I walk to the security desk in the lobby of what could be any of this city's downtown office buildings filled with lawyers, architects and finance firms. "I'm here to see Travis Kalanick at Uber."
"You'll have to email him, they're very secretive. And take a seat."
I sit down and send a note to say I have arrived for the interview. Nearby, several middle-aged men, all wearing black suits, white shirts and ties, listen to a young guy in jeans, orange socks and sneakers. He is consulting a MacBook as he talks to them. "Your account is no longer active, due to quality concerns from negative feedback," he says to one of the men. "You've had 105 trips and your quality scores are low."
These are Uber drivers, I surmise, and one of them is being given the heave-ho. The company is a hot San Francisco startup that already has 25 outposts around the world for its simple, seductive service: on-demand transportation. With an iPhone or Android app, you call up the Uber map, spot an available town car or taxi, and summon it with a click. The fare and tip for a town car, or limo, is maybe 50% higher than for a regular taxi ride and paid for through the service.
As the "no longer active" driver might attest, the company puts a premium on customer satisfaction. Uber has been successful enough that city bureaucrats across the country, eager to protect homegrown taxi and limousine services, have thrown up regulatory roadblocks left and right.
An Uber staffer fetches me and I am taken to meet Mr. Kalanick. The 36-year-old CEO isn't dressed in the usual geek-chic uniform. Instead, he wears a light-gray Italian suit with a pink shirt, no tie. But the Uber offices themselves have the usual Silicon Valley accouterments—as I walk with Mr. Kalanick to a cluttered conference room, we pass a game room with a Foosball table, a Pepsi-stocked fridge and two tapped beer kegs.