What Uber’s crisis means for the company

Here is a German version of this article.

After a chain of scandals and negative reports, Uber is dealing with a gigantic PR and trust crisis. The criticism of the company’s culture, business practices and overall business model is mounting and its ability to survive being questioned.

But does the negative press and a damaged reputation actually matter for Uber? Let’s have a look at the five groups that Uber is relying on. Continue Reading

Facebook, Uber and the outsider’s harsh perspective on Silicon Valley

Two companies based in the Silicon Valley (which not geographically but culturally includes San Francisco) have been making headlines over the past days: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his globalization manifesto and Uber was confronted with the extensive, high-profile revelations of a former female engineer about the company’s systematic ignorance of sexism and generally hostile work culture.

Both stories have led to widespread criticism. In the case of Uber, it’s obvious why. But even Facebook’s manifesto, despite having been an active PR effort, was not received too well in the media. When the leader of the arguably most powerful company in the world outlines how he wants to use that power to shape the world, few are getting enthusiastic. Two of the negative responses to these stories stuck out though: They didn’t come from the usual suspects who professionally cover or comment on technology but from representatives of other firms. They also didn’t only focus on the specific matter, but used the occasion for a direct attack on the Silicon Valley way of doing things. Continue Reading

Uber, Lyft and tipping

I rarely use Uber, and even less often its biggest competitor Lyft, since the latter one is only active in the US. However, I attended the two most recent editions of the SXSW Festival in Austin, which gave me the opportunity to compare.

LyftFor the most, the experience is the same. What’s different is that during conversations with Lyft drivers, they end up telling you that they prefer driving for Lyft over Uber. I have yet to hear the opposite. One key reason for that: Lyft encourages riders to tip their drivers after a completed ride, and tipping is done right from within the app. Uber on the other hand has no tipping option and it specifically states that tipping is not necessary.

During my rides with Lyft I realized: Tipping is not only an appreciated option among the drivers, but even I felt much better knowing that I can reward my driver for good service and a nice attitude. Since I usually don’t carry cash, even if I would like to tip an Uber driver (who until now only is allowed to accept cash tips if the passenger insists), I could not. Continue Reading

An alternative interpretation of Uber’s rebranding

Here is a German version of this article.

Uber

When Uber two weeks ago presented its new branding, the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick explained the changes and elimination of the widely recognized “U” icon with the company’s evolution from being “everyone’s private driver” to becoming a transportation network; one not only for moving people, but also for food, goods, and “soon maybe much more”. It’s a reasonable explanation supported by marketing theory – an evolving company might need a rebranding to update and upgrade its perception among the public.

However, there is another possible interpretation of the move and the departure from the iconic design elements that people around the world would recognize: By giving up on the branding that everyone associates with Uber’s – in many parts of the world controversial – people transportation services, the company might try to change the narrative. It does not want to be seen anymore as the company fighting to out-compete the taxi incumbents and being embroiled in legal battles all around the world. Because this turned out to be extremely challenging. Applying the successful US-strategy of aggressive, ethically questionable and rule-breaking behavior has not led to the same success in many other markets. There Uber often plays the role of an obscure (and often illegal) niche player. Europe is just one example. Continue Reading

Once Uber’s self-driving cars arrive, what will be left to hate about the company?

Uber

Uber is one of the most controversial and most hated companies in tech. It is also beloved by many of its regular customers. But a seemingly never-ending series of scandals, hyper aggressive tactics and questionable business practices have brought the San Francisco-based company critics all over the world, from taxi drivers, competitors and journalists to politicians, union leaders and activists.

Most of the criticism involves aspects related to the human drivers of Uber. But Uber plans to abandon its drivers. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has made it clear in the past that his long-term vision is to make use of self-driving cars. A few days ago a report confirmed that the company is already actively testing the potential of autonomous cars.

Today no one knows when Uber’s self-driving cars will become reality and actually hit the streets, ready for passenger pickup. But assuming that not all experts are mistaken, self-driving cars will become reality, and Uber will use them.

That leads to an interesting question: What will be left to hate about Uber once its drivers are gone? Continue Reading

Uber, the network economy and why we need a system upgrade

Last week, Uber made an interesting remark in a blog post announcing the appointment of the company’s first chief security officer. In the second paragraph of the text it said:

“In many ways we’ve become a critical part of the infrastructure of cities. We are both in cyberspace and on city streets all at once; a bridge between bits and atoms. And as we get into tens of millions of rides a week, we continue to challenge ourselves to do even better when it comes to safety and data security”.

Uber sees itself as a “critical part of the infrastructure of cities”. This might initially sound like a hyperbole. But especially in some North American cities, this claim actually appears close to reality. Consider New York, or consider San Francisco. 162.037 drivers have completed at least four or more trips in the U.S. during December alone. So let’s go with the proposition that Uber (along with its competitor Lyft) indeed has become a critical part of the infrastructure of an increasing number of cities. This marks a milestone. Continue Reading