In the past week, we've been inundated with highly opinionated commentary on the Uber story. So here's something trying to look at this from a far, without anything to gain one way or the other.
What started out as a drunken comment by an executive (which was just plain stupid both in content and form and is the reason why executives shouldn't drink with journalists), transformed into a huge story growing like a snowball rolling down a hill.
Anything and everything that could make the snowball grow, was used indiscriminately, be it God-mode on the Uber-app, some French stupid and questionable promotion (likely unapproved by Uber global), some old blogposts from Uber, the male dominated culture in Silicon Valley and probably much more. The kitchen sink-approach.
In the midst of this are two people covering this, the editor of Buzzfeed and the owner of Pando Daily.
Now, right off the bat I want to point out that tech culture is horribly male dominated (which is a big problem), that valuations of companies are kind of nuts and that many companies are incredibly arrogant.
But let's forget the tangents and try to look at the story before the snowball started rolling and attaching all sorts of negative stories people could dig up on Uber and look at two things:
- Can you trust what was written?
- Does Uber have a problem?
1. Buzzfeed and later Pando Daily are the key sources here, and it was all very personal. What was said, has been stated multiple times as being said in a drunken state and the inferred meaning of the statements becomes a classic he-said-she-said. So it's hard to know. One side says it was obviously not meant seriously, the other side infers it was a downright threat.
We will never know what was said, but the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The Uber-employee is likely saying the flippant comment to mess with the journalist/editor and the journalist/editor likely takes it all too far and exaggerates a bit.
How do I know this? Well, I don't. But what I do know, is that I've worked as a journalist for many years, up until I entered the business world a few years back. So I've seen many times how much a story can get stretched and boxed in, trying to tell a coherent story. If it isn't 100% true, doesn't always matter as much to some. A quote can be slightly adjusted, and some small things can be added, subtly shifting the story one way or the other.
But what's very interested here, is what happens when you are on the other side of the coin, and some journalist writes about you.
Well, I've had a few stories where I was quoted or mentioned, and it's never right. Even benign stories in which I'm just one of many sources make me feel weird. It doesn't feel right, because it was stretched ever so slightly, and adjusted etc.
So why does this matter here?
Well, Pando Daily and Buzzfeed has now become activists. Pando Daily have called for people being fired. Afterall, both of their businesses are case studies on how to build up modern newsrooms benefiting from Facebook-style attention. They need attention.
This subject is very hard to write about, since one of the lead proponents is also "the victim" of supposed harassment. The reason I think those claims may be somewhat exaggerated, is that they can press charges, if they felt they were threatened, but as far as I know, no such charges have been filed. If the situation is so bad that the Pandodaily founder is afraid for her family, the only apt response is to go to the police. It's not been done.
But what happens when they become part of the story? They get the same treatment, and people question their motives. One of the motives is that their investor Andreessen-Horowitz, is a big investor in Lyft, the Uber-competitor. Another is that a company like Pandodaily is just barely breaking even (as per statements by the founder). They need any boost they can get. Enough to stretch the story to build more views? We don't know. But what we do know is that they aggressively reject anyone questioning their motives. But at the same time they are extrapolating on Uber's motives and questioning that.
Much like always, I think the truth lay somewhere in between. They are clearly focusing on a story they are a part of and they're probably well aware of the potential benefit their owner will have if Uber gets stunted growth. I never expect anyone to outright say that, people just know stuff like this. Like you don't bring up the bosses ex-wife or that you are always a bit nicer to your boss than you may really want. It's just the nature of power.
2. If Uber has a problem, is really Uber's problem.
It's kind of arrogant to presume that some outside journalist can demand executives be fired.
The board of Uber is very professional and will fire anyone damaging the brand. They haven't yet.
But before you say if Uber has a problem or not, think about how they started and how they grew. Right out of the gate, they were threatened with jail time and giant fines by San Francisco. They decided to not believe in it, and just ignored them. That was the first month.
And this way has been their very arrogant way of moving forward. They're fighting every single city they set up shop in, but the local demand is so great, they they've found a solution in almost every city and country they've set up shop in.
I've met Uber employee number 1, Ryan Graves, which was the first hire ever after the founders. He is the most impressive person I've ever met. Could he be a nice friend? I'm sure. Could be perceived as a arrogant bro by some? Maybe. But so what? Arrogance is okay when you're the fastest growing company in human history.
At the end of the day, all you can do is vote with your wallet. Don't like it? Don't use it. If Uber can't get out of the trouble they're in, the board will for sure put in a new CEO and new management team. If you feel threatened by anyone from the company, you should go to the police.
But Uber needs to understand that they are more IBM than they are the Uber of 2011, and they need to grow up. Because if you want to keep your job and your valuation, you also at least need to keep some of your reputation.