestion and pollution in the world’s biggest cities.

“Transportation should be like running water and we want to make that happen absolutely everywhere, for everyone,” he added.

He also highlighted Uber’s various charitable acts, including its engagement with the current migrant crisis in Europe which involves providing cars for transporting food and clothes to those in need.

“We do these things at the local level so sometimes people don’t see it from on high,” he explained. “We don’t always go out there and say ‘this is what we’re doing’.”

Uber is on a big PR drive at the moment as the company seeks to improve its image. Last week Kalanick appeared on popular US chat show The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he was asked about some of Uber’s practices.

In addition, Uber chief adviser David Plouffe held a briefing with journalists attending Dreamforce this week in which he spoke about how the company is working to comply with different regulatory standards around the world. Plouffe was formerly an adviser to US President Barack Obama, so his role includes helping Uber with public and political engagement.