Uber and more

I have read all the information that has been coming out of Uber.  Nobody seems surprised as this isn’t the first time Uber has been under the microscope.  When there is smoke, there is usually fire.

I held back writing about this when the Medium post came out from Susan Fowler. As more and more information has started to makes its way over the airways about the culture that appears to come directly from the top, I felt compelled to write.

There are a handful of things that I find upsetting.  The first is obviously the bro-culture that has been nurtured.  A culture that is dismissive of women and creates fear.  Many have asked why these women (or male engineers) who were unhappy didn’t just leave.  Now that they are writing what havoc the culture made on their mental and physical beings but you don’t have to look far for that.  There is a reason people stay in abusive relationships.  It isn’t easy for many to walk away.  There are fears of all fingers point to them, they won’t get another opportunity like this, they can make it work etc., etc

For me, the most unsettling part is the lack of any role played by the investors and the board.  Although Mitch and Freada Kapoor have come out saying that they tried to say something many times but to no avail.  This is not the first time Uber has been in pointed out for bad behavior and perhaps that board said something but from and outside perspective everything remained the same.

Boards do not always know the ins and outs of what is happening culturally in an organization.  There are times when a person from the C-Suite reports to the board.  Board members come in and spend time with teams as well but that doesn’t mean they know that the HR department is ignoring bad behavior.

Yet, they do know that the entire organization is filled with men and few women. They are well aware of the issues in the tech industry around the need for gender balance in the start-ups.  They read the data that gender balanced companies have a better rate of success.  Many of the VC’s are looking hard to find female founders because of an issue that has reared its head time and time again.  I admit that I am invested in a company where there are few women and I have pushed to make that change.  The founders are aware of it and are hellbent and making that change as well.  It starts from the top.

Everyone who invested in Uber knew exactly what they were getting into with this founder but I believe the board should have been on this…and it appears that they weren’t.  That to me is the most disturbing outcome of all.

Comments (Archived):

  1. CCjudy

    This is a subject that you know from your business. I was glad to read that Fowler did hire an attorney. She was meticulous in her justification evidence. I think the source of it is with the young entitled male founders and then there are all the male and female enablers J

    1. Gotham Gal

      Totally agree.

      1. Twain Twain

        The “spin, wash, repeat” cycle of nonsense that female engineers and founders experience. Two years ago …* http://www.newsweek.com/201…* http://www.latimes.com/busi…* https://www.forbes.com/site…A lot of boards talk about “Culture & Values,” “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Diversity & Inclusion.”My view is there aren’t good enough tools available to help them measure and gauge this data on a dynamic basis. Sure, they’ll collect some male:female ratios but it really isn’t about quant ratios of “them vs us”.We need QUALITY METRICS OF CULTURE for employees.

  2. Susan Rubinsky

    Thanks for the post. I have been sitting on my hands and watching the news unfurl. Interesting that Fred posted about Kickstarter and it’s organization today. The contrast between the Kickstarter and the Uber organization and culture is a study in contrasts. Kickstarter is the future we want and Uber is the worst nightmare.Here is Fred’s post – http://avc.com/2017/03/the-

    1. Gotham Gal


    2. Matt Kruza

      One is a PBC (public benefit corporation) that will likely either never be sold or return a few hundred million in capital? (very generous assumption. still obviously very impressive company). The other is valued at $68 billion (which is overvalued in my estimation, but not many of the most sophisticated investors in the world who have much greater inside information). There is no doubt kickstarter is more aspirational and in line with what any morality would want to support. The market is not a morality machine. I know you know all of this, and I am simply clearly defining that this a “right to the core of capitalism” issue. It won’t change unless it effects uber’s eventual profit / sale / exit price. Time will tell if they get their comeuppance, but if a betting man I would say they will be fine. Not sure their is anyway it plays out any differently

      1. Gotham Gal

        Lots of people are using other services but in the end I am sure Uber will be fine

        1. Matt Kruza

          Yeah, the whole “deleteuber” hastag lost them 0.5% of their customers… hardly something that will hurt. Now if that becomes 5-10% they might be affected, but would need to lose around 60-70% i think to be down to lyft’s size

          1. Gotham Gal


          2. murphstahoe

            losing 0.5% of their customers means they are losing 0.5% less money on rides. Being “fine” has to be put in context as to whether the business model works.

      2. Twain Twain

        Wrt “The market is not a morality machine,” the economic philosophers may have written about the “invisible hand for the common good” but none of them actually managed to put that into the maths: https://uploads.disquscdn.c…Now … is it possible to bring HEART back to all our systems and models? Sure, as long as we can invent by seeing the world with Da Vinci’s vision.https://uploads.disquscdn.c…@gothamgal:disqus — Take heart. The tech tools the guys — even the PhDs at Google — can’t invent? A female inventor already did it. And it’s in a published patent.If we waited for them to put heart back into the systems and to de-bias all the data that’s holding back the whole of global society …We’d be stuck in another 2000+ years of Rational Logic that isn’t even representative of how we reason, communicate and behave.Yeah, I realized adding to the awareness of diversity and inclusion wasn’t enough. I invented the tech tools to ensure data diversity, representativeness and so we wouldn’t keep being blind to the art+heart of how we think, say and do.:*).

  3. awaldstein

    Uber will be fine.The fact that this shit even exists anymore in a new economy company is really unacceptable–and a heads up that even in our new markets–this stuff happens.They need to fix this obviously. But we all need to step back and think about whether this is a corner case or not.

    1. JLM

      .If this were a “corner case” – by which I take you mean it is otherwise fine based on rarity – wouldn’t the company have just dealt with it and moved on?Some suggest it is the canary in the mine shaft and suggestive of a deeper and more pervasive cultural issue.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. LE

      even exists anymore in a new economy companyI find it very strange as well. I would have thought that with what was a younger millennial crew (a guess on my part; haven’t checked the age distribution of their employees) this would be long gone behavior. But then again I’ve always felt that things flow from the top [1] so quite possible Travis has molded himself by who he has hired and it carries down. (Even with woman who work there finding the behavior acceptable).I’ve told the story of my ex father in law sitting at the table at a family event where my ex brother in law made a lewd comment. And I thought he would freak out but he didn’t. He laughed along and added to the story. But then again this was a guy that made lewd comments about his step daughter so I shouldn’t have been surprised.[1] Noticed that as a kid with a shopowner backing up their employee who I thought did something screwy point being he hires who is like him I guess.

  4. JLM

    .Uber is a brutal predatory enterprise which has adopted this manner of doing business from the very beginning and from the very top. Uber is exactly who they seem to be and I would be willing to opine what the public knows is only the tip of the iceberg.Let me share a bill of particulars, if I may:1. Uber enters markets by illegally putting drivers on the street and then hoping to negotiate a modification to local regulations to authorize their operations — cases in point are Austin, Tx and Portland, Ore. In the case of ATX, after a long trial and and a referendum, the city sent them packing.When the ATX referendum came about — at their urging and request — they spent $10MM to try to influence the election. Ham handed, obvious, offensive while having reduced the fares that their drivers could collect.The beef was over whether drivers would be required to have a finger print background investigation — exact same requirement for cab drivers in the ATX — and they wanted to conduct their own investigations. Fingerprint based background investigations result in 10% more felons being identified. Don’t believe me, you can believe the FBI on that one.Needless to say, Uber lost their own referendum and took their ball and went home. Good riddance.2. When the first negative stories began to emerge the company hired a thug named Emil Michael who suggested that Uber would go to war with these specific journalists — including horrific utterances about the sexual preferences of these journalists. This was in November of 2014.http://themusingsofthebigre…Can you imagine if anybody in business said such a thing — going to war against business journalists? Not taking issue with the accuracy of their reporting but delving into their personal lives to dig up dirt to intimidate them.3. The entire Susan Fowler episode is beyond belief. The management of the company — both operational and HR — are made aware of credible accusations that a manager wants to fuck one of his subordinates — huh? Seems a little rawer when expressed in that manner.How does that manager work one more day at that company and how does the senior management of that company not walk in and fire everyone involved in that episode up and down the chain of command?If you want to combat sexual harassment and hostile work environments — if you are going to really make a change — you are going to have to drop a nuke on some of these egregious actions. The company does not essentially deny these allegations. How does Travis K not take the bull by the horns and neuter someone?4. The company has pretended to be an employer of “contract employees” while losing every legal confrontation with the IRS and the DOL as well as comparable state organizations. It is predatory as it wants to control workers while providing no employer payroll tax payments.http://themusingsofthebigre…5. They have attracted drivers on the basis of an economic deal and then arbitrarily changed the terms. In Travis K’s last video taped temper tantrum, which is indicative of the need for a bit of anger management, he savages a driver who brings the issue up with him. His bedside manner could use bit of polish.6. The founder has done a great job but has long since outrun his coverage. He is a punk — in the nicest sense of that word.Uber is a perfect example of the tech community providing absolution to a transgressor because of the value creation which is a delicate way of saying that a bit of misogyny can be priced into the deal if there is enough value to obscure it.I am not very high on Uber for the reasons noted above and the way they got their asses handed to them in China. I don’t see this management being able to advance the ball if this is their approach to such matters. Those who would argue that the main guy is a thug, would get little argument from me. I also think they have squandered their first mover advantage.Other than that, I love the concept but I am not willing to support their actual performance in the marketplace. Note that i have not mentioned their predatory surge pricing.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Gotham Gal

      on this one you are absolutely right.

    2. LE

      Investors surely knew about the founder and I would argue it was one reason they invested. Had he been “Charlie” (and you know who I mean by that) probably wouldn’t have written the check. They knew the upside of the bad boy. And while nice that Mitch and Freada penned a letter and have worked behind the scenes apparently, I wonder at what point they would consider dumping their investment. If that is possible. My point is it is nice for people in the peanut gallery (bloggers, reporters, third parties) to talk about how bad this is. However I rarely see someone who actually has something to lose taking a hit for principles they believe in.There is also another impact of a company that acts like Uber does (several of your points, to many to mention). They provide a history of success that trains others getting into the business on how they can operate and still get the brass ring. I mean the whole idea of flouting local laws (in the way they did) and then cleaning up the mess later is practically unheard of by traditional corporations. Type of thing that happens in third world countries.

      1. JLM

        .Principles are just words until you break a sweat or lose money over them.I lost a lot of money providing comprehensive health care and refusing to hire illegals.I got paid in a different currency.We are ultimately known by our actions and the company we keep.I will get up earlier, stay later, work through lunch, work weekends. I will not cheat.I love hard competition. I hate punks.You are right — investors invest in the jockey before the horse.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. CCjudy

    The Outrage to me is the complicity of people in HR “human” relations

  6. panterosa,

    I deleted Uber way back when they chased the female journo…as did many fellow female founders.The current shitstorm is a shot over the bow for those who are still stupid enough to run a biz this way in re sexual harassment, and I hope an exposé the nasty aggressive underhanded success at any price.Regarding the founder, it seems he enjoys being the bad boy and just pretends to be contrite. I doubt he will change, so hopefully those around him will change their acceptance of his rotten apple antics.