From the sharing economy to some slippery monopoly #UberGate
As an entrepreneur in the collaborative economy, I am passionate about Uber. The American company offers a real time carpooling service using a mobile app, and is probably the ultimate example of connecting individuals based on peer to peer. When Uber landed in Brussels, I was both a fan and a militant (afterwards, not being a major taxi customer, I only could test the service twice during this short period.) I like new ideas that offer practical and innovative solutions. Now, many aspiring entrepreneurs pride themselves in being “the Uber of this” or “the Uber of that” (from the simple exchange of services, to the lending of tools, or even ironing). Uber is one of those comets that grows like crazy and which is backed by major Californian investors (ranging from Google Ventures to Ashton Kutcher). The company is spreading every day from city to city across all five continents, and is diversifying its services. Last week, the giant was still evaluated at 18 billion dollars. This is certain to displease taxis, criticized mainly for their poor business attitude.
Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
In the rosiest of dreams, there still was from the beginning this "je ne sais quoi" that had been bothering me… As part of my project, my partners, coaches, and friends are constantly asking me to clarify my “vision.” And this drives me crazy… “If you know me you’ll understand my vision” would be much simpler… (And building a business turns out to be another matter). Why do people go to Wal-Mart rather than Target? Why, given equal time and distances, do people choose to take the national road rather than a highway? In the sharing economy, even if we are talking about two multinational companies with very sharp fangs, why do I prefer Airbnb to Uber? In fact (and only idiots never change their opinions), I never liked much Uber’s image (avoiding subjectivity, I would begin by their website, their app, their design, what I can read here and there and what inspires me, or does not…) In fact, Uber shows a certain arrogance. Recently, as an example, and although the decision is questionable, the authorities have been seizing Uber’s vehicles in Brussels. No problem, the company covers its drivers (and pays for their vehicles) and simply continues its operations (like a modern version of the horse turned bulldozer in the Wild Wild West.)
This week, the straw broke the camel’s back
In short, at a dinner earlier this week, Emil Michael, the Vice President of the company, apparently said that he wanted to hire a team that would investigate journalists (=likely to criticize Uber) in order to "dig into their private lives"! He was particularly aiming at Sarah Lacy, head of the American webzine PandoDaily (which I very much like). In a very awkward way, CEO Travis Kalanick then somehow tried to apologize, but the audience went for the head of the Vice President. There was a tweetstorm which, on the one hand, defended women (Uber has made headlines as being potentially sexist/misogynistic) and on the other hand, sought to prove that Lacy is not the most neutral of journalists. Finally (and this is common sense speaking) the storm turned into a tornado and Uber was finally denounced for its numerous questionable practices and various controversies (dangerous driving, passenger harassment, sexist advertisements, underhanded blows to the competition, terrible price increases depending on demand, “God view” – that is, the presumed access to all of your travel information by employees…) We can note the intervention of Democratic Senator Al Franken who is now asking for Uber to respond, or blogger Robert Scoble, who suggested to Kalanick to leave his throne. Only the future can tell us what will happen. I love the phrase “(company) culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
For my part, I was outraged by Uber's Vice President’s words. I may still be living with choir boys in Disneyland (or rather in EuroDisney), but without having been able to say it, more and more things were bugging me. As an actor in the collaborative economy, and even if I am somewhat jealous of Uber’s success, their attitude is seriously dirtying the entire movement. As an entrepreneur in the sharing economy, it is already so hard to convince new users of the merits of our services that Uber has just set us a full three steps back with its big oversized shoes. In addition, this kind of talk goes directly against the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression, and somehow humanity.
On Tuesday, I followed the recommendations to #deleteuber and deleted the application. I invite you, should you be using it, to do so. On Thursday, following my request by e-mail, I received confirmation by Uber that the entirety of my account had been deleted (and I will not turn around walking down the street after posting this.)
Fortunately, and to conclude, what I particularly like about capitalism is the notion of competition. If you are looking for an alternative to Uber in Paris or Brussels, I invite you to download my friend’s app, Djump (in which I do not hold any shares).
Internationally, there is also Lyft, Sidecar, and many others…
Long live the collaborative economy!