Showtime’s “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” is a dramatic retelling of the rise and subsequent fall of Uber’s co-founder and ex-CEO, Travis Kalanick. Based on a journalistic non-fiction book by the same name, the show charts the absolute powerhouse that Kalanick was and how it all gradually started to spin out of his control. Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the protagonist and Quentin Tarantino as the narrator bring high energy to the work, which complements its making as well, using animations and fast edits, and overall, “Super Pumped” season 1 is enjoyable.
‘Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber’ Plot Summary — What Is The Show About?
The series begins to unfold around 2011, when a young and heavily enthusiastic Travis Kalanick was all set to meet with an important investor for his ride-hailing app company, UberCab. At the time, Travis was already acting as the CEO of the company and was trying to expand it to a profit-making business. Helped on by his girlfriend at the time, Angie You, who herself was working in biotech, Travis hopes to keep his passionate brashness and egoistic expression of his demands in check. But all that goes straight out the window once he arrives at the meeting place with his potential investor—powerful and influential Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Bill Gurley. Travis presents his idea of a system where one can hail cabs to anywhere conveniently through an app on their smartphone whenever required as the future of taxi service, and then quickly adds, perhaps a bit reluctantly, that he had come up with the idea along with his friend Garrett Camp. He explains that the two friends were in Paris atop the Eiffel Tower when they came up with this plan for a service that would not just make the lives of passengers easier but also that of the drivers, providing them with a higher income. The show’s craft then presents how this event had actually unfolded—the night sky of Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower changed into green screens and was replaced by a local cafeteria in the US; this style continues to return throughout the series whenever Travis Kalanick lies about his grand scale of business. It was actually Garrett who had presented his idea of UberCab, and Travis agreed with its potential, although claiming that it would take a lot of hard work. At present, Travis has the opportunity to show his service to Gurley as they take a ride to the investor’s house, and the CEO harps on it being such a seamless experience with the passenger’s credit card linked with the app, making the ride free of any cash or hassle. Despite having some doubts about the stubborn and arrogant nature of Travis as an entrepreneur, Bill Gurley is finally convinced of his business and him, and decides to get on board with the service. With UberCab now becoming a popular and frequently-used name in San Francisco, Travis and his team soon receive warnings from the city’s transportation agency’s representative, who is terribly displeased at their own business getting affected. Numerous fines are also issued in Kalanick’s name, but the energetic CEO decides to face all of these obstructions head-on, with a super-pumped spirit that remains his mantra throughout his days at the multi-billion-dollar company.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Was Travis Kalanick’s Nature In Dealing With Problems At His Company?
The very first major problem that the company faced was from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which brought charges of various illegal acts against Uber, as ridesharing companies had a status of either illegality or strict guidelines to follow in most parts of the US at the time. As the most prominently growing ridesharing company—which is a business that offers rides and drivers to a customer through an app, as opposed to hailing a taxi on the streets—at the time, Uber was also violating rules as it continued its operations, and was soon charged with hefty fines. But Kalanick quickly turned the situation around by using his customers to sign petitions demanding for the company to be made legal, and the garnering of public support made the city mayor turn the laws around and make ridesharing companies legal. However, not all US states followed suit, and as Uber started to expand across the country, it again faced a major setback in Portland, where ridesharing was still illegal, citing issues of public safety. The authorities began targeting Uber cabs on an individual scale as they themselves booked rides and then fined the drivers and ceased their cars. To counter this, Uber’s tech team, advised by Travis himself, got involved in an in-house operation named “Greyball,” which identified all the Portland transportation authorities booking Uber rides and stopped actually accepting their rides, meaning that they still saw booked cars coming to their location on their smartphones, but yet no actual car turned up. While authority officials kept getting duped, normal customers booking Uber rides could avail of the service as usual. With its growing business, the company now comes up with ideas like price hikes and surge charges in order to incentivize drivers to work for them and also to themselves reap more profits. Then, Uber manages to acquire legality to operate in New York City, and Travis holds a huge celebration party in Las Vegas, which accounts for a huge bill and also the unwanted attention of the press. In order to manage its face value in the media, the company now hires two public relations executives who efficiently keep them out of bad light, at least in the initial years.
Soon, Gurley asks Travis and Chief Business Officer Emil Michael to go out on a “roadshow,” visiting cities in search of investments in exchange for seats on the company’s boards. At the time, Travis is also unsettled about the growing presence of his rival rideshare company, Lyft, and seeing some investors holding shares in both Lyft and also wanting to enter Uber angers him. Against the counsel of Gurley, he rejects all such investors and also sets out to turn drivers away from Lyft and towards Uber by promising larger profits. With respect to investors, Travis reaches for his ambitious target and pitches to David Drummond of Google. He then goes over to meet Larry Page at Google’s headquarters and finally manages to get Google to invest in his company, with Drummond joining the board of directors. With such big names now behind the company, Gurley presents an opportunity to Travis where he sits with John Zimmer, Lyft’s CEO, to talk about buying over the company. However, Travis’ ego and stubbornness to offer a minimal percentage of shares to Zimmer infuriates the man, and the deal ultimately breaks down. Gurley’s faith in Travis now starts to get a bit shaky, and Travis, too, is unsettled when Gurley, in a public interview, talks of having to keep new-age entrepreneurs in control. They get over their differences after a while, though, and Uber now takes its operations internationally. The next setback comes in the form of violent atrocities against drivers in Brazil, and also other driver-related problems. The board now gradually starts to grow a divide within itself, as Gurley and Drummond want to focus on driver tips and incentives, but Travis does not want to invest in drivers, who are only a means to his end of huge profits. Uber and its team go over to a large-scale tech event where Travis tries to grow close to Google’s Sergey Grin, but he is taken aback learning of Google’s latest project in development—a technology for self-driving cars, which they might later use to launch their own ridesharing company. This possibility enrages Travis, and in order to get back to the tech giants, he poached the head engineer working on the project, Anthony Levandowski, to leave Google and join Uber.
The next big crisis that hits Uber, perhaps its most difficult one till now, is a direct conflict with Apple. Uber had earlier teamed up with Apple by providing all its drivers with iPhones to carry out their business, but now all of a sudden, the latest version of the Uber app was not being allowed access to the Appstore, despite being one of the most-downloaded applications. When Travis checked in with the respective authorities, he was told that Apple had found multiple instances of breach of privacy in the app, as Uber had been gathering microphone, camera, messaging, map, and other private data from all its users even when the app was not being used. This had been in operation from the days of “Greyball” and thereafter, and the existence of these hidden codes in the app was known to Travis and his immediate team members. When Apple refuses to allow their app at first, Uber tells them that they have rectified their misdemeanors and removed all the breaching codes, but what it had actually done was that it had managed to make those codes inaccessible in the geographical radius of Apple’s headquarters. This, too, was soon found out, and Travis now has to face a lengthy trial at Apple with the CEO, Tim Cook, himself. Throughout the whole time, Travis uses his intelligence to sway past all of Uber’s questionable and illegal activities, and ultimately their app is allowed back on the Appstore. He then also brings in new board members such as David Bonderman and Arianna Huffington, both renowned and influential, to work against the growing influence of Bill Gurley and David Drummond. Some of his visions failed, too, as Uber had to move out of China with Apple now investing in Chinese rideshare companies. In 2017, Travis made a controversial decision to join Donald Trump’s economic advisory committee, which paints him in a bad light with many of his own employees as well as customers. The megalomaniac president brought about numerous racist bills, one of which was being protested against by yellow-cab drivers in New York. Seeing that their rides were also being heavily reduced due to the high-demand price-surge algorithm, Uber swiftly decided to remove the price hike, which inadvertently meant taking away support from the protesting drivers’ cause. This sparked a massive backlash on Twitter, with the hashtag “# DeleteUber” trending for days afterward.
For quite some time now, Uber’s head office had been establishing itself as a space of stifling toxic masculinity. Numerous female employees felt prejudiced against and were shocked to find their hard work and efforts not being acknowledged or rewarded as much as those of mediocre male employees. One engineer, in particular, Susan Fowler, had reported acts of sexual harassment to the HR department multiple times, but no action was taken at all. Another employee very close to Travis, Austin Geidt, who was also a share-holding employee at Uber since its initial days, had also complained about sexual harassment directly to her boss, but the accused engineer was not affected by it at all due to his professional brilliance. Travis Kalanick’s own personal relationships had gotten sour, as he had left Angie many years back to date Gabi Holzwart, who was quite a few years younger than him. This relationship, too, turned bad when a dashcam video from an Uber cab was released on the internet, which showed Travis with two unknown women. This video was even more scandalous, though, as it showed Uber’s CEO having a huge fight and disagreement with one of the company’s drivers, who questioned him about the incentives and profits that had been promised to them, but the company had never delivered on those promises. Emil Michael’s comments on indirectly blackmailing a female journalist who regularly wrote against the company also became public, further tarnishing Uber’s reputation. Google has also now found a legal way to mess with Uber, and feeling that the time is right, they sued Uber for having hired Levandowski, who took with him information and technology that legally belonged to Google. With all of this crumbling on Travis, Uber quickly became a corporate hell, or at least, was reported to be so.
‘Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber’ Ending Explained – What Finally Happened To Travis Kalanick?
As more and more tarnishing charges are revealed about Uber and Travis himself, the company hires a renowned retired attorney general, Eric Holder, to investigate the office space regarding complaints of corruption and employee misdemeanors and present a report to correct such wrong-doings if found. Travis initially tries to speak out against such a decision, but he soon understands it to be the best way out, and tries to get Holder on his side as well, which fails miserably. On the day when Holder presents his findings at a meeting in Los Angeles, Travis learns of his parents’ tragic boat accident, which killed his mother and gravely injured his father. He goes off to his hometown, and the other board members review the investigation findings, which have clearly stated Uber’s involvement in immoralities and also found the office space terribly unwelcoming for female workers. As part of Holder’s advice to better the situation, the company fires Emil Michael and also sends Travis on an official leave for a few weeks. This does not work out as they had planned, though, as Travis keeps maintaining contact with multiple of his employees. Soon, all of the board members turn against him and express their wish to remove the CEO from Uber once and for all. However, getting such a thing done is difficult as Travis’ hold in the company allows him to never get fired, and the only one holding similar power, Garrett Camp, cannot do much about it either. The board of directors now comes up with a plan to get Travis to resign on his own—they prepare two documents, one being Travis’ resignation letter and the other being an official statement with the signatures of all directors claiming that they want Travis out. They present both the documents to Travis, saying that if he signs on the resignation, then the other document or any news of it will never be released to the press. Travis fights to keep his place very hard, meeting and talking with each of the directors, but none of his convincing works. Ultimately, through the counsel of his close associate Arianna Huffington, Travis agrees to resign, but only if Gurley too is removed from the board of directors. Gurley agrees, and Travis learns that news of him being ousted from the company has broken out on television. In the last scene, the man has to hail a yellow taxi on the street as his phone has also been made inoperable by Uber.
There might very well be fictional elements in “Super Pumped,” but overall, it tells the story of real people and real incidents as they happened. At the very end, the show itself clarifies that all of the characters seen were real, with information about them after the whole debacle is provided. While Travis Kalanick now runs a successful cloud kitchen business, Uber went public in 2019. Emil Michael was hired by SoftBank later on, and Garrett Camp still owns his shares in Uber. Susan Fowler became a writer well-known for her book on her time at Uber, and Austin Geidt remained at the company for some subsequent years. Even the Uber driver who had been shouted at by Travis in the dashcam footage posted online, Fawzi Kamel, received a 200,000-dollar settlement from the company. Therefore, it is safe to presume that all the drama that unfolds in “Battle for Uber” is based on real-life events, and that premise itself makes “Super Pumped” season 1 an interesting watch.
‘Super Pumped’ is a 2022 Biopic Drama series created by Brian Koppelman and David Levien.