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Showtime Series Super Pumped Offers Negotiation Lessons

There are many different quotes that basically say that all of life is a negotiation. Taking the time to reflect on successful and failed negotiations is a great skill to possess.

- Attorney Terrence Wheeler and Professor, Capital University School of Law

Possibly if one is wearing “negotiation glasses” one can see negotiation examples and lessons in every movie or series. The new Showtime series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, seems particularly noteworthy with negotiation issues and examples.

About the Series: Super Pumped

This series is a docudrama mixing fact and fiction focusing on the founding and rise of Uber Corporation, which some say transformed the transportation world. The series focuses on the brash and cocky alpha-male founder Travis Kadanick (TK) played by versatile actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. TK had dabbled with other projects with little success. One day, while visiting the Eiffel Tower, TK and his friend thought of the idea of “Ubercab.”

Three negotiations stand out:

-Negotiation with Google: By most accounts this would be considered a successful negotiation. Google CEO Larry Page arrived late (probably a tactic to demonstrate Google’s importance) and seemingly behaved in his usual weird way. Travis and Uber accommodated this odd behavior and pitched their company resulting in more than a quarter billion dollar investment.

Travis was informed repeatedly that Google would NEVER initially invest more than $100 million but he asked for a quarter of a billion and he got it. Research shows that the use of “never” or “always,” which are target words, translates into about 20%. If one asserts that one will ever go to the restaurant again then there is an 80% they will, again.

-Negotiation with Lyft: This was an unsuccessful negotiation. The parties did show but “cocky/brash” Travis allowed his emotions to get the best of him. He felt that Lyft CEO John Zimmer “stole” all of Travis’s ideas. Travis called Lyft a “tapeworm” with Travis being “the host.” He showed no respect for Lyft's John Zimmer and they walked out after Zimmer called Travis “uncultured.” A negotiated deal had been in sight.

-Negotiation with Mark Cuban, owner of the Mavericks: Despite an animated pitch, Mark Cuban decided to pass. In passing, he stated:

I am not gonna invest in a company where you have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to do tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

TK responded that if Cuban passes on this he will never get another opportunity and it will be his loss. Cuban later called his passing one of his greatest investing mistakes. An effective negotiator must wonder whether TK could have varied his animated sales pitch and instead focused on questions or issues that Cuban may have had. TK’s closing comment seems unnecessary and a borderline threat?

Teams and Partnerships

Often leaders or visionaries are not good partners or team players. Remember that old saying, "there is no 'I' in team?" In this series, Uber founder TK is all about the “I.” He rarely listens effectively. He seems to truly believe he is there to change the world. In negotiation, an effective negotiator needs to determine whether the one-person approach or the team approach is the best path. Usually a team approach is used when the team players have differing knowledge sets or experiences or skills.

Founding Colleague: This idea seemingly was created by TK and his friend while in Paris. Yet, each time someone asks TK about the founding, he mentions his friend but gives himself most of the credit. His ego does not seem to allow him to adopt the team approach.

Government Regulators: There was the possibility of forming a team with the government regulators. Most believe that that regulators were “in bed” with the taxi owners. TK took an adversarial approach to them simply believing that they desired the lucrative status quo. In his first counter with the San Francisco taxi regulator, he used “the hammer” approach and finally got a meeting with the mayor. TK seemingly did persuade the mayor that he would not want the legacy of standing in the way of transportation change.

Investment Colleague: One would think that TK would have negotiated a team with his major investor Bill Gurley (played by Kyle Chandler). Gurley seemingly had the monied contacts, but throughout Gurley never felt valued by TK. Gurley repeatedly reminded TK of what Gurley brings to the table: money, vision, and contacts. But alas, TK continued to make one-person decisions, hide information, and be dishonest, ruining any potential of a team approach.

Other Uber Workers: TK did consort with fellow workers. He did consult with them, but really never formed a team with any of them.

Gurley put it this way: If there is a win, he wins; if there is a loss, it is our losses.

Framing aka Persuasion Law of Verbal Packaging

In effective negotiation, it is often said that they who frame the issue, win the issue. Entire books are devoted to this skill of framing and reframing.

Expert Negotiator and Book Author Kurt Mortensen calls this framing the Persuasion Law of Verbal Packaging as one of the 12 laws that he outlines in his book: Maximum Influence: Laws of Persuasion.

Rename from UberTaxi to Uber

Attacked by the govt taxi commission, TK and his team renamed the corporation from Ubertaxi to Uber, equaling “ride sharing,” not taxi service and thereby attempting to remove the commission’s jurisdiction. At one point Uber decided they were not a luxury livery service but an everyday inexpensive transportation service by everyday drivers. They decided to frame this as UberX, with the X making riders feel super.

Road Show or Home Show? Uber needed more investments. One way to secure such is to contact certain entities to see if they would be open to a sales pitch. This is called “a road show.” Investor Bill Gurley arranged this for several entities. But, full of hubris, Travis reframed this and called it “a home show” so that investors would be so excited to invest that they would come to Uber instead of the reverse.

Uber also referred to their company as a tech company not a transportation company. They have asserted this is a major reason that their drivers are not employees but independent contractors.

Negotiators need to recognize opportunities: In this series, the investor brings on “a dealmaker” to help Travis. (This dealmaker is actually David Plouffe, strategist for Barak Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign). Although Travis on the surface welcomed the dealmaker, inside he framed this as a problem, not an opportunity. Luckily, as time progressed and Uber moved to other cities, Travis reframed the dealmaker as “an opportunity." Often when a negotiator becomes frustrated or emotional, they will miss out on opportunities.

Trust: The issue of trust is brought forth a lot. The deal maker brought in by investor Gurley says to Travis "I know you don’t have to trust me. Test me and then trust me."

In another situation, Travis’s mother advises him to show trust in order to be trusted. Others advised openness, honesty, and vulnerability as paths to trust building.

Effective negotiators know that to be persuasive that they need to be at least “liked” if not “trusted.”

Morality, Illegality, Ethics

Some form of these issues will pop up in every negotiation. A vital characteristic of an effective negotiator is to be honest and ethical. This is the reputation they desire. They want this reputation so that other negotiators, including business folks, desire to work with them. These folks do not want to be manipulated or tricked.

Laws and regulations fall into another category. Often laws and regs are out of date or they are implemented in a different way than had been envisioned…sometimes even in contradiction. Sometimes they are implemented unfairly or with bias as seems to be the case throughout the United States between taxi regulators and taxi owners. All of this sets the stage for different interpretations.

In this series, Travis is full of ego and most likely does not place much value on these issues, probably believing he sets his own rules or rules are there to be broken or that the rules are antiquated.

Lastly, Lookism and Likeability

Most negotiators believe that there is a link between beauty and success. TK was listed as number one in the Billionaire Handsome list.

Most people are influenced by looks, especially beauty. A person’s height often comes to play. TK was 5’10,” basically one inch above average for U.S. males, which makes a slight difference. There is a correlation in the United States between height and success.

Further, TK dressed the part of a young high-tech success story.

Likeability is often linked to lookism, but there seems to be no research that indicates TK was likeable.

None of this takes away from TK’s brilliance, ability to do math in his head, gifted salesperson, and product strategist. TK is a transformational leader, albeit, an autocratic leader.


The number one issue that impedes one being an effective negotiator is ego. In this series, TK is full of ego that gets in his way in almost every negotiation stage. This ego feeds into the mismanagement of emotions, especially anger and revenge.

This ego situation is often called Illusory Superiority (IL). This is the concept where one believes that one’s skills are much better than what they are. No one in the series has called TK a great negotiator and yet he thinks he is. Some IL is referred to as “Lake Wobegon Effect," referring to the fictional setting created by radio star Garrison Keillor. Sometimes this is also called “cognitive bias.” This is the natural bias to see one’s self as above average.

Negotiation Expert Kurt Mortensen, Persuasion IQ, “Persuasion Resistance’ offers this:

The reason the Wobegon Effect has such a negative impact, not only on our persuasive abilities, but also in our lives, is that we are lying to ourselves. That is the bottom line. We’re lying to others, and we’re lying to ourselves. We are investing in hopes and dreams that are not based on honest evaluation.

In 2017, TK along with twenty employees were forced to resign because of the hostile, sexist work environment. Uber in 2018 paid over seven million dollars to 480 present and past employees. TK is presently the CEO at City Storage which is the parent company of Cloud Kitchens. He is 45 years old and estimated to be worth $2.8 billion.

Uber Technologies' net worth as of March 21, 2022 is $64.72B. Uber Technologies Inc. provides a platform which allows users to access transportation and food ordering services. The Company's operating segments consist of Core Platform and Other Bets.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Maximum Influence, 12 Laws of Persuasion, Kurt Mortensen.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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