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The Man Driving Growth at Uber

Last winter and spring, two teams of Uber executives faced off over the company’s strategy in China—specifically, how to attract more drivers than Didi Chuxing, the local leader in on-demand rides. One side was led by Uber’s finance chief Gautam Gupta, which wanted to keep on matching or beating Didi’s financial bonuses for drivers. The other side, led by Ed Baker, Uber’s head of growth, believed the finance team's strategy was failing, needlessly causing losses to skyrocket.

Mr. Baker’s team wanted to hand out bonuses on a completely different basis than Didi and also wanted Uber to look for new drivers who hadn’t already been courted by Didi. A rising star within Uber, Mr. Baker convinced CEO Travis Kalanick to let him test his strategy to see which approach was more efficient, according to a person who was involved in the discussion. The result: Mr. Baker’s team showed that his approach was cheaper and more effective at gaining drivers for the long term. Uber changed strategy this spring, though it was too late to turn the tide against Didi. Mr. Baker disputed this description of the episode generally but he declined to elaborate.

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Mr. Baker’s growth target for the number of Uber rides taken per week—the “North Star” for his team—had to be lowered because of the “downward pressure” of losing China, he said. Still, Uber now handles about 5 million rides a day and a majority are outside the U.S. Three years ago, when Mr. Baker joined, Uber had handled 20 million rides in its entire lifetime. On the far horizon: the goal of getting to a billion monthly active riders, he said.

Jordan Elpern-Waxman commented on this article.
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