Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber


Drive with Uber 1

Harry right here.  Uber’s been maintaining a variety of reporters busy this month and it looks like each week, there’s one other story that damages Uber’s popularity.  Anecdotally, we’ve heard from drivers that each one this unfavorable press for Uber has elevated the variety of Lyft passenger requests they’ve been getting, so the elevated competitors might find yourself benefitting drivers in the long term.  Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince shares a surprising story from a former feminine Uber engineer about Uber’s office tradition, Lyft’s main enlargement and a narrative on Uber and tipping.


Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber (

Sum and Substance: I joined Uber as a website reliability engineer (SRE) again in November 2015, and it was a good time to hitch as an engineer. They have been nonetheless wrangling microservices out of their monolithic API, and issues have been simply chaotic sufficient that there was thrilling reliability work to be accomplished. … After the primary couple of weeks of coaching, I selected to hitch the workforce that labored on my space of experience, and that is the place issues began getting bizarre. On my first official day rotating on the group, my new supervisor despatched me a string of messages over firm chat. He was in an open relationship, he stated, and his girlfriend was having a simple time discovering new companions however he wasn’t. He was making an attempt to remain out of hassle at work, he stated, however he couldn’t assist getting in hassle, as a result of he was on the lookout for ladies to have intercourse with. It was clear that he was making an attempt to get me to have intercourse with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I instantly took screenshots of those chat messages and reported him to HR…. When I reported the state of affairs, I used to be informed by each HR and higher administration that although this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t really feel snug giving him something aside from a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper administration advised me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar efficiency critiques from his superiors) they usually wouldn’t really feel snug punishing him for what was in all probability simply an harmless mistake on his half.

… So I left that group, and… I started to satisfy extra ladies engineers within the firm. As I obtained to know them, and heard their tales, I used to be stunned that a few of them had tales just like my very own. Some of the ladies even had tales about reporting the very same supervisor I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him lengthy earlier than I had even joined the corporate. It turned apparent that each HR and administration had been mendacity about this being “his first offense”, and it definitely wasn’t his final. Within a couple of months, he was reported as soon as once more for inappropriate conduct, and people who reported him have been informed it was nonetheless his “first offense”. The state of affairs was escalated as far up the chain because it could possibly be escalated, and nonetheless nothing was carried out.

… In the background, there was a game-of-thrones political conflict raging inside the ranks of higher administration within the infrastructure engineering group. It appeared like each supervisor was preventing their friends and trying to undermine their direct supervisor in order that they might have their direct supervisor’s job. No makes an attempt have been made by these managers to cover what they have been doing: they boasted about it in conferences, informed their direct stories about it, and the like. I keep in mind numerous conferences with my managers and skip-levels the place I might sit there, not saying something, and the supervisor can be boasting about discovering favor with their skip-level and that I ought to anticipate them to have their supervisor’s job inside 1 / 4 or two. I additionally keep in mind a very disturbing staff assembly by which one of the administrators boasted to our staff that he had withheld business-critical info from one of the executives in order that he might curry favor with one of the opposite executives (and, he informed us with a smile on his face, it labored!)….  I really feel loads of unhappiness, however I can’t assist however snort at how ridiculous every thing was. Such a strange expertise. Such a strange year.

My Take:  This is a riveting essay by a feminine engineer who labored at Uber a bit of over a year. She recounts repeated situations of sexist conduct, mendacity and generalized confusion inside the corporate.  Her story apparently is simply the tip of the iceberg.  Since she revealed this text, in line with the Daily News, “Dozens of Uber employees describe sexist, hostile work environment after ex-engineer speaks out.”  There are many elements to her story – dysfunctional firm tradition, routine mendacity, and blatant sexism – none of them mirror properly on Uber. As dangerous as her allegations are concerning the male dominated tradition, what strikes me as extra damaging to Uber’s future is what she says about all of the infighting, bare ambition and dysfunction inside their headquarters.  One can instantly empathize with Ms. Fowler – caught in a tradition of deceit with no escape aside from to take the route she ultimately took – to give up.

There’s part of this story which will strike an particularly responsive chord with drivers.  She says HR responded to her grievance by saying the corporate “wouldn’t feel comfortable” giving him greater than a warning. She says she was then given a selection to go away her workforce, or proceed doing her work — with the understanding it might end in a nasty efficiency evaluate from the supervisor who harassed her.  How many drivers have felt this manner concerning the scores they’re getting from passengers who’ve demonstrated by their conduct that they’re not certified to provide an neutral score.  All passengers have that implicit energy to fee fee you it doesn’t matter what they’ve accomplished.  Since Uber attaches totally different powers to the driving force and passenger scores, the passenger (like Fowler’s superior at Uber) clearly has the higher hand.  Apparently, this flawed score system can also be in drive inside firm headquarters – serving to to create the type of company tradition that’s now being delivered to mild.

Appropriately, Travis Kalanick’s response was swift and decisive.  He employed Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder to look into issues – throwing in board member, Arianna Huffington, only for good measure. In so doing Kalanick will get kudos for doing quick  injury management, whereas additionally promoting simply how deep Uber’s pockets are.  Hey lookwe simply employed the Attorney General to research us – and naturally we can be slicing his checks – massive fats checks for serving to to defuse this challenge within the eyes of the general public. No worries people – Uber has this all beneath management …. or do they?.

Lyft expands into 54 new cities, whereas Uber does injury management (Money.cnn)

Sum and Substance: While Uber does injury management for its status, competitor Lyft is sinking its tooth into extra markets. Lyft is getting into 54 new cities in its largest enlargement so far, the corporate introduced Thursday. New markets embrace Pensacola, Florida, and Amherst, Massachusetts, making for a complete of almost 300 Lyft cities throughout the U.S. The announcement comes on the heels of a 40-city launch in January, when Lyft stated it was eying a complete of 100 new markets by the top of 2017. Just two months in, it’s a mere six cities shy of assembly that aim. “We look forward to continuing this rapid momentum,” Jaime Raczka, Lyft’s head of early stage markets and enlargement, stated in a press release. Lyft, which gives an analogous vary of providers as Uber, has lengthy been the underdog to Uber’s behemoth enterprise: Uber is valued at $68 billion, in comparison with Lyft’s $5.5-billion-dollar valuation.

My Take:  Well that didn’t take lengthy.  On the heals of the PR fallout from Susan J. Fowler’s searing indictment of Uber, Lyft wasted no time with the most important rollout thus far.  As I’ve stated many occasions on this weblog, this stays a very fluid business.  Uber’s dominance at the moment does translate into Uber’s dominance tomorrow.  Stay tuned people.

Uber’s public Q&A with drivers was a catastrophe (The Verge)

Sum and Substance: Ride-hailing big Uber at present trotted out Jeff Jones, its ride-sharing president, in a public Facebook Q&A to attempt to handle driver complaints. Given Uber’s popularity of late and its difficult and messy historical past with drivers, the session didn’t go over all that easily. In complete, Jones answered solely 12 questions on his public Facebook submit. Two of these questions got here from individuals questioning whether or not the session was stay, whereas one other concerned Jones replying with “hey” to somebody who merely wrote “hello.” After realizing that 30 minutes of his free time is probably not sufficient to attempt to handle maybe the corporate’s largest and most delicate vulnerability, Jones switched to addressing broad subjects with hyperlinks to Uber’s web site. Those subjects ranged from help and earnings statements to driver scores and rider conduct. This didn’t appease most of the individuals within the Q&A, who started flooding Jones’ feedback with complaints, indignant messages, and tales of their very own unfavorable experiences with Uber’s platform. For Jones, that is in all probability uncharted territory. The former Target government is used to extra in-person group engagement, and he has in truth been holding small, roundtable occasions with drivers which were noticeably much less public than this.

Of the questions he did reply to, Jones gave a variety of solutions that spanned from trite to substantive. On the subject of Uber drivers’ incomes potentials outdoors of metropolitan areas, Jones merely stated, “Investing in ways to get more riders to use Uber is the first step!” Yet when one driver bluntly wrote, “We need to get paid more and treated like humans,” Jones had just a little extra to say: We are fixing the best way we talk with you and supply help to you — these are 100 % about treating drivers with respect and as individuals. …After about 30 minutes, Jones bowed out. The Q&A has since amassed almost 500 complete feedback, with many drivers clamoring for extra two-way conversations with the corporate and for Jones to extra immediately reply questions as an alternative of relying on company speaking factors. In response to his ultimate message — during which Jones pledged to learn all the questions even when he couldn’t reply each single one — drivers left incensed responses.

“Bottom line: Uber doesn’t care about us, and neither does Jeff Jones. This was a poorly planned, poorly executed attempt at pacification,” one consumer wrote. “Once Jeff realized that drivers would actually hit him with hard questions, he turned tail and ran. They don’t care about us, they never will. For now, if we get frustrated and quit, well there’s always a new sucker to sign up. And let’s not forget they hope to replace us all with self driving cars.”

My Take: Poor Jeff Jones.  Uber threw their ridesharing president to the wolves final week in a Facebook chat with drivers and the outcomes have been pretty predictable – a number of speaking factors, some firm hyperlinks, combined in with obscure guarantees and a pinch of nothing new and also you’ve acquired a few half hour (as an alternative of the scheduled hour) of everyone’s wasted time.  That’s not utterly true – I’m positive Jeff Jones was paid very nicely for his time so it wasn’t a waste for him.  My favourite remark from Jones was, “We are fixing the way we communicate with you and provide support to you — these are 100 percent about treating drivers with respect and as people.”

Those phrases sound so good – fixing communication like they might simply name within the plumber to repair the drain.   But why can’t Jones simply admit the reality – Uber has a gargantuan administration drawback vis a vis drivers and there’s no straightforward repair – no value efficient answer.  This is the tech world.  Everything that may probably be automated can be – within the curiosity of chopping prices.  Uber can’t probably handle a worldwide workforce in extra of 500,000 drivers with out algorithms, auto replies, canned feedback, threats, impersonal scores  and mass emails, and do it profitably – in a means that doesn’t really feel patronizing and dehumanizing to drivers.  They can say they’re 100% about treating drivers with respect and as individuals.  But that doesn’t imply they will do it or will do it.  It’s primarily an unimaginable process and Jones must admit that to himself earlier than he ventures into his subsequent on-line chat session with drivers if he needs it’s any higher than this one.

Uber has completely no good cause for protecting tipping out of its app (Quartz)

Sum and Substance: The cringe-worthy second got here 22 minutes right into a Q&A between Uber drivers and Uber ride-sharing president Jeff Jones. “Louise Thompson—love that you’re providing great service…hope you’re getting some awesome compliments!” Jones wrote on Facebook in a stay dialogue with drivers on Feb. 16. Jones was referring to “compliments,” an app function the corporate launched this previous November to let clients depart their drivers notes of appreciation when “5 stars just isn’t enough.” The rebuke from his viewers was swift. “Compliments don’t pay the bills Jeff,” Facebook consumer Ryan Gonzales replied. If solely there have been one thing Uber might do that may assist drivers pay these payments… one thing even nicer than a praise, when 5 stars simply isn’t sufficient. Oh! Uber might make it simpler for patrons to tip. Uber is exclusive amongst ride-hailing and on-demand supply corporations in its complete disdain for in-app gratuities. The firm maintained that ideas have been included in its quoted fares till a proposed class-action settlement final April pressured Uber to make clear that, nicely, truly, they weren’t. Even then, Uber refused so as to add tipping to its app. Instead, it instructed riders who wished to go away a tip that they might achieve this in money.

Uber has absolutely no good reason for keeping tipping out of its app

My Take:  I don’t see how Jeff Jones or some other spokesperson for Uber can look a driver within the eye, until they make this easy repair within the app.  From the start, Uber has discouraged tipping in order to not put passengers in a clumsy place.  But the place else within the service business do you will have this type of mentality?  It’s so friggin easy – simply put tipping within the app – no extra enjoying video games with the drivers by saying one factor and doing one other.

Drivers, what do you consider this week’s prime tales?

-John @ RSG

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John Ince is a former Fortune reporter and Wall Street banker. He has about 1,000 rides beneath his belt driving half time for Uber and Lyft.  He’s writing a e-book about his experiences entitled:  Travels With Vanessa:  A Rideshare Driver Tries To Make Sense of It all – For a sneak peak go to the hyperlink above.

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