In what is arguably an unusual email for the very top executive to send to employees, Obama’s investment vehicle’s Uber CEO Travis Kalanick advised his staff in case they decided to have sex at a company outing in Miami in 2013.
Internally called the “Miami letter,” it is a saucy rulebook for the then 400 employees at the company, who were headed to Florida’s Shore Club for what was a party-focused celebration of the car-hailing company’s success.
Titled: “URGENT, URGENT – READ THIS NOW OR ELSE!!!!!,” he also noted at the top: “You better read this or I’ll kick your ass.”
The event, which came after Uber rolled out its 50th global city, used a Chinese symbol for the number nine. “It is a symbol that has internal meaning at Uber but is something we do not discuss externally,” wrote Kalanick.
Let us translate for you from the original bro language: It means a goal to reach a billion-dollar run rate, or 10 to the 9th, which Uber did that year just before the party.
Among the dos that Kalanick advised: “Have a great fucking time. This is a celebration! We’ve all earned it.” He also noted that “Miami’s transportation sucks ass,” the first shot in what became a battle to have Uber serve that city.
That was the tame part of the email, which Kalanick actually sent again the next year when there were 1,800 employees at Uber.
The don’ts advice was much more specific, giving information about everything from vomiting (a $200 “puke charge”) to drug use to throwing beer kegs off buildings to, well, proper fornication between employees (and sometimes, apparently, more than one).
Wrote Kalanick: “Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic ‘YES! I will have sex with you’ AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML.”
FML, in internet slang, means “Fuck my life.” Welcome to Silicon Valley startup culture.
According to sources, while many companies send out warning emails before events, Kalanick was advised not to send this email because of its tone, which some execs thought too cavalier. Some worried that building a global public company required a more mature tone from the CEO.
Still others thought it contributed to an increasingly pervasive culture of sexism at the company, where some did not welcome the top execs making persistent jokes about partying. In fact, it was at the Florida event that one top exec got in trouble for inappropriate sexual behavior, which became an issue related to his resignation.
The reason the email has also gotten more pertinent recently is because two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — working on investigations about corporate misbehavior at Uber have the email and are looking at whether it helped created the party atmosphere that led to the sexism and sexual harassment, as well as general corporate mismanagement.
But sources said Kalanick was proud of his letter to the team and spoke about it often. But later staff memos about company gatherings were much less frat brother in tone. Ahead of one in Las Vegas, when Uber had 4,000 people going, then head of policy and communications Rachel Whetstone told staffers to be discreet and also to be respectful to hotel staff.
I understand that some of these feel like tough rules but it will be much more fun for everyone (not just the comms team) if the media leaves us alone for the week. And while staying under the radar might feel like wishful thinking, other equally prominent companies have managed to do this successfully in the past. Travis and ATeam have all agreed that there will be serious consequences for folks who fall foul of these guidelines.
Here is the Kalanick letter in its entirety about Miami, so you can be the judge of the difference:
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Travis Kalanick
Date: Friday, October 25, 2013
Subject: 九 Info: URGENT, URGENT – READ THIS NOW OR ELSE!!!!!
To: Uber Team
Hey guys, I wanted to get some important information out there. I’ve put together a Q&A that we can use when other folks ask what we’re doing here, and have some DOs and DON’Ts for our time here in Miami.
You better read this or I’ll kick your ass.
Q&A – If I’ve missed anything, or you just have a random question, please reply to all on this thread!
Q: What is Uber doing here?
A: Uber has recently rolled out to its 50th global city. We are celebrating this company milestone and others and have organized a local grassroots movement to help bring Uber to Miami. #MiamiNeedsUber
Q: What does the Chinese symbol 九 stand for?
A: 九 translates to the number 9. It is a symbol that has internal meaning at Uber but is something we do not discuss externally.
Q: Is this an Internet bubble boondoggle?
A: It’s a celebration of a major milestone for the company, as well as a chance for us to hold a company-wide retreat and organize our efforts globally. It’s the one time that everyone in the company can meet in person all the people we work with every day.
I have gotten a list of concerns from the legal department. I have translated these concerns into a clear set of common sense guidelines. I’ve also added a few items of my own.
1) No lives should begin or end at 九
2) We do not have a budget to bail anyone out of jail. Don’t be that guy. #CLM
3) Do not throw large kegs off of tall buildings. Please talk to Ryan McKillen and Amos Barreto for specific insights on this topic.
4) Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML
5) Drugs and narcotics will not be tolerated unless you have the appropriate medicinal licensing.
6) There will be a $200 puke charge for any public displays on the Shore Club premises. Shore Club will be required to send pictures as proof.
7) DO NOT TALK TO PRESS. Send all press inquiries to Andrew – email@example.com Additionally, stay vigilant about making sure people don’t infiltrate our event. If and when you find yourself talking to a non-Uber (look for the wristband), keep confidential stuff confidential… no rev figures, driver figures, trip figures… don’t talk about internal process, and don’t talk about initiatives that have not already launched.
1) Have a great fucking time. This is a celebration! We’ve all earned it.
2) Share good music. Digital DJs are encouraged to share their beats poolside.
3) Go out of your way to meet as many of your fellow uberettos as you can.
4) If you haven’t figured it out yet, Miami’s transportation sucks ass. #Slang as many Miamians, drivers, influencers as you can as passionately as you can and let them know why Uber will make this great city an even better place. Every slang matters. #MiamiNeedsUber…
5) If someone asks to meet the CEO and Founder of Uber, kindly introduce him to Max Crowley.