Uber’s Travis Kalanick: “When you’re the big guy you’re not allowed to be scrappy and fierce”

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is starting to see the error of his ways. Or at least, he says he is. During TechCrunch Disrupt Monday, he admitted that the scrappy tactics that people lauded Uber for when it was a startup haven’t work quite as well as a giant corporation valued at $18.2 billion.

“Some see you as Darth Vader,” TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington said.

“I’m a Star Wars fan but that’s a little intense,” Kalanick replied.

He didn’t directly reference the recent controversy of Uber’s SLOG program, using burner phones and a national campaign to recruit away Lyft drivers. Instead, he spoke of his past failures, as the founder of a P2P networking company. In the first four years he didn’t make a salary, had no money, and lived with his parents. During that time, scrappiness was the only thing that kept him and his company going.

“If you bring that scrappy fierceness with you, it works until you get big,” Kalanick said. “When you get big, really pushing all the way feels uncomfortable.”

“Being scrappy is uncomfortable?” Arrington asked.

Kalanick explained that it’s not uncomfortable for him because that’s his background – the underdog fighting the incumbents. “But as you get to a place where people perceive you as the big guy or the man you have to approach things different,” Kalanick said. “We’re not there yet. We want to be there and we’re going to get better.”

That was about as tough as Michael Arrington’s questions got. For the rest of the Q&A he played for team Uber, going so far as to call Lyft “annoying,” “whiny,” and a “copycat.” At one point he even said that Lyft imitated Uber’s carpooling service, a fact that Travis Kalanick was quick to correct. “I don’t think Lyft copycatted this particular service,” Kalanick replied.

As some tweeted, at no point did Arrington disclose on stage that his investment firm Crunchfund is an Uber backer, having taken part in its Series B. There is a disclosure buried at the bottom of Arrington’s TechCrunch post that announced Kalanick was the opening speaker.

The only other notable point in the interview was Kalanick’s answer to whether Uber will acquire Lyft — for — as Arrington graciously put it — the purpose of “shutting up their whining.”

“We’re not in acquisition mode right now,” Kalanick said.