Joe Nocera wrote in the New York Times Saturday what I’ve been trying to say since Uber arrived in Fayetteville and Little Rock Great product, welcome competition for taxis. But … jerks run the company. He recapitulates:
On Monday, Ben Smith, the editor of Buzzfeed, published an article about a conversation he had had with Emil Michael, a top Uber executive, in which Michael suggested that Uber might do “opposition research” into the private lives of reporters, especially Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily, who has been a fierce critic of the company. Michael thought that he was speaking off the record, but even so. It’s the sort of revenge fantasy that one would expect a serious corporate executive to have outgrown.
The Buzzfeed article unleashed a torrent of other criticism about the company. Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, once told GQ magazine that the company should be called “Boober” because it made it so easy for him to get women. The company has reportedly run a dirty-tricks campaign against Lyft, including ordering rides that are then canceled, and trying to damage its ability to complete a round of financing. Uber has been rumored to track the rides of its customers, in violation of its own privacy rules. And so on. Peter Thiel, the well-known investor, has described Uber as the most “ethically challenged” company in Silicon Valley. (Thiel, it should be noted, has money in Lyft.)
Uber has an us-vs.-them attitude, Nocera writes, with some justification in the case of the pugnacious and heavily regulated taxi industry. But, he writes, concluding the wunderkinds of Uber need some mature leadership:
…. there simply isn’t anybody in Silicon Valley willing to tell Uber’s principals to grow up. ….
Companies that never grow up tend to go the way of Groupon or MySpace, two now-faded comets. As good as Uber’s app is, there are limits to how much bad publicity it can absorb before it hurts the bottom line.
At Uber, the inmates are running the asylum. That needs to change, while there’s still time.
The thing that gets me is the perpetual neediness and celebrity awe of many so-called Arkansas political “leaders.” Uber serves dirt and they ask, “Can we have another shovelful please?” I expect more of the same Tuesday night when the Little Rock Board says all is forgiven for Uber’s operation outside the law.
And, hey, has anybody ever picked up one of these cars in Dogtown? Uber have a permit to cross the river? Or is the permit the same one they’re using in Fayetteville? Scofflaw chutzpah.
UPDATE: More Uber bashing in today’s NY Times feature section. It’s about “Uber shame,” though. People don’t like what they’ve read about the company but are using it anyway. The article quotes some who’ve deleted the app in protest, however.
“There is a difference between being competitive and being dirty,” Ms. Abeyta said. “It is bad-boy, jerk culture. And I can’t celebrate that.”