Where Did Uber Go Wrong? A Story of Transformation and Talent

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July 10, 2017 | Crystal Kadakia | HCI

A survey conducted by IBM in 2015 highlighted that one of the biggest fears CEOs had was to be “Uber-ized” - having their industry get disrupted by a digital start-up that presents a transformative new model for how consumers utilize a service or product.

More recently, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned in a surprise move, amidst months of workplace culture concerns, perceived driver mistreatment, multiple executive departures and questionable legal practices when entering new markets. Legal concerns aside, Uber has fallen into an age-old trap: sacrificing culture in the pursuit of profits.

Many in the status quo still don’t understand the appeal of Uber. From a traditional perspective, taxis are considered safe with their insurance and background checks, whereas ride-sharing services are riskier. The younger generation doesn’t think so. Ride-sharing services are certainly more convenient than the traditional taxi; for those outside of cities like New York and Chicago, Uber was the first time you could order a ride that’s a few minutes away at the touch of a button.

It’s more than just convenience. For the younger generation, trust comes from transparency and community. Ride-sharing services tell you the total cost up front. The cost is based on the perception of how long the ride will be, which feels fair. When once we paid $20 to go three -to -five miles from the airport, with ride-sharing services you may cut it down to $12. The community experience of ride-sharing is also key. People talk to their drivers and the car is often a personally owned. It humanizes the drivers - the lynchpin in the Uber story.

Uber has a history of mistreating female employees. But those employees can seem further away and like typical problems in the tech/engineering world. Sure, there were potentially violated legal aspects of entering into agreements with cities, but that can be appreciated as the revered cowboy entrepreneurship of toppling the old-school way of doing things. That’s what it takes to grow in an entrenched climate. But mistreating drivers? That’s where it starts to feel more personal.

People get to know Uber drivers. Drivers for ride-sharing services often have multiple gigs and this is just one of them, on the way to a larger dream. They often have stories of other riders, they welcome newcomers to the city and share local culture. Uber drivers until recently didn’t have the option to receive a tip, unlike Lyft. Does Uber consider drivers a part of their talent?

Through all the tumultuous scandals, Lyft is quietly stealing Uber’s market share. The Uber story begs the question: is it enough to deliver feature after feature to sustain growth for tech companies? Or is the best innovation good old ethics and respect for your employees?

 

Crystal Kadakia is a Millennial, two-time TEDx speaker and author of The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs. Her company, Invati Consulting, provides solutions related to transforming workplace culture for a digital world.