‘Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber’ follows the tumultuous early days of the transport company Uber and its high-energy and controversial CEO Travis Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Episode 1 of the Showtime anthology series introduces us to the protagonist as he tries to make inroads into the highly protected transport industry while grappling with the constant pressure to grow the company.
We also see Uber get its first round of “big boy” funding and the interesting dynamic between the co-founder CEO and his venture capitalist. The episode closes on a pretty spectacular note, with the company making an iconic change and deftly side-stepping a potentially disastrous situation. Things are shaping up for a bumpy ride, so let’s make sure we’ve got all the details straight from ‘Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber’ episode 1. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber Episode 1 Recap
The episode opens with Travis Kalanick, Co-Founder and CEO of UberCab, interviewing a potential new employee. He asks the nervous applicant whether he’s an “asshole,” and the narrative promptly shows us just what Kalanick means. When the issue of customer safety is brought up, he brushes it off disdainfully until an employee suggests adding a “safety fee” to their regular fares, potentially making the company hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Kalanick likes the idea.
Next, we are taken back to 2011, as a younger Kalanick meets with venture capitalist Bill Gurley. The latter is a cunning investor who is eventually impressed by Kalanick’s doggedness to take his company to the top. With Gurley’s substantial investment, Kalanick goes on an expansion spree, poaching drivers from local taxi companies. As the young company boisterously expands (and celebrates), the local authorities become uncomfortable.
Randall Pearson of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency threatens Kalanick of harsh legal repercussions to his blatant poaching of the local taxi business, but the young CEO remains unperturbed, choosing to go on the offensive. Eventually, UberCab receives a subpoena to cease and desist all services (which is also ignored).
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber Episode 1 Ending: Why Does UberCab Change to Uber?
Despite the company doing seemingly well, their “burn rate” results in funds drying up. To make things worse, the subpoena also levies fines of $5000 per ride on the company, which keeps putting UberCab in potentially deeper and deeper debt. Eventually, Kalanick goes back to Gurley for more funding, and the latter agrees. Realizing he must overplay his hand in order to succeed, the CEO then begins getting signed petitions from his customers, quickly rising to mount a protest outside the Mayor’s office.
Kalanick gets a meeting with the Mayor, but his company still faces hefty fines. Back at the office, just as the team confronts the bleak prospect of going bankrupt, Gurley shows up with Emil Michael, saying the latter is a prodigious dealmaker. Initially suspicious that Michael is a spy for Gurley, Kalanick tests his “dealmaking” skills and is impressed. The episode closes with UberCab shortening its name to Uber based on Michael’s suggestion.
And so, the episode closes on a momentous note, showing us how an iconic company’s name evolves. Apart from the new name being more to Kalanick’s liking, there is actually a significant financial reason for the change as well. The Municipal Transportation Agency and the subpoena they issue — both of which are thorns in the young transport company’s side — categorize UberCab as a “cab” company. When Michael points this out to Kalanick, the CEO immediately understands the devilishly simple solution the dealmaker is implying.
By changing the company’s name from UberCab to just Uber and taking the word “Cab” out, Kalanick seemingly pulls his company out from the purview of the subpoena. With the company not bound by the court order, it appears their hefty fines also disappear. Thus, the change in name from UberCab to Uber is, first and foremost, to avoid the fines that are levied on the company for ignoring the cease and desist orders.
What Happens in Travis Kalanick’s Meeting with the Mayor?
Kalanick spends significant effort trying to meet with the San Francisco Mayor, Ed Lee, in order to convince him of UberCab’s potential. However, the entrepreneur finally realizes that he’ll have to use a different method to get the Mayor’s attention. He organizes mass protests outside the latter’s office and gets thousands of signed petitions supporting his company.
Eventually, Lee agrees to meet with Kalanick and is quite condescending. However, the tech entrepreneur quickly turns the conversation around, talking about how everything that is now outdated and accepted was once new and groundbreaking. A brief history lesson and some quick rhetoric later, the Mayor is seemingly convinced.
Though he doesn’t cancel the fines, it appears the Mayor agrees to allow Uber to function unhindered in San Francisco. Of course, considering the transport company now plans on national and international expansion, their challenges are just beginning. However, episode 1 closes with a victory for the newly minted Uber (minus the “Cab”) and its controversial Co-Founder CEO.