I cancelled my Uber account – not just by deleting their app from my phone but also going through the painful, hard to find process of requesting that they remove my account completely (more about that in a moment).
Just to be clear, I didn’t cancel because I disliked their ride service. I loved using Uber. I talked my friends into trying it out. I celebrated their scrappy disruption of the archaic taxi industry. I was whole-heartedly rooting for the success of their company.
I have made the decision to not use Uber because I am holding myself accountable to no longer support companies that, through inaction, show their tacit approval for badly behaving executives – on or off the record.
This morning’s post by Fred Wilson inspired me to finally articulate exactly what was bothering me most about the entire Uber debacle: Somewhere along the line, we – as a culture – started glorifying the cut-throat, winner takes all behavior in entrepreneurs that make investors wealthy – and then have the audacity to be shocked when that same mindset seeps out in these wunderkind entrepreneurs’ personal lives. If we don’t want jerk tech, bro-culture, or bullying as a culture in startups, we need to decide that we won’t glorify or support those who are clawing their way to the top in a brutal anything-goes melee. We have to believe that no amount of talent, skill, vision, brilliance or drive is worth overlooking this kind of behavior.
As a woman entrepreneur, I definitely have my own share of exposure to bro-culture and sexist comments. Some of it I dismiss as unfiltered ignorance by well-meaning folks who are basically good but still holding on to some exclusionary mindsets. Some I ignore because it isn’t always my battle to fight, and tilting at windmills isn’t nearly as effective or productive as it may feel in the moment. But sometimes something is so over the top or happens often enough that it cannot be ignored.
For me, Uber hit that point over the weekend. It’s not like Uber didn’t already have a reputation for embracing underhanded, mean-spirited tactics against their competitors which crossed far over the line of being forgiven as guerrilla marketing tactics. Even though I hated to see what I perceived as a social good company stoop to bad behavior, I was willing to look the other way. It was simple and easy to use and made getting around in Los Angeles or New York City so much more fun than the uncomfortable back seat of a cab. Somehow when I watched for my Uber driver to arrive, I felt like I was part of an underground system (Is that you? Pssst? Do you have the password?) It was kind of fun sneaking around and breaking the rules of what the system said I had to do to get a ride in a city. It felt cool, kind of hip. I liked it, so I forgave the team this naughty way of gaining marketshare from their competitors.
Uber skimmed the headlines briefly from time to time with other stories of bad behavior or underhanded business practices, and even when news broke about violating their users’ privacy as a very creepy party trick, I only shook my head in disgust. Oh, grow up, I thought. Stop acting like a bunch of middle school boys spying on the girls from behind the fence. It seemed immature and reckless but not something that I thought they couldn’t get beyond once their team matured into more thoughtful leaders.
But yesterday all of that changed for me. When the second most powerful individual in a company with a valuation nearing $4 billion lays out a ratherdetailed plan of how the company should spend $1 Million of their capital investigating the lives of any journalist – and their families – who have the audacity to actually write a negative piece about the company, I think it’s a pretty good indicator that Uber’s executive team has lost a bit of that hunger that gave them the early edge and landed firmly in the land of arrogance. When they can joke about blowing that much investment – other people’s money – on something so predatory, that’s just disgusting.
Now Uber wants us to forgive it all as a mistake since, poor guy, he had no idea he was on the record. Here’s a news flash for any entrepreneur who maintains close friendships with journalists: true news hounds will almost always be a journalist first and buddy second. Don’t ever assume you’re off the record when you’re sitting at the table with journalists – no matter how many bottles of wine or cases of beer have been consumed in the name of camaraderie. If you start laying out a road map for your own planned creepy behavior – whether its in theory or with true ill intent, don’t be surprised when it’s in the news the next day.
If Uber’s CEO had immediately stepped into the public eye and addressed the issue, it might have helped. Had he said – at a news conference or press release instead of his eventual tweet storm of half apologies, half justifications – that he was appalled, offended, or whatever emotional word he chose to use, it might have helped. He could have even had his colleague’s back. None of us want to CEO willing to hang one of their own out to dry without investigating fully what actually happened, so even if he had asked us to be patient while he got to the bottom of the issue, it might have been enough. But when there was silence, it was more than easy to fill in the gaps – with all of the news stories that had been building on each other over the past few months.
And so, despite how much I enjoyed using their service, I have cancelled my account. By the way, if you decide you want to do so as well, don’t spend any time hunting around in the app for the magic button that gives you the power to remove yourself from their system. It doesn’t exist. And don’t search through pages on their website, either. Uber doesn’t let you remove your own account. Then again, they’ve already proven to be poor stewards of data privacy, so we shouldn’t be all that shocked. What I had to do was send in a request for help. It went like this:
Just like many of the ‘bad boys’ who are the darlings of the entertainment world because of their redeeming qualities, Uber was able to get a pass from me for far longer than they should have. But I’ve realized that when I give my money to companies that not only ignore the negative effects of unchecked bro-culture but actively embrace dirty tactics to get the advantage, I have become part of the problem that I am working to eradicate. Even if it’s inconvenient, and even if I don’t get to feel like I’m part of an exciting, hip movement disrupting a stodgy old industry the next time I need a ride in a different city, I’m okay with that. I really, really am ok with that.