Good morning, All,
First, a big thank you to Pedro Torres Picón, our guest investor at last week’s Breakfast with an Investor, and our thanks to all of you who attended. Actually, we want to extend a huge thanks to all of the investors who graciously gave their time to speak and all of whom, we’d like to add, stayed will past the 10.00 am end time to speak to each and every person who attended, individually. You all are awesome and thank you!!! Details on our December beakfast coming next week. Stay tuned!
Poor Uber founder Travis Kalanick. From all indications, he is a true visionary of tech, having managed to do what cities tried to do for years and failed (carpooling, for example, but was that a fail, or a fall back to traditional economics/maximum profit for minimum service?). But Kalanick lives in a winner-takes-all world, and from his behavior for quite some time now, is the apotheosis of a tech founder gone wrong, or at least, amok.
First, the things that no one is talking about, like the fact that BuzzFeed reported that Emil Michael, a senior vice president at Uber, suggested that the company could fund smear campaigns targeting journalists who are critical of Uber. For the record, he suggested a million dollar slush fund to accomplish thi – publicly – and received nothing more than a slap on the wrist for the suggestion. We do remember that when Justine Sacco issued an unfortunate tweet (“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”), she was fired. She apologized, just as he had. And again, when the media attacked Brendan Eich for a rather small campaign donation, Eich was ousted from the top spot at Mozilla Firefox. So, the tech media are allowed to attack someone whose politics they don’t like, but heaven forfend that the tables are turned, right or wrong? And one tweet will get a woman fired from a tech company, but a bad boy at a company notorious for bad boy behavior, gets a pass? We’re not taking sides here: just pointing out facts.
Uber has a name for its stalking practices. They may consider it a party game, but they call it the God View, when they decide to track a user to see where he/she is going and what they’re up to. What happens when the company starts delivering groceries and medications and who knows what else they’re considering? Think they’ll suddenly respect people’s privacy? That kind of thinking is just Einstein’s definition of insanity..
As Therese Poletti said in MarketWatch: “The venture-capital community, too, has mostly been publicly silent on the issue. Angel investor Jason Calacanis, who acknowledged he is only a “small investor” in Uber, tweeted on Tuesday that “the @uber team will learn from mistakes & show the world how f-ing awesome they truly are. Mistakes were made, but greatness will follow.” PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who is an investor in Lyft, told CNN Money that “Uber’s right on the cusp of going simply too far on many of these things.””
The fact that they use the term God View kind of says it all. While we will acknowledge the company’s achievements, let’s not forget its dirty business practices or how it treats its drivers (supposedly): Mark Suster makes a good point when he says that it’s one writer, talking to one driver. (One of the contentions was that the company slips in ‘services charges,’ at will and with no prior explanation.)
Then again, we remember the surge pricing that went on last winter. It’ll be interesting to see if Uber Goober in Chief Kalanick (his strategist is a former senior advisor to Obama, which explains a lot in terms of hubris and Uber’s break the law first policy) brings it back, come the snows or if that will be the tipping point where people start to look at the alternatives.
At the most basic level: the company is called Uber and their tracking program the God View. What more do you need to know? While it’s disruptive, at the end of the day, it’s a transportation startup, albeit perhaps the Railroad of the Tech Age – and laying the tracks for the cross-country railroads was a game-changer, in its day. While it is part of the ‘sharing economy,’ and has disrupted an industry that was long overdue for it, we can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that the company has a long history of dirty practices, especially in light of the relatively short time that they’ve been in business.
The bigger picture here is that Uber may well be looked upon as an indication of what can and will go wrong and if tech doesn’t start reigning in our own, we know that government regulation will not be far off, and that’s not necessarily something that anyone wants. “f I thought Uber employees could track where I travel, when I travel and if I felt any employee was going to use this information in some way – I would shout from mountain tops. Until then. I’ll be Ubering,” said Mark Suster. “Has Uber been a bit aggressive in business practices? Probably a bit. Are we in an industry where our most beloved tech providers play hardball, too? Absofuckinglutely. We just turn a blind eye because we love them”, said Suster. Really? Maybe the love for that sort of industry aggressiveness is dimming a bit, too. This just in: Yahoo Replaces Google as Mozilla Search Partner.
Uber can and does provide a great service, and while Suster makes excellent points, heads up, investors, and bottom line: Uber a disruptive company in a hyper regulated industry. Their behavior has been egregious, to put it mildly, and why draw all that negative attention to the company, especially at a time when the regulators are watching? The last thing anyone wants is bring the regulators back in. You have to check yourself and exercising discipline, when you’re in the public eye, as they very much are. May be time to reign in some of that bad boy behavior before the Railroad of the Tech Era derails us all. Onward and forward.