EP 37: Silicon Valley’s best deal-maker Emil Michael on Uber and their biggest mistake, building in China, being an immigrant in Tech, working with Obama administration, and more | EP 37


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“I make deals that should happen, happen and I make deals that shouldn’t happen, not happen faster.”

It is rare in Silicon Valley to get the epithet “the best” – there are so many accomplished, talented people that it is hard to be easily seen as one of the greatest.

But one name always comes up when you ask about the “best deal-maker” or even best business mind – Emil Michael. Even on paper, his track record is one of legend: former Chief Business Officer of Uber, COO of Klout, Senior VP of Tellme Networks (acquired by Microsoft for $800M in 2014), and Office of the Secretary of Defense under the Obama administration. But that doesn’t begin to capture the stories and experiences of being at the center of some of the most fascinating business stories of the last two decades. This one is a certified banger episode as they say.

In this episode, we cover:

  1. Uber’s #1 mistake (hint: Instacart)

  2. Relationship with Travis Kalanick

  3. What businesses today need to know

  4. Building in China: Didi vs. Uber

  5. How to build trust

  6. Negotiating a deal 101

  7. Behavioral economics 101

  8. Why Emil hates doing business with Google

  9. Negotiating for employees

  10. Advice for founders: valuation vs. structure

  11. Advice for founders with no product-market fit

  12. The great reset of Silicon Valley: lay-offs, talent, MAMAA

  13. Are companies going secretly bankrupt?

  14. Should founders take secondary off the table?

  15. Impact of regulations on M&A

  16. #1 attribute of a great startup founder

  17. Why immigrants succeed

  18. Has being a parent changed anything?

  19. Lessons from the White House

  20. Is this a good time to start a company?

  21. What’s Emil’s legacy?

Notable Quotes: 

  1. “When you find the best idea you’ve ever seen and you’ve ever been involved in, you go all the way as fast as you can go because other people are going to figure out that this is a great idea too.” on Uber

  2. “What would I have done differently? Number one, we would’ve gone into Instacart’s business right around when Instacart did.”

  3. “We raised $3.5 billion dollars from the Saudis in May 2016. I’ll never forget the day that I was like, “send me the wire confirmation because it was the largest cheque I’ve received.”

  4. “That’s what good deal people do. You show that you can get shit done. You prove it with small actions.”

  5. “When your startup is small, you’re running a tribe; people think like you, they act like you, they’re motivated as you. When your company gets big, and it has all these other stakeholders, it’s a civilization. Civilizations, there’s a reason they can’t move as fast because they have to build consensus.”

  6. “I built relationships with all of our competitors all over the world.”

  7. “A part of deal-making is actually not spending time on deals that shouldn’t happen.”

  8. “What I endeavor to be when people say one of the best deal guys is actually I make deals that should happen, happen and I make deals that shouldn’t happen, not happen faster.”

  9. “If you are in control of your emotions, you have an advantage over people who are not in control of their emotions.”

  10. “I hated doing business with Google. I found dealing with Facebook way easier than dealing with Google when I was at Uber.”

  11. “The companies that have way more cash than they need because they were lucky or smart enough to raise money at the end of ’21 and have this massive cash balance, they have a little bit more flexibility.”

  12. “Elon Musk proved that you could do things with a little bit less people.”

  13. “Everyone thinks they’re stocks worth more than they know it is.”

  14. “I think that my parents would’ve been more thrilled if I was a doctor.”

  15. “My parents didn’t have hobbies. All work, that was the hobby.” – on being an immigrant

  16. “If I’m going to take another risk after my stock just went down 90%, I’m going to be more careful about what I suggest and sign on to.” – on building in a bear market

  17. “I’d like to have built something that’s more important than Uber.”

References:

  1. Instacart, grocery delivery service

  2. Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber

  3. Tellme Networks, leading provider of voice services acquired by Microsoft for $800M in 2014 

  4. Klout, influence based social media rating app, shut down in 2018

  5. Mark Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg

  6. Parker Conrad founding $11B startup, Rippling

  7. Didi vs. Uber in China

  8. Liu Qing, President of Didi China

  9. DST, Softbank, Tiger investment firms

  10. David Marcus, Dan Rose, former facebook employees

  11. Stewart Butterfield, founder of Flickr & Slack

  12. Alfred Lin, Sequoia Capital

  13. David Weiden, Khosla Ventures

  14. White House Fellowship

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