Uber Controversy: What Does a Tech Leader Look Like?

March 6, 2017 - 3 minutes read

What does a mobile app leader look like? Ask any group of iPhone app developers these days, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is likely to come up in conversation — but not in the positive light the company enjoyed in their early days as a luxury rideshare service. Thanks to allegations of condoning sexual harassment in the workplace and a viral video of Kalanick dressing down a driver complaining about dropping take-home pay, the company has quickly become the poster child of the dark side of the startup world.

Said the driver from the viral video, “it’s a trickle-down way of treating people, and it really hit me personally and made me see that.” While Kalanick quickly issued a public apology, the public display of a top tech tycoon loosing his temper at a low-pay pseudo-employee has done serious damage to the company’s brand identity, especially coming so shortly on the heels of the #DeleteUber backlash. (NYC App developers were widely disappointed when they declined to take part in the transportation shutdown at JFK during Trump’s controversial immigration order.)

The chaos is good news from one perspective, though: competitor Lyft has been capitalizing on the situation since #DeleteUber started trending, and recently broke through to capture a full tenth of the market, as compared to Uber. This leaves Lyft the second-place market owner by far, but the fact that such avoidable mis-steps let a titan like Uber loose that much ground so quickly holds valuable lessons for app developers and startup founders.

Particularly in the on-demand and sharing economy app marketplaces, maintaining ethical boundaries and treating workers — even “contract workers” like rideshare drivers — with respect goes a long way. In many cities, riders will find Uber and Lyft drivers answering calls for both apps. When it comes to pleasing riders, mobile app developers will note that Uber’s main advantage is ubiquitous recognition. When it comes to courting drivers, on the other hand, Lyft is winning by a landslide, thanks to it’s friendlier attitude towards drivers and built-in tipping feature.

Interestingly, in spite of data showing that driving for Lyft ultimately nets workers less cash, drivers report a preference purely based on attitude and positive company image.

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