November 30th, 2014
03:23 PM ET

Uber CEO on Beijing: "so what we're starting to see is innovation"

CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on the link between failure and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, the driving force behind innovation, and the cities most conducive to innovation.

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

On cities that are evolving into a technology hub. : Probably the most impressive is Beijing.  It's a very young but very vibrant Silicon Valley.  And I'd say that they're, you know, for a while, people thought about China as like, well, they would copy what you do and they're always behind.  What's happening is the copying is catching up. But when it catches up, there's nothing left to copy.  And so what we're starting to see is innovation.  It's starting to percolate up in China.  And I think that's really exciting.”

On innovation: The way I look at innovation is it's really about creative problem-solving.  It is - it's about, on one end, being very creative and almost being an idea person and seeing ideas and interesting ways of doing things everywhere. But on the other side, it's about being very, very analytical and very, very dedicated to details.  I like to say god is in the details. So if you're analytical and logical, almost like a machine, I'm a computer engineering - well, I went to school as a computer engineer, but bringing a creative idea and ideation piece to that, put them together, you're now a creative problem-solver. And that's where I think innovation comes from.  And here at the company, you know, I try to - we look for creative problem-solvers and we try to push people to solve things creatively, because that's where innovation is.”

 

Full transcript available after the jump.

TRANSCRIPT: 

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST (voice-over): Before Uber started in 2009, if you wanted a car and driver to drive you across town, you had to plan ahead, make a call, even talk to somebody.

Now, you just press a button on your mobile phone and a few minutes later, your chariot arrives.

Today, Uber is Uber successful, seemingly omnipresent and also quite controversial. All entrepreneurs agree, innovation isn't easy and it hasn't been for Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, whose first company, Scour, was sued for an astounding $250 billion before filing for bankruptcy.

I visited Uber's San Francisco headquarters in September to talk to Kalanick about innovation and his entrepreneurial successes and his failures.

(on camera): So you are a grizzled veteran by Silicon Valley standards. You're not 21 years old.

TRAVIS KALANICK, FOUNDER, UBER: I don't know what you're talking about, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: You - so you've seen that.

KALANICK: Yes.

ZAKARIA: You went through the dot-com...

KALANICK: Sure.

ZAKARIA: - the - the bubble and then the crash...

KALANICK: Sure.

ZAKARIA: - and...

KALANICK: Yes.

ZAKARIA: - you had companies. What do you think really drives innovation?

KALANICK: I mean yes, actually, I - the way I look at innovation is it's really about creative problem-solving. It is - it's about, on one end, being very creative and almost being an idea person and seeing ideas and interesting ways of doing things everywhere.

But on the other side, it's about being very, very analytical and very, very dedicated to details. I like to say god is in the details.

So if you're analytical and logical, almost like a machine, I'm a computer engineering - well, I went to school as a computer engineer, but bringing a creative idea and ideation piece to that, put them together, you're now a creative problem-solver.

And that's where I think innovation comes from. And here at the company, you know, I try to - we look for creative problem-solvers and we try to push people to solve things creatively, because that's where innovation is.

ZAKARIA: What did you learn from failure? I mean I realize you didn't fail completely? There was - there was a mixture...

KALANICK: Sure.

ZAKARIA: - of results for your company.

KALANICK: Sure.

ZAKARIA: But, you know, people always say in Silicon Valley...

KALANICK: Yes.

ZAKARIA: - the great thing about the place is you can fail. So what - what's the upside of - of down?

KALANICK: It's so easy to talk about failure when you're not failing. It's so much easier. So a lot of folks who talk about failure and - and how it's so easy to do in Silicon Valley, those are people who have succeeded. But when they hadn't succeeded yet, they were scared out of their minds of failing. And, yes, I've - I've certainly failed a - a couple of times. And it's scary.

But I think if, you know, really, the folks who do succeed are the folks not who accepting failure, but the folks who do not.
and so though this is a - you know, Silicon Valley is a place where you can fail and get back up on your feet, I find that the folks that are most successful in Silicon Valley are the ones who do not accept failure ever. And they just keep going until it works.

But they don't keep going on something that's not going to work. They - they adjust and they move and try to find where reality and their vision meet. I like to say, you can bend reality, but you can't break it.

ZAKARIA: So it's a strange combination of being determined, but also the awareness to say, boy, the market is telling me I'm wrong here?

KALANICK: Yes, it's sort of a - you have to be incredibly perseverant, scrappy and pushed through all adversity. But on the other side, you have to be empathetic to reality.

And it's - it's hard to know when you're wrong.

ZAKARIA: Do you see a lot of people who fail and just despair?

KALANICK: Of course. And that's...

(CROSSTALK)

KALANICK: - that's most people. And it's natural because it's very, very, very hard to - to be successful with something that the world hasn't seen before. The world generally doesn't - they - we're enamored with change and we love change and progress, but change also is - can be painful. And you've got to find that kind of change that, OK, maybe there's a little pain there, but the up side is - is there and reality will let it happen. And it's - it's a tough - it's a tough balance.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of where Silicon Valley is, where America is with regard to this whole issue of technology? Are we - it looks like, when you look around, the United States dominates the world of technology, all the biggest companies - or most of the biggest companies are here.

KALANICK: Right.

ZAKARIA: Are you - do you think that that will continue?

KALANICK: Yes, I think - I think there's a lot of great - there's a great ecosystem here in Silicon Valley and here in San Francisco. But the - we are, you know, Uber gets a really interesting perspective on things because we're in hundreds of cities around the world.

And we're seeing that innovation and that sort of creativity bubbling up in a lot of different places. I think those cities have to start embracing innovation, not just with words, but with action. But I think we're starting to see - we're starting to see this thing bubble up in other cities, and cities that are taking positive action toward being a technology hub.

Like that's happening.

ZAKARIA: What are the places you've been to which have impressed you in that regard?

KALANICK: Probably the most impressive is Beijing. It's a very young but very vibrant Silicon Valley. And I'd say that they're, you know, for a while, people thought about China as like, well, they would copy what you do and they're always behind. What's happening is the copying is catching up.

But when it catches up, there's nothing left to copy. And so what we're starting to see is innovation. It's starting to percolate up in China. And I think that's really exciting.

ZAKARIA: It doesn't scare you?

KALANICK: No, not at all. Well, mainly because, well, we're everywhere. And - and why - why should it scare me?

And it doesn't matter where people are in terms of where they innovate. I think that innovation is good for the world. And the more of it that's happening, the better. So I - I'm actually quite excited about it.

ZAKARIA: That was Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber. Now, as I mentioned at the start of the segment, Uber is not only very successful, it's also controversial. We recorded the interview with Kalanick in September. Then last week, another kind of story about Uber emerged. As first reported in BuzzFeed, an Uber executive suggested at a dinner that the company could spend a million dollars to hire researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who publish stories that Uber doesn't like.In response to his executive's remarks, Kalanick Tweeted a 14-part apology. He began by saying that the executive's remarks were, quote, "terrible and do not represent the company." Next on the program, a very different perspective. Peter Thiel was a founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. He's another wunderkind of Silicon Valley. But he's not impressed. He says most of what we call innovation isn't innovation at all and despite our future that seems to be filled with driverless cars and missions to mars, he says in some ways, we live in un-innovative times, when we come back.

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