Ain't no partnership like an Uber partnership, cuz... an Uber partnership will leave your previously elite research institution bereft of researchers.
That's the tune Carnegie Mellon is humming after coming to grips with the fact that it got seriously hosed by the Ayn Rand-themed car service startup, Uber.
Carnegie Mellon University is scrambling to recover after Uber Technologies Inc. poached 40 of its researchers and scientists earlier this year, a raid that left one of the world’s top robotics research institutions in a crisis.
In February, Carnegie Mellon and Uber trumpeted a strategic partnership in which the school would “work closely” with the ride-hailing service to develop driverless-car technology.
Apparently, Carnegie Mellon missed the "strategic" part of this "partnership."
Flush with cash after raising more than $5 billion from investors, Uber offered some scientists bonuses of hundreds of thousands of dollars and a doubling of salaries to staff the company’s new tech center in Pittsburgh, according to one researcher at NREC. Uber declined to comment on that.
Uber doesn't really need to comment though, because Uber has been pretty clear that they are emblematic of the new, flinty-eyed strain of Silicon Valley capitalism that wraps a veil of "Better World" altruism around Sun Tzu tactics.
In addition to shadily hiring senior execs from its competitors, pulling "pranks" on competitors, threatening reporters and boldly defying regulators at every opportunity, Uber has basically just seemed to revel in generally thumbing its nose at what many consider to be acceptable and polite business behavior.
Despite this seemingly open and hostile stance, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has time and again fallen back on the lingua franca of the Valley, claiming that Uber is serving customers and drivers alike by disrupting and improving an industry while simultaneously surging to a $50 billion valuation. Anyone annoyed or downright livid at what Uber is doing - taxi commissions, privacy activists, employment lawyers, etc - needs to stop whining and get out of Uber's way so it can better serve the free market.
Thumbing through his well-worn copy of the The Fountainhead has yielded more than enough in the way of justifications for Kalanick up until now, but the goings-on in Pittsburgh might be a bridge too far.
Uber's gutting of Carnegie Mellon's robotics program was way too systematic and way too thorough.
Uber took six principal investigators and 34 engineers. The talent included NREC’s director,Tony Stentz, and most of the key program directors. Before Uber’s recruiting, NREC had more than 100 engineers and scientists developing technology for companies and the U.S. military.
That's going to piss off a lot of people, especially when the ultimate goal of what Uber is doing with all this new talent becomes increasingly clear.
Uber envisions autonomous cars that could someday replace its tens of thousands of contract drivers.
So, Uber is crippling a university research program in order to fire all those drivers? Those very same driver that Uber is constantly touting as the real beneficiaries of their business model?
After using a small sum of his $6 billion VC-funded war chest to steal the scientists who will build the cars that will make his workforce obsolete, Kalanick is going to have to be very careful if he wants to pull out the tablecloth of popular opinion without shattering every glass on the table.
Let's see how Uber's press shop does here...
“Our hope and intent by creating a local presence near the CMU campus and working closely with the university is to foster a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pittsburgh,” said Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, in a statement.
Welp, that's not a strong start, Uber.
Your Sun Tzu is showing.