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Watch: This Dara Khosrowshahi interview reveals Uber’s CEO pick has style and substance

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“We’re a test and learn culture. We try stuff.”

What kind of leader will Dara Khosrowshahi be at Uber?

Time will tell, but this almost-year-old interview at the Skift travel industry conference — when Khosrowshahi was CEO of Expedia — reveals a savvy, composed, articulate executive, and is worth a watch:

A few quotes that could be relevant in Khosrowshahi’s Uber career:

When asked why Airbnb was worth almost twice as much as Expedia:

I think the private markets at this point are valued based on fairly different metrics from public markets. I think that because interest rates are so low, the value of a dollar or the value of revenue five years from now is almost worth the value of revenue today. So any company that shows very high growth rates — like Airbnb — is going to have very substantial valuations. When I look at relative values, I think we’re a great deal. But that doesn’t mean that Airbnb isn’t a great company, isn’t going to be worth a heck of a lot of money going forward. It’s not either-or.

(Sounds familiar — Uber was last valued at $69 billion.)

When asked what Expedia was learning from an experiment where it retaliated against hotel chains by making their listings look undesirable:

We’re a test and learn culture. We try stuff.

And this, we determined after trying it and collecting data, it wasn’t a great experience for consumers or our supply partners, so we decided to stop it.

(So he knows how to talk around engineers!)

When asked what might make companies like Expedia obsolete:

As we move over to more of a mobile device-centric world … I think the interaction model with devices is going to be much more voice-based.

We have trained over years and years and years with these wizards to tell someone: You have to put in a destination, you have to put in a date, and put in some other information. And people have been trained to do that, and it hasn’t changed for a long time.

When you go to a voice-based interaction, you can’t tell people ask me this question and structure it in this way. And if they ask a question and you have a bad answer, first time, maybe they’ll be okay with it. Third time, they’re going to say this is a complete waste of time, I’m going away. […]

All of our booking paths, all of our databases, all of our data in general is structured in a very vertical way, based on queries that are structured queries, based on certain inputs. I think that those structured queries could go away. And you could get very, very unstructured queries: I want to go to New York next weekend, I want a direct flight, and I want two adjoining seats. And please get me a hotel in Midtown. What do I have available?

Based on the technology stack we have now, and based on how we’re constructed, we and a lot of other travel companies would have a very hard time answering that question. […]

That then lends itself more to a Google query. And whether it’s Google who solves that question, or some other NLP (natural language processing) company or startup, I think that’s something that at this point we’re not well-armed for. But since you heard me answer the question, we’re definitely thinking about it.

That’s an interesting one for Uber, too.

It’s already hooked in to Alexa and Siri, and we’d be curious to know how many people actually use those tools to hail Uber rides today.

But it’s also easy to see voice-based interfaces, queries and commerce growing significantly — both for hailing Uber trips and during rides. Something to think about, for sure. And a good sign that Khosrowshahi already is.


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