Uber could be profitable if it wants to, says CEO

Uber lost $4.5 billion last year, but CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he’s not worried. Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, the newly appointed chief defended the company’s financials, saying that “we can turn the knobs to get this business even on a full basis profitable, but you would sacrifice growth and sacrifice innovation.”

He said that it’s Uber’s commitment to “developing” markets that are dragging things down, but he views that as an “optional investment.” However it’s the “right thing to do,” he said, claiming that the company won’t stop investing in Asia anytime soon.

Revenue last year was $7.5 billion, but Khosrowshahi was keen to tout a “$40 billion run rate,” a measurement of total transactions on the platform. He also spoke of a more than “100% revenue growth rate,” meaning that sales have more than doubled.

Khosrowshahi also addressed the company’s public image which he believes was “appropriately negative,” but insists that he was pleasantly surprised to find that the company has “good people,” who are committed to changing the world of transportation. “We deserve to be and we should be a brand that is beloved as an Amazon or a Google.”

He spoke of the settlement with Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google parent, Alphabet. Uber is “happy to put it behind us,” he said. “It was a very very significant distraction for the teams that were working on our autonomous technology.”

In general, he was very optimistic about self-driving cars and spoke of a day where the average ride will be about $1 per mile, down from roughly $2.50 per mile. It’s “the only way to get the cost down,” he said of driverless transportation.

Khosrowshahi also said the recent SoftBank investment was a major milestone because it provided liquidity for some employees and also “was a catalyst for us to move forward on some governance changes.” In particular, he’s referring to the lawsuit between Benchmark Capital and former CEO Travis Kalanick.  “The acrimony between Bill and Travis didn’t serve the company well.”

Khosrowshahi has grand visions for the future, stating that he hopes Uber will get people to stop buying cars. “Traffic is going to get better.”