It's sure been a great few months for Lyft. As the underdog to Uber, it can't help but be wallowing in some good old-fashioned schadenfreude as its rival takes hit after media hit. Not that this kind of attention is anything new for Uber--people have been hating on the company for a while, challenging its ethics, its business model, and its so-called valuation. As one clever headline put it, Uber is "disrupting the notion of profit." It's starting to look like Travis Kalanick's "$70 billion" empire might be closer to going under than to going public.
There's so much about Uber that makes no sense from a business standpoint. All it takes is a 45-minute Uber ride in Los Angeles in a comfy BMW 7-series to drive that point home. The bill for myself and a colleague not long ago came to a whopping $26. That's as much as it costs to take a 15-minute cab ride in a beat-up Crown Vic across Lexington, Kentucky, not including tip. Somebody's clearly getting screwed. But then, none of Uber's numbers add up--not the $26 ride, not the 6,700 corporate employees (how many Uber employees does it take to screw in an app?), and especially not the $70 billion Silicon Valley valuation.
Now the company's "bro culture" is being exposed in outlets from The New York Times to Quartz to a disturbing blog post by a former employee, who alleges a pattern of sexual harassment at headquarters. But the coup de grâce for Uber's public image could be the dashboard video released this week. It shows Kalanick in the back seat between two women, thumbing through the phone between his legs, then arguing with one of his own drivers about company policies before snarling "Good luck" and slamming the car door.
Buddy, if you're arguing with the revenue generators of your company, you damn well better get out.
But there was another detail in the Times story that caught my eye, because it highlighted an interesting challenge for workplaces everywhere: At an "all-hands" meeting with employees to address the allegations, uber-illustrious board member Arianna Huffington reportedly vowed that the company would henceforth eliminate the practice of hiring "brilliant jerks." I wonder how she plans to do that? What about that birds-of-a-feather thing?
At Big Ass Solutions we've hired a few jerks over the years; some of them may have even been brilliant--I'm sure their mothers thought so. But before we had established our brand, we were happy to find anyone who wanted to work for us, jerk or not. Now we can be a bit more selective, and luckily, the full-time jerks are long gone. The people who are still here from those days, myself included, are jerks only intermittently. And the people who do the recruiting and interviewing are never jerks, and they make every effort to keep them from infiltrating. Preventing a toxic culture is a lot easier than curing it, as Uber may learn.
Each year, we have thousands of job applicants. Ultimately, less than 3 percent of them are hired. Through rounds of interviews with HR and the different departments, we look for people we think will fit into our collaborative and contrarian culture: people who are more interested in learning new things than in telling others what to do; people who are flexible and curious, maybe even brilliant. Not people who are overbearing or unprofessional, even if they are brilliant.
Basically, it seems to be working, because even though we have many employees I would categorize as brilliant, not one of them's a jerk that I can tell.
Since the embarrassing video came out this week, Kalanick has apologized. He said it showed him that he needed to change. That's great. As the writer James Baldwin said, "Nothing can be changed until it is faced." I hope Kalanick's successful.
After he works on himself, there's a "$70 billion" company that could use some change, too.