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02.23.17

#DeleteUBER: When Company Culture Turns From Superpower To Cancer

Dave Knies

I've been watching Uber's culture closely for awhile - with the idea that its culture is creating problems and causing the company to make bad decisions that lead to the rapidly growing #DeleteUber movement and consumers shifting to Lyft. Instead of being its greatest asset, it looks like Uber's culture has become cancerous - slowly killing it from the inside.

When you create an industry, its hard to stay humble, but history is littered with companies who fell as quickly as they rose - their demise generally accelerated by hubris and arrogance. Even though Uber is valued at around $70 BILLION (with a capital B) - it is starting to look like its falling into the same trap.

Here's how: 

  • A Toxic Culture: The scandal that exploded over the past weekend fueled by a shocking blog post from a female engineer who blew the whistle on the company's culture of harassment shined a spotlight on a shockingly cancerous culture. If you unplugged over the long weekend, the claims by a former engineer, Susan Fowler, that she and other women were sexually harassed, brushed off by HR, and punished for bringing complaints have created a mess for Uber. here's the must-read post from Susan Fowler in its entirety. CEO Travis Kalanick has called for an “urgent investigation” into Fowler’s claims. In the words of Quartz, "it paints the company as a leaderless mess plagued with rampant misogyny." Which is never a good thing.
  • Declining Quality: Uber has consistently disappointed me over the past year by their rapid decline in quality. The experience of getting into an Uber has become like ordering a burger from Shake Shack but getting one from McDonald's instead. Poor quality is usually a cultural failing - when its OK to just be OK. We've all worked for companies, played for teams and been part of groups where this is the norm. But they aren't leaders. (Unless, of course, they are Microsoft). In Uber's haste to build out their network, it seems that they've neglected training and standards for their drivers. I've found repeatedly over the past year that Uber's cars are regularly late, rarely able to find the pickup point at first attempt, and generally dirty, smelly and beat up inside. It’s easier to take a taxi. 
  • Arrogant Leadership: While I've never been inside the company, my instincts tell me that it has a tremendously arrogant culture where the staff at every level - particularly the more senior roles - probably believes that their shit doesn't stink. While he's helped create one of the world's most valuable and impactful companies over the past few years, Uber's founder Travis Kalanick seems to be where this attitude comes from. As the saying goes, "fish always stinks from the head." I've also had a belief for many years that a founder who craves PR is a bad sign. While PR can be great at building awareness for an early stage company, at this point there's not anyone at the conferences he's going to that aren't aware of Uber. Let's be honest - they probably used to get there. Too much PR can mean that the CEO is more of an EGO - more focused on needing to be seen and heard than they are on building their business. 
  • Deleteuber Is A Growing Thing: Probably not a positive thing when nearly a million results come up when searching the hashtag and Lyft starts to get more monthly downloads. 
  • Influencers Want To See You Fail: Many columnists and opinion leaders are starting to see and write, tweet, post, and share their POV about these things. A couple examples from respected pillars of the Fourth Estate:

If I were a board member, these signs would tell me that its time for major change - both at the top and in the way the company operates. A quick search of the string "Uber arrogance" serves up a frightening number of links.

Since I'm not a board member, its time to try out Lyft.

Interestingly, they had more downloads of their app last month than Uber did. So a lot of others are probably seeing the same thing I am. And saying #DeleteUber.