One of the highlights of this week’s Waymo v. Uber trial was the “tech-bro” language that was thrown around, particularly by former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Kalanick, who headed Uber from 2010 until mid-2017, certainly isn’t the only example of a business-savvy dude at the helm of tech companies, but he might be the most famous. The Southern California native highlighted the disconnect between the stodgy, anodyne language preferred by lawyers and the actual way that many talk behind Silicon Valley’s closed doors.
On the witness stand, Kalanick, dressed in a conservative black suit and tie, was professional. He answered clearly and directly, and even when he was questioned by somewhat friendly Uber lawyers, he refrained from using the type of lingo that he seems to prefer.
Back in 2014, in an interview with GQ, he non-ironically said the words “hashtag winning.” In January 2017, after declining to serve on President Donald Trump’s business council, Kalanick described Trump’s negative reaction as “super un-pumped.” But few outsiders, perhaps beyond a handful of reporters that have covered him closely for years, know the full extent of Kalanick’s vernacular. Sometimes, Kalanick didn’t even know (or at least wasn’t willing to fully explain) his own jargon.
Now, thanks to the magic of civil discovery and a high-profile lawsuit, we have a little more insight into Kalanickspeak. Here are our four favorites from the trial:
“Laser is the sauce”
During opening statements, Waymo lawyers used Kalanick’s own words against him as a way to illustrate how critical Kalanick believed that ex-Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski’s knowledge about LiDAR was. Plus, as Waymo argued, Levandowski spirited away trade secrets—effectively the “secret sauce” to Waymo’s success.
According to notes of a January 3, 2016 meeting between Levandowski, Kalanick, and other Uber officials, “laser is the sauce”—there was “no clear substitute” besides LiDAR (and allegedly, Waymo’s trade secrets) to advance Uber’s autonomous research.
“Laser is the sauce” quickly became a line that reporters covering the trial relished. Business Insider’s Rob Price mocked up a t-shirt with the quip on it.
The Verge’s Sarah Jeong even immediately changed her Twitter profile name to the entire phrase.
“And then under Item 3 on the board, read what it says,” Verhoeven said.
“‘Laser is the sauce,'” Kalanick responded.
“So, during this jam session, you discussed the fact that ‘laser is the sauce;’ correct?”
“Yes. I think it was probably a description of our sesh, yes.”
“And what that meant is that lasers are the sauce to make autonomous vehicles work, right?”
“It’s close. I would say it’s an important part of making autonomous work. It doesn’t work without it.”
Moments earlier, still under questioning by Verhoeven, Kalanick was asked to explain what was meant by a “jam session.”
“So it’s like a kind of a reference to, like, if you had a jazz ensemble, they, sort of, they have ideas. They start somewhere. It’s ad hoc, but eventually it sort of comes together into beautiful music. So a ‘jam sesh’ is when you get a bunch of interesting creative people in a room, and they’re talking about an idea, and it eventually becomes something interesting and innovative.”
This, too, drew online snickers from the peanut gallery and was still was getting callbacks days later.
Ross Todd of The Recorder, a San Francisco newspaper that covers legal issues, wrote:
Court is no longer in sesh
— Ross Todd (@Ross_Todd) February 9, 2018
Kalanick’s Twitter history shows that this is a term that he loves:
just got out of strat sesh with Mission Motors –> Tesla for the motorcycle –> motorcycle <3’s will lose their minds – http://su.pr/7FWwJd
— travis kalanick (@travisk) January 6, 2010