Uber’s Annus Horribilis Continues

Fortunes can change quickly, even in business. This has hardly ever been truer than for the once “uber-popular” (pardon the pun) Uber. In 2017 things couldn’t have gone worse. Public perception when downhill fast, and many Uber drivers seem less than happy at this point.

Trouble started back in February and culminated in the resignation of Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick at the end of June. A string of disasters led to 200’000 users deleting their Uber app from their devices. But what went wrong? Let’s look at the main fiascos Uber suffered this year.

January 2017 – 200’000 Uber Users Delete the App

When Donald Trump’s travel ban was introduced, cab drivers refused to pick up passengers from JFK airport in protest. Uber drivers didn’t follow suit and #DeleteUber was born. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick’s condemnation of the ban was more than lukewarm, in fact, at that time he was part of Donald Trump’s business advisory group. Weeks later, he withdrew from the group in an effort to limit the PR damage to the company.

February 2017 – Publication of Blog Alleging Sexual Harassment

In February, Susan Fowler, one of Uber’s engineers published a blog post describing sexual harassment and gender bias at the company. In detail, she outlined how she was propositioned and harassed as well as how HR failed to adequately deal with her complaints.

Reacting to the blog post, Kalanick vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into all matters, stressing that Uber would endeavour to create a just workplace and would not tolerate such behaviour.

February 2017 – Damning New York Times Article About Uber’s Workplace Culture

Later the same month, the New York Times published an article, suggesting that Susan Fowler’s experiences were not isolated incidents. According to the paper, other former employees had advised HR and management of similar incidents to no avail

Kalanick responded by having a former US Attorney investigate all sexual harassment claims.

February 2017 – Google Lawsuit

At the end of February, Google filed a lawsuit against Uber. The suit was brought by Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit. The group alleged that one of Google’s engineers stole designs. This engineer went on to become Uber’s self-driving car boss. He is believed to have defended copying files, saying he did so to work from home.

Details of the lawsuit were featured in a Bloomberg Businessweek article.

February 2017 – Video of Kalanick Arguing with a Driver Goes Viral

Driver unrest came to the fore when one of the Uber drivers uploaded a video showing an argument between an Uber driver and Kalanick.

While many cab drivers had been toying with the idea of finding out how to drive Uber Black and join the large group of seemingly happy drivers, lately, Uber’s published hourly rates have also been a matter of controversy with many believing hourly rates to be much lower than suggested by the company.

March 2017 –Greyball Tool Reports

The New York Times reported in March that Uber was using an app to fool officials in cities like LA, Boston, and Paris. The app allegedly allows drivers to avoid officials.

In response, Uber said it was using the Greyball app to protect drivers against undesirable passengers.

April – June 2017 – A String of High-Profile Resignations

Apart from Travis Kalanick, seven other high-profile Uber staff members have resigned and it will be interesting to see if Kalanick’s resignation will herald a turnaround for the company. Five top investors demanded his resignation because they felt his position had become untenable.

What Next for Uber?

Uber’s woes look set to continue for quite some time, but investors will hope that Kalanick’s resignation will go some way toward protecting the once so popular brand. Despite phenomenal growth, Uber has been recording significant losses and many believe the company will struggle to turn its fortunes around especially after so many PR disasters.

A replacement for Travis Kalanick has not been chosen yet, and the company is currently under the leadership of 14 executives.

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