Can Uber Take Responsibility For Its Own Shift?


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Screen capture from Bloomberg video

It’s hard to believe things could get even worse for Uber after the past week’s gender discrimination allegations, lawsuits, and resignations. But get worse they did. Yesterday Bloomberg published a video, secretly captured by a dashcam, in which CEO Travis Kalanick gets into an argument with his Uber driver, Fawzi Kamel. Kamel complains that Uber’s price drops have bankrupted him; Kalanick responds, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”

Being CEO of a billion-dollar company is kind of like being president: You’d better assume you’re always on camera. Kalanick issued what he called “a profound apology” in an email to his company, writing, “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.” (Paging Jerry Colonna.)

What happens next to Kalanick and Uber will prove an important test case for Silicon Valley and the gig economy. Can Kalanick tame his demons? Will Uber riders and drivers demand that the company change? Will Uber’s board and investors seek a swap in leadership? When the industry’s belief in the superpowers of hard-driving visionary founders faces off against the growing awareness in startup-land that ethics and culture shape a company’s fate, which will prevail?

Amazon’s Outage Is Everyone’s Headache

If you’re in the software or web industry, the words “AWS is down” mean your day is probably shot. AWS is Amazon Web Services, the pioneering cloud-infrastructure service that handles processing and digital storage tasks for a large slice of the internet’s companies. Yesterday, one big piece of AWS — the S3 storage service, that many publishers and service providers use to stash files — suffered an outage for several hours (Reuters). That impaired a host of useful cloud-based tools like Slack and Medium, institutions like the SEC, and even, ironically, one site dedicated to telling users whether various sites and services are down (GeekWire).

By mid afternoon Amazon had its act together once more, and as usual in these situations, the net went back to its knitting. But each story like this is another wake-up call reminding us that the single-point-of-failure architecture we’ve built on top of the old distributed internet is probably a big mistake (Wired). Someday soon we’re going to miss the resilience we’ve sacrificed for convenience’s sake.

Cities Have Lost Their Monopoly on Diversity

Cities are quilts of diversity and rural areas are havens of (white) uniformity: That’s one of the underlying assumptions we make when we think about the U.S.’s partisan divide today. But, demographically speaking, it’s less and less accurate (The Conversation). Diversity is on the rise in America across every geographic category, with suburbs and farm belts as well as urban centers transforming into multi-racial communities. When you think of our current wave of populist xenophobia as “reactionary,” this is what it is reacting against.

“Between 1965 and 2015, the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in the country dropped from 84 to 62 percent, while the shares of Hispanics and Asians rose,” Penn State professors Jennifer Van Hook and Barrett Lee write, Immigration initially drove these changes, but now that they’re underway, they’re self-sustaining: Today, the younger you look on the demographic charts, the broader a racial distribution you find. That means that even if the U.S. government somehow shuts the door on future immigration, the white-nationalist fever-dream of the alt-right is dead on arrival.

Exponential Growth Is a Dangerous Drug We Should Quit

The prospect of exponential growth is the lure most successful startups use to snag investors. Is it also at the root of everything that’s wrong with tech and related industries today, writes Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson (Signal v. Noise).

When all of our companies are obsessively pursuing the rare opportunity for Facebook-scale growth, Hansson says, “the present is entirely discounted by the lure of the future.” The venture-capital-backed startup system, which throws tons of companies at the wall to see whether any will stick, pushes firms to extremes of extractive behavior as they compete for attention, revenue, and quarterly growth. Other structures, like tax incentives that favor capital gains over steady income, reinforce this dynamic.

We’ve gotten better over time at cloaking this reality in euphemisms — “engagement” sounds a lot better than “capturing eyeballs.” But we still haven’t figured out how to launch innovative businesses without wasting the efforts of founders and investors and exploiting the contributions of workers and customers. What we need, writes Hansson, is “a new crop of companies that are institutionally comfortable with leaving money on the table. Leaving growth on the table. Leaving some conveniences and some progress on the board, in order to lead the world into a better direction.”

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