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Conversation With Uber Cofounder Travis Kalanick

Billionaire entrepreneur talks about the value of 50-plus workers

Travis Kalanick, CEO and founder of Uber car services, Conversation with Travis Kalanick

Jeffery A. Salter/Redux

The 39-year-old Travis Kalanick was short-listed as Time magazine’s 2015 Person of the Year.

En español | Uber CEO Travis Kalanick  — who recently signed a deal with AARP’s Life Reimagined for his ride-share company to hire more older drivers — talks with journalist Jon Saraceno about how the sharing economy will better serve us all. 

Q: A recent survey showed 23 percent of Uber drivers are 50 and older. Does that figure surprise you? Will it increase?

A: I don't view the number as surprising. I certainly expect the number to go up over time. The platform is an incredibly flexible way to work. There aren't a lot of places in the world where you can turn on your work [with a smartphone app] and turn it off — and you really don't have to ask for permission. You are your own boss. For folks over 50, there is a lot of stuff going on that makes flexibility attractive.

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Q: What makes an older driver a good Uber driver?

A: I got into a car recently [with an Uber driver] probably over 65. He knew San Francisco better than anybody. What we see from folks over 50 is that [they] love their city and want to serve it. They also are really excited about meeting all kinds of people. It's the extra optimism and passion they have for their communities that makes it especially rewarding. Deep knowledge about their city is the cherry on top.

Q: Is there resistance to hiring older workers?

A: I can't speak for other CEOs, but what I can say is that we don't look at age at all. If someone has a passion for problem solving and making headway on a challenge, that's exciting for us. At Uber, we're looking beyond. We're not looking at age; we're looking at your passion for solving a problem. How excited are you? It's pretty straightforward for us.

Q: Any advice for older workers who have a younger boss?

A: I think the best advice is be excited about solving challenges and problems. Be excited about moving the ball forward, and be passionate about the work and doing it well. It is then impossible for the younger manager not to capture that infectious enthusiasm and not be excited about working with you every day.


Video: Retired Veteran takes the wheel as an Uber driver in the new sharing economy. 

Q: On the flip side, what would you say to younger managers working with older workers?

A: Tap into their expertise and knowledge. If everybody is passionate about the problem, then it is fun for everybody. For me, it's a blessing to get that kind of experience in the room.

Q: Where do you see our sharing economy going?

A: It starts with convenience, quality and affordability for the consumer — for the person who wants to get around the city or get a bite to eat. If you think about [older people], the ability to push a button on your phone and for a car to pick you up immediately, the freedom and mobility that gives them is remarkable. When you can apply that approach to other things you need or want in life, that's pretty special.

Q: How does Uber vet drivers?

A: Look, the most important part is to have world-class background checks — quality filtering processes to make sure that the folks who [drive] the car have a good, clean record. Part two is that once the trip is underway, people give feedback. You can give a five-star rating to a driver. And we get direct customer-support feedback. If a driver is too irritable, or not helping customers, we take account of that. We make sure only the best drivers stay in the system. We've had great feedback from senior-citizen communities.

Q: Uber is actively pursuing involvement in driverless-car technology. Why?

A: Technology makes things better and easier for us all. It creates value. There are usually 100 new opportunities that come about from that technology progress. In terms of driverless, the question for Uber as a technology company is: Do we want to be part of that future, or do we want to resist that future? We want to be part of it.

Q: As a Gen Xer, what is your perspective on boomers?

A: My mom is a boomer so I have nothing but love [laughs].

Q: What's up with the "Old Pics Archive" you tweet? Hemingway recently appeared in one.

A: I am a big fan of The Old Man and the Sea. It's a wonderful book. I'm a history buff. I get excited about the past and understanding it. When there's something interesting, I share it.

Q: You dropped out of UCLA. Do you regret that?

A: Sometimes you just follow your dreams. You can do that at any stage in life. It might be a 21-year-old dropping out or [an older person] doing a new thing they never thought they would. There is no time like the present to follow dreams.

Jon Saraceno is a freelance journalist living in Northern Virginia.

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