In the regulatory battle against taxis and entrenched transportation laws, Uber has needed a champion. It just hired President Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, for the job according to Politico. That’s no small catch for the booming startup. They’ve picked a long-time Washington insider as Plouffe has gained acclaim for running Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. In recent years, he has served as a consultant to technology companies.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Politico that Plouffe will be running global branding, communications and policy. In the company blog post announcing the news, Kalanick framed the challenges facing Uber in rather dire terms, “Our opponent – the Big Taxi cartel – has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers.” Uber is still playing the underdog card, even with $1.5 billion in venture capital and presence in 44 countries.
In some ways, Plouffe is also a strange choice given that many of the ridesharing battles fought against the taxi industry and regulators have occurred at the state and local levels, not federal. But Plouffe will serve — in Kalanick’s own words — as a “campaign manager” of sorts. He’ll help the company attempt to sway perception as it moves into new markets and get both the public and politicians on its side. In the blog post, Kalanick described Plouffe as “a proven field general and strategist who built the startup that elected a President.” The love is mutual. In the same post, Plouffe wrote, “Uber has the chance to be a once in a decade if not a once in a generation company.”
It’s a big growing up moment for Uber, one that the company is smart to make. After all, Uber wants to replace far more than just the taxi market — Kalanick has publicly stated he’s going after the automobile industry, with the hopes of replacing people’s personal cars because taking an Uber will be cheaper. The automotive industry is a powerful group to take on, even bigger and stronger than the taxi cartel.
He’ll need all the political savvy he can get.