At a techie friend’s instance, I did briefly consider becoming an Uber driver earlier this year. With the print media offering bylines as remuneration, it certainly seemed like an attractive option and by that I mean getting paid to do a job.
The possibility of becoming an Uber driver lasted about five seconds or may be it was six. I couldn’t tell you for sure. The point is it was given up almost instantaneously. It would have made no sense to become a kind of taxi driver for me anyway because my sense of direction is embarrassingly poor. I take two rounds around my home before finally concluding that I have reached home. (Comedic exaggeration).
Now that I read the kind of rough press Uber is getting over some of its problems, I am happy that I chose to remain an unpaid or underpaid print journalist. Speaking of journalists, Uber’s latest problem has to do with comments by Uber’s senior vice president of business Emil Michael that his company should dig up damaging personal stories about journalists who write negative stories about his company.
According to Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, “Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.”
Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick apologized for his executive’s comments in a series of tweets. “Emil’s comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company,” Kalanick said. He also said this: “His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals….His duties here at Uber do not involve communications strategy or plans and are not representative in any way of the company approach.”
I suppose that is contrite enough in so much as companies can be contrite. The story has created the latest round of woes for this upstart of a startup company that is shaking up the world of transportation. There have been stories about how some Uber drivers, who are not employed by Uber but are part of a voluntary service for hire, behave rather badly with their passengers. There are also reports about how unusually aggressive Uber has been in trying to grab a big slice of the public transportation market.
Uber is one of those weird Silicon Valley startup success stories where a new idea/company spirals out of control in terms of its valuation because of its perceived value. It has raised $1.5 billion and is now valued at $17 billion. Try, if you can, to understand this. Uber does not own a fleet of cars/taxis and its drivers are random car owners who have the Uber app. It is a wickedly smart use of the Internet and mobile phone revolution.
During those five or six seconds that I considered becoming an Uber driver, I found out how it works. You have a car and you are going somewhere. Using the Uber app after signing up on its site you get potential ride requests on the route you are taking. You get paid for offering that ride and Uber gets a percentage of it. That is what I understood at the time. It is like paid car pool. The Uber piece comes in in terms of letting ride seekers with the Uber app know where potential Uber drivers are nearby who can pick them up at short notice.
The idea has some value for sure, particularly in major cities around the world where people are constantly moving and looking for convenient transport at any given time. I am not sure if that value should be $17 billion. But then I am the wrong guy to assess that since I continue to be an underpaid print journalist.
Since the latest Uber controversy involves my tribe, it might be worthwhile to let the company know that most journalists’ personal lives are their professional lives. So if Uber wants to dig up dirt, it should go right ahead. It should remember that journalists dig up dirt for a living and Uber, under Michael’s fantasy plan, would have done it out of spite. You decide who would have won. Spite is short-lived.