Uber has repeatedly screwed up. Its CEO, President, CMO, and CFO are gone. Now Uber cofounder and chairman Garrett Camp says things are going to get better. Sorry, Garrett, but hoping is not a viable plan.
Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” At Uber, both are broken. The win-at-all-costs culture has generated a constant stream of bad behavior, from evading law enforcement personnel to underpaying drivers to pervasive sexual harassment. And the strategy means that Uber loses money on every ride. This is a company that investors have valued at $68 billion, with 2 million drivers giving 65 million rides every year — and one that lost $2.8 billion last year.
Now that CEO Travis Kalanick is out, pundits are suggesting everyone from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to former Ford CEO Alan Mulally to take over. Any mythical candidate that can solve this mess is too smart to take on the challenge.
Let’s take a look at Camp’s mild set of prescriptions to solve the problem.
Garrett Camp’s Medium post: weasel words and platitudes
Garrett Camp just posted “Uber’s path forward” on Medium. Does he say anything? I’ll break it down, using bold to highlight all the meaningless platitudes — sentences or phrases that, while true of Uber, tell us what everyone already knows. I’ll show weasel words in italic.
Uber’s path forward
With everything happening recently, I wanted to share my thoughts on how we got here, and a path forward.
Translation: (Clears throat.)
Like many of you, recent events have left me upset and deeply reflective. When we designed the Uber prototype app back in 2009, we were just focused on creating an app that would make it easier to get around. And in just 7 years the Uber team has turned a simple idea into one of the fastest growing and impactful companies of all time.
Translation: We just built a popular app. How did things get so screwed up?
All companies have growing pains. And because Uber grew so fast these growing pains are much more serious. Over the years we have neglected parts of our culture as we have focused on growth. We have failed to build some of the systems that every company needs to scale successfully. But what matters now is that we know what needs to be changed. We must update our core values, listen better to employees and riders, and prioritize our drivers. The team at Uber has some of the best problem solvers in the world, and we must now apply our talents to solving these issues through clear actions.
Translation: Our main problem is drivers. Drivers, and . . . our two main problems are drivers and riders. And values, and systems, and . . . Amongst our problems are drivers, employees, riders, core values, listening, culture, and a fanatical dedication to growth.
A friend recently asked me, “What went wrong?” and the answer is that we had not listened well enough to those who got us here… our team and especially our drivers. In a highly competitive market it is easy to become obsessed with growth, instead of taking the time to ensure you’re on the right path. Now is that time… to pause for a moment and think about what really matters here: providing 65 million riders transportation when they need it, giving 2 million drivers flexible work options, and creating a company culture we are proud of.
Translation: We drove into a ditch while exceeding the speed limit.
Last week I heard a story that really stuck with me. A college professor made a comment that “Uber has liberated grandmothers worldwide” based off the mobility Uber has brought to her mother. And it made me remember that while many mistakes have been made, Uber has changed millions of people’s lives for the better, bringing mobility to those who need it most. It’s important to remember the positive impact Uber has on the world, and how important our work here is.
Translation: Regardless of how we treat women, drivers, regulators, law enforcement personnel, and each other, grandmothers like us. We’re not all bad.
Uber has become a global service providing roughly 15 million rides per day across 500 cities, and international markets are growing as fast as ever. People love the product itself, and they see companies like Uber as the future. Which is why we must now hold ourselves to a higher standard going forward. We’ve formed a new executive leadership team, and the board is actively recruiting new directors and talented executives.
Translation: Uber is big and important, so we will try to fix it.
I believe that our business can have 10x the impact it has today — once we have additional leadership and training in place, and evolve our culture to be more inclusive and respectful. We should still push hard for what we believe in, and be much more collaborative going forward.
Garrett Camp, co-founder.
Translation: I want Uber to be better. I want Uber to be nice.
Words like these don’t matter
I don’t know Garrett Camp. But based on what he has written, he seems like a nice person. It’s hard to reconcile this with Uber’s record of seven years of reprehensible behavior.
Uber has consistently and obsessively put customers first. This is admirable. But you cannot sustain it if you mistreat drivers, systematically fail to treat women fairly, and break rules. A system that works in this way breaks down catastrophically. Rebuilding it is a monumental task.
Can you really say that Camp’s mild and hopeful letter acknowledges the magnitude of the challenge or lays out a path forward that gives you confidence?
Hard situations need hard actions and hard words. Forcing out Kalanick was a hard action. Until we find out who’s taking charge and what that person will do to create long-term change, mild words like this don’t help much.