I’ve recently finished—almost simultaneously—two new series on Showtime and AppleTV+ which you may have seen as well.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber is the story of Uber’s creation and focuses on the rise and fall of Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO. The series is based on Mike Isaac’s bestselling book of the same name and features an all-star cast with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Kalanick, along with excellent performances by Kyle Chandler (who plays star VC and early investor Bill Gurley), Uma Thurman (who plays Uber board member Arianna Huffington), Elisabeth Shue, Hank Azaria, and others.
The series portrays how Uber got started and exploded into one of the most important unicorn companies and industry disruptors in recent history. It mainly focuses on Kalanick’s tumultuous relationships in business and in life.
The other series, which I enjoyed even more, is WeCrashed, which similarly documents the incredible rise and even more rapid fall of co-working company WeWork’s founders. Starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway as Adam Neumann and his wife Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, the series realistically documents the improbable rise of Neumann to one of America’s most celebrated startup CEOs and a company once valued at $47 billion. As has been well documented, that valuation crumbled when the company attempted to IPO and the Neumanns were forced out of power by the exasperated board of directors.
But what struck me in both is the absolutely toxic cultures these leaders created that led to their downfall. In both, the culture suffered from a hard partying, misogynistic, win-at-all-costs mindset that left countless employees by the wayside. Neither CEO spent much time listening to the workforce or caring about the culture they were creating until it was too late.
This is in sharp contrast to the attitude many leaders are taking today. As a result of the pandemic, never have leaders been more focused on showing empathy to the workforce, flexibility in work structure, and ensuring the organization possesses a strong purpose and values that guide direction. This is not universal (see the Culture Fail of the Month one example), but the recipe for a successful company has changed quite a bit in the short time since Uber and WeWork were founded.
If you want to be entertained while being educated about how two incredibly toxic cultures emerged just a few short years ago, I highly recommend these two series.