Big Red Car here on a slightly cloudy Texas day. It is a good day because The Boss’s North Carolina Tarheels prevailed while the wicked Dukies were defeated by the valiant South Carolina Gamecocks. Go to Hell, Duke. [The Heels didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, but they won and they advance.]So, “Uber Uber Uber alles, Uber alles in der Welt” is having a few cultural issues. Recognize them for what they are — cultural challenges which start at the top.
Cultures are defined by the VALUES of the top dog. Lots of folks want to believe that culture comes mythically from the Culture Fairy, but, alas, that is not so. The CEO (founder) defines the culture when he unpacks his values in his fancy new office.
Therein lies the problem at Uber. The top dog, one Travis Cordell Kalanick has some very questionable values. No, let’s not say that. Let’s explore what’s happening over there at Uber and let you decide. So, no judgmental nonsense from the Big Red Car. You decide.
Travis the K has been at the startup gig grind for a few years before he hitched his start (haha, get it?) to Uber. There are some things to be learned from this history.
1. Travis was a co-founder of a multi-media search engine called Scour and Scour Exchange. The company was sued out of existence by the Motion Picture Association of America which alleged copyright infringement. Travis and his co-founders ran to the bankruptcy court for protection.
2. Next stop was Red Swoosh, which was a tough row to hoe. Travis ended up running to Thailand to try to save the company. He did, in fact, enjoy a modicum of success when the company was sold to Akamai Tech for $19,000,000.
During the Red Swoosh days, Travis went without a salary for three years, moved back in with his parents and lamented that he was having a hard time with the ladies. One’s success with the ladies or lack thereof, is not something most high tech startup CEOs comment upon.
At Red Swoosh, he took a holiday from submitting payroll taxes to the IRS. Some of you sticklers will remark that this is a white collar crime, but the Big Red Car will not give voice to such a criticism. The IRS eventually got paid their blood money.
3. Next stop is Uber for which he gives full credit to Garrett Camp (StumbleUpon co-funder) as being the genius behind the idea.
Could one conclude there is evidence of a bit of disdain for adhering to the law? Or a fledgling bit of misogyny? Too hard a read? You decide.
All of the above brings us to the comparatively present.
1. Uber has a problem with its culture. This manifests itself in several different ways.
2. Uber has a problem with its treatment of women in a Boob-er sort of way. This was most recently manifested in an extraordinary blog post by a former employee, Susan J Fowler. Read it and see what you think.
Perhaps what was equally troubling was the failure of the company to react immediately and the notion that she knew what she was getting into and was a whiner. Just because an anti-female bias is known, does not make it legal.
3. In response to the above, Uber hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate. [Bet he doesn’t work for free Uber rides. Bet?]
4. This is not the sole allegation of such sexual misconduct. The image of Uber’s work environment is such that calling it “Boob-er” is not a stretch. Who knows?
5. Uber enters markets (Austin, Texas, as an example) and operates illegally. Illegally meaning they fail to comply with the local “carriage for hire” laws like other taxi companies. They simply enter, operate, and then attempt to negotiate a better deal than the existing taxi laws. In Austin, they took it to the City Council, obtained sufficient signatures for a referendum, spent $10,000,000 on the election, and got their asses handed to them.
At issue was the notion that Uber drivers did not have to comply with a requirement for fingerprint based background investigations (fingerprint background investigations result in 8-10% more IDs of bad actors than paper-only background investigations), plus Uber wanted to run their own investigations. Sort of like letting the fox run the hen house, no?
When they lost the referendum, they pulled out of Austin.
6. Travis Kalanick cemented his reputation as a people pleaser when he went off on a driver (who captured it on tape) and lambasted him about recent actions which Uber took to the detriment of their drivers. His conduct — when outed — motivated him to apologize and say he needs “help.”
7. Some of that help came in the form of hiring a new President. The new President, Jeff Jones, came from Target and immediately took to the streets interning as a driver himself. Today, it was announced that Jeff is parting company with Travis, et al, over
Today, it was announced that Jeff is parting company with Travis, et al, over disappointment with the leadership style emanating from the headquarters. The departure is effective immediately in a “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out” sort of thing.
It is a clash of culture and Jeff Jones finds himself unable to operate in that culture. Not to say he’s right, but when you conduct a national wide search, hire a guy, and he leaves in six months — well, you need to take stock of what the Hell you’re doing.
Interesting side note, Travis announced he is hiring a Chief Operating Officer and tries to hang Jeff Jones’ departure on that. Good luck with that. Seems a bit weasely to a Big Red Car.
A culture can be changed, but when the culture arrives in the backpack of the CEO, it is virtually impossible to change it.
Again, if you want to change the culture of an organization, you have to change the values.
If you want to change the values, you have to change the CEO.
OK, so what does this mean, Big Red Car?
What it means, dear reader, is that any enterprise can take a lesson from this tale and muse about its culture and how to change it — if it needs to be changed.
Uber has lost its secret sauce, first mover advantage and now its future is held hostage to being able to block and tackle.
A company which has a toxic culture cannot prevail in the long term.
Investors who are in — people who saw Travis Cordell Kalanick as the “right” man for a tough idea — are likely contemplating a way to get off the dragon without being burned in the process.
Culture will kill a good thing. Stay tuned.