When Uber hired grizzled political veteran David Plouffe this summer, founder and CEO Travis Kalanick said the ridesharing company “has been in a political campaign, but hasn’t been running one’’ in its fight against the taxi industry.
Well, it’s running on all cylinders now. Kalanick appeared to be in full-on campaign mode for Uber on Wednesday night in Boston.
Uber, the smartphone app that connects drivers with users in need of a ride, has faced challenges from regulators and especially the taxi industry, which has complained—loudly, at times—that Uber drivers are not regulated like they are. In Greater Boston, Uber has twice fought the City of Cambridge in efforts to shut it down.
Kalanick delivered a keynote address at the MassChallenge Awards Night. MassChallenge is the five-year-old Boston-based accelerator program which takes on a class of 128 startups each year. The awards ceremony honored 26 ‘finalists’ for grants from this year’s class, with 21 of those companies garnering a combined $1.75 million attached Wednesday night. (BetaBoston has the full list of winners here.)
Kalanick stayed on message throughout the talk. The theme: Uber isn’t just a startup success, and it’s not just good for consumers. Kalanick believes it’s good for cities themselves. He said it has created thousands of jobs for drivers in the Boston area (who are independent contractors that use Uber, but are not employed by the company), and suggested it helps to cut down on drunk driving and taxi-related crimes.
No campaign is complete, of course, without a big ol’ promise—maybe of the far-fetched variety. Kalanick offered a one in the form of reduced traffic. He said UberPool, which allows users to carpool and is already underway in San Francisco, will eventually come to the Boston market. When it does, he said, Uber rides will be priced down to the point that Boston drivers will abandon their cars for Uber, taking drivers off the road. The line of thinking opened an opportunity for what felt like a crescendo point in a stump speech: “It will be easy to park here, I swear to God.’’
Other speakers at the event included Gov. Deval Patrick, who was awarded with the first-ever Deval L. Patrick Commonwealth Innovation Award, which MassChallenge plans to hand out every five years to a leading advocate for innovation. Patrick, who is in fact a politician, celebrated the success of Massachusetts’s tech and manufacturing sectors and touted the area’s medical and educational infrastructure in a brief speech after receiving the award.
Nancy Frates, whose son Pete Frates inspired the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, delivered another keynote, detailing her family’s story.
Google chairman Eric Schmidt also spoke, and challenged Boston to think big about its tech and innovation culture. “You should set your goal to be the No. 1 competitor to Silicon Valley,’’ Schmidt said.
So, how’s the traffic in Palo Alto?