Emil Michael is the former Chief Business Officer of Uber, Inc., the global leader in ridesharing. Emil is one of Silicon Valley’s most highly regarded business executives, having built three successful companies. These include Tellme Networks (sold to Microsoft in 2007), Klout (sold to Lithium Technologies), and Uber (currently the world’s most valuable private technology company).
Emil has extensive global experience; he was the key driver of Uber’s efforts in China and Russia, which resulted in over $10 billion in market value creation. While at Uber, Emil struck partnerships with some of the world’s largest companies, including American Express, AT&T, Daimler, Softbank, Tata Motors, and Toyota. Also, he led the acquisition of Uber, a move that became the core of its Advanced Technology Group – developing autonomous vehicles.
Emil started his career at Goldman Sachs. He served as an investment banker for a short period before heading to Silicon Valley and becoming part of the founding team of Tellme Networks.
Tellme was a pioneer in speech recognition technology and systems. Tellme is highly regarded for weathering the technology bust of 2000 while building a sustainable and profitable business.
In 2009, following the sale of Tellme to Microsoft, Emil was selected as a White House Fellow, working for the Secretary of Defense as a Special Assistant. During his tenure at the Pentagon, Emil ran projects in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. He also conducted a department-wide budget-cutting effort aimed at reducing overhead and bureaucracy. Owing to his commitment to active service, the Secretary of Defense requested that Emil stay on beyond his term, and he obliged. Thus, his tenure extended through January 2011. Connecting the dots between his government service and work in Silicon Valley, Emil created UberMilitary, a program at Uber for military veterans and their families. Currently, the program has over 100,000 participants with a combined earning of over $340 million.
In addition to his executive responsibilities, Emil has been a leadership coach and mentor to dozens of young CEOs over the years. This mentorship role has provided him with extensive exposure to early-stage companies, technologies, and trends. In addition, he serves as either an advisor or investor for over 20 start-ups around the world, furthering his commitment to helping the next generation of entrepreneurs build and scale. His investments span a broad range of companies including Bird, Codecademy, Docker, GoEuro, GoPuff and SpaceX and Stripe.
Emil is a unique business executive as he understands technology at both a product and engineering level. This has endowed him with the ability to partner with technical leaders and divisions to ensure synchronicity with a company’s business goals. Moreover, he has a particular passion for artificial intelligence, big data, computer vision, and robotics.
Emil is a first-generation immigrant born in Cairo, Egypt. He’s considered to be one of the most successful Egyptian-American business people in the world.
Where did the idea for your companies come from?
I have helped build four different tech companies in my career, starting in 1999. Each one had a successful outcome. However, the most important was Uber.
• Tellme Networks, a speech recognition platform company. It was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for approximately $800 mm. I was there from 1999 to 2007 and stayed on at MSFT through 2008. I was the SVP of Field Operations (the #2) and on the founding team
• White House Fellow: I was selected to be one of 13 WHF and began working as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense from 2009 through 2011. I spent time in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Pakistan etc. I drove several technology transformation projects and budget realignments to ensure we reduced bureaucracy and ensured maximum funding for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
• In 2012, I joined Klout as COO. Klout built a platform to measure who was influential, and on what topics on social media. The idea was to give a rating to the credibility of people talking about different topics on social media. In several ways, Klout was ahead of its time. Later, the company was sold to Lithium and eventually rolled into a Vista Equity company that went public.
• In 2013, I joined Uber as the Chief Business Officer (effectively the #2) where I drove fundraising, M&A, ran our China business and the enterprise business (Uber for Business). Uber grew from 200 employees to 20,000 during my tenure and increased in value from $300 million to $70 billion. I left in 2017
• Since then, I have launched a $300mm SPAC as Chairman and CEO of DPCM Capital (Ticker: XPOA) and invested in approximately 30 companies.
Key investments are: Bytedance (TikTok parent), Revolut, Brex, GoPuff, Doma, Coinbase, SpaceX, Gro Intelligence, Cadre, Wildlife Studios, Splice, Codecademy
I serve in several tech company boards: Homebound, Loft, Workrise, Design Commerce Technologies.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am an unabashed night owl. I do my most intense work when everyone else is asleep. I get to process everything that happened that day and scrutinize it. Consequently, I am able to write and think most clearly about the rest of the week, month, quarter, year, and even decade. In the mornings, it’s coffee and news time. Also, unscheduled phone calls based on the day’s action. Middle of the day is scheduled zooms/calls that I like to make back-to-back, so I can power through the day. I try to put my daughter to bed every night and then have dinner and get back to work. The evenings are filled with calls from entrepreneurs/founders who are looking for timely advice on big moves like fundraisings, acquisitions, executive hires, etc.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Unfortunately for me, I can’t sleep when I have an important idea I am trying to develop. I toss and turn and take notes on my iPhone in the middle of the night. I then discuss a half-formed idea with someone I consider an expert in that area or someone who thinks differently than I do to see if the idea is dumb or not. Once I decide an idea is worth it, I try to find a place for that idea. Is it a new company to start? An idea for an existing company to complement what they do? I try to lose no time on ideas because the world is more competitive than it’s ever been.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One trend that I think is very exciting is the distribution of start-ups outside the Bay Area. This is allowing other cities to be hubs for new ideas to flourish, which is healthy generally. It also gives people more variety to choose where they live. This, in turn, will create competition among cities to lure entrepreneurs to their locale. Consequently, that will make the environments for innovation more available. Also, I get to live in Miami Beach and be just as plugged into tech as I ever was.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I live by to-do lists. I re-write my to-do list every day, so I can commit it to memory. My to-do lists are also highly structured. It’s not linear, and I am both keeping track of short term projects and long-term initiatives. Likewise, business and personal, city by city, company by company.
When you sweat the small stuff, people never forget it. Thus, you become someone that everyone wants to talk to because they know you follow up, and you are on the details. When people know that you are responsive, you get the best opportunities.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I really wish I hadn’t gone to law school or become a banker for a year. I would have started in technology in 1994 instead of 1999. That would have made a world of difference. You know, the earlier anyone started in tech, when the internet started to be a force, the more interesting experiences they had.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Even with increased automation due to tech disruption, there will be more jobs available than people in the next 20 years.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I take almost any phone call from someone that has an idea, as long as they are referred by a friend or someone I am connected to. I always want to hear what new ideas people have.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Last-mile fierceness: If you work really hard on a project, by the end you are tired and may be bored by the subject. At this point, most people have a weak finish. Therefore, all the time you spent on the project from the beginning to the end is less valuable, as the end work product can be mediocre. So, when you are in the last mile, be fierce about finishing and the excellence and quality of what you are doing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have a soft spot for people, even if their ideas/work are not the best. I tend to want to work really hard to have people succeed, even if the role isn’t right for them. I have learned to have hard conversations early. You will be doing yourself and the other person a disservice by having them try to work hard at something when their skills are better channeled to a different role/company or industry.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
PLEASE, someone needs to fix the password mess that has become the bane of everyone’s life.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I signed up for all the streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Apple+…now my family and I can watch anything even though we still mostly watch nothing.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I don’t know how anyone lives without Docusign anymore. A total revolution in the speed at which companies and people can get stuff done.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t read business books as they are mostly written for managers at big, established companies. Instead, I read a lot of non-fiction history and autobiographies of people who accomplished a lot to understand how humans forced change and innovation in the world.
What is your favorite quote?
The [Wo]Man in the Arena…
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
- Stay current by talking to younger people about their ideas.
- Sweat the details, as it will make your work better and make people want to work with you.
- Assume that execution and ideas are of equal importance.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.