- Insider identified dozens of current and past power players at top-secret startup CloudKitchens.
- Travis Kalanick took over the Los Angeles-based ghost kitchen company in 2018 then added thousands of employees.
- Employees can’t list the company on their resume, so Insider spent months talking to sources about VIPs.
Travis Kalanick oversees thousands of employees with impressive resumes, but you can’t find them on LinkedIn.
The Uber cofounder’s latest venture, CloudKitchens, has ballooned from 15 employees since Kalanick bought out parent company City Storage Systems’ investors and took over as CEO in 2018. Back then, to drum up talent interest, he tweeted and embarked on a multicity speaking tour, hosting private events at nightclubs and other venues to evangelize the Los Angeles-based company.
Techies who want to join have to sign nondisclosure agreements even before they interview, and if they snag an offer, they agree to operate under a veil of secrecy unusual for a global company. Staff can’t put CloudKitchens or affiliated brands on their LinkedIn, and some employees said they were told not to mention their employer even to friends and family, to ward off poaching, tipping off the competition, and leaking to the media. A few take a cheeky approach, like one of the company’s original employees, who titles himself the “Sticker Hander Outer” on LinkedIn.
And after more than 300 CloudKitchens employees, including most of the American recruiting team, left in the first three months of the year, some ex-staff decided to add the company name to their social media profiles anyway.
Over the last six months, Insider pierced the secrecy to map out the most important leaders at the 2,500-person company, plus VIPs who left in the last two years. This effort builds on a 2019 list of key players from The Information, the first to name various CloudKitchens employees.
Insider’s reporting is based on public records and interviews with dozens of current and former employees. The people listed in this story either declined to comment on the record or did not respond to requests for comment, many citing their strict nondisclosure agreements.
The following lists don’t encompass all of the company’s leaders, especially those who work internationally. But it offers the most comprehensive collection yet of the people working at one of the nascent ghost kitchen industry’s biggest – and most secretive – organizations.
The original crew
City Storage Systems, the CloudKitchens parent company, started small, and all but one employee remain with the company.
Sky Dayton, one cofounder, doesn’t play much of a day-to-day role, say insiders. Before CSS, Dayton founded EarthLink and Boingo, among other Internet companies.
Meanwhile, Insider previously reported that 36-year-old Diego Berdakin, the other City Storage Systems founder and longtime Kalanick buddy, plays a role similar to that of Emil Michael — Kalanick’s trusted lieutenant and globe-trotting party partner — at Uber.
Berdakin shares an office with Kalanick, and sources say he could sometimes change Kalanick’s mind about business decisions. The pair divides responsibilities at CloudKitchens, with Kalanick primarily focused on the tech side and Berdakin overseeing the physical product, which includes buying real estate globally.
Barak Diskin, the 37-year-old MeUndies cofounder, leads that real estate group. The team is considered particularly bro-y by some employees, even by CloudKitchens standards — one that works, drinks, and curses hard, Insider reported in April. Managers on Diskin’s team constantly jokey among themselves to earn a spot inside “the snake pit,” the glass-walled conference room that Diskin and his lieutenants operate out of.
The power players
More than a dozen of the most important City Storage Systems leaders come from Uber. In summer 2019, then-board member Kalanick received a thinly veiled warning about poaching from Uber’s chairman, The Information reported at the time.
Some of these power players lead company-wide units, like top lawyer Mohit Abraham, while others focus on specific efforts like Otter, the company’s in-house software that aggregates online orders for restaurants, or Future Foods, the virtual restaurant arm.
The general managers
Kalanick set up CloudKitchens, which goes by other names internationally, similarly to Uber. Local general managers enjoy significant autonomy in their regions and often don’t communicate formally amongst themselves. Sales teams, locally and nationally, compete to sell to the same potential customers. One former executive likened the culture to “Lord of the Flies.”
“It was very fiefdom-ish,” the source said. “Travis’s overall approach is he wants everything to be competitive.”
The key departures
Managers who don’t mesh well with Kalanick’s hard-charging style, or who challenge his authority, tend not to last long at CloudKitchens. During 2020 and 2021 a string of high-level employees have left the company.
In 2020, for example, ex-Tesla hardware executives Shen Jackson and Charlie Mwangi exited after just over a year with CloudKitchens. Their team, tasked with building out a manufacturing facility to produce prefabricated kitchens, largely dissipated.
In March, the founders of FoodStars, the UK-based ghost kitchen company quietly acquired by CSS in 2018, left to start another venture – moves that have not previously been reported. Another pair, Kamil Mafoud and Santhosh Narayan, likewise left in June to found a startup together.
Some CSS divisions have been hit particularly hard by leadership departures. Three controllers exited Jake Galey’s finance team in less than three years, and the head of capital markets left this spring, too.
In May, the head of recruiting, Lucas Partington, resigned after an investigation related to misconduct on a late April work trip. Recruiting lost significant staff at all levels this spring – before and after Partington’s departure – and the company ramped up hiring in Mexico to tap cheaper talent, said former employees.
In June, Rodrigo Arévalo, the Americas regional general manager, left to take a chief operating officer role at an unspecified healthcare startup.