Sometimes the day-two and week-two takes on big stories are more valuable to read than the breaking coverage. Here’s a couple of examples.
For Investors, Travis Kalanick Was Great, Until He Wasn’t
Before he became the icon of toxic management and bad-boss behavior that he is today, Travis Kalanick was, in the eyes of the venture capitalists who funded his company, the perfect startup CEO. He had the vision. He had the hard-charging spirit, the “won’t take no for an answer” stance, the “I’ll do anything to win” determination. As long as VCs value “manic, headstrong sociopaths,” we’ll be stuck with more Kalanicks, writes Adrianne Jeffries in The Outline.
Uber’s position as the tech-industry’s most embarrassing example of out-of-control bro culture, tolerance for sexual harassment, and growth-over-ethics tactics has sparked a new debate: What can, and should, its customers — that is, most of us — do? In The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo urges readers who are upset by the company’s behavior to stop using its convenient services and find alternatives. He doesn’t use the word “boycott,” but that’s essentially what he’s advocating.
The same digital tools and networks that power Uber itself could be turned against it, but that hasn’t happened yet in any effectively organized way. A #deleteuber campaign last winter raised some noise but apparently did not put a dent in Uber’s growth, writes Brian Feldman in New York. Ride-sharing is a commodity business; Uber and its largest competitor, Lyft, charge roughly the same prices; and Uber’s size gives it the edge on wait times.
Don’t paint every company in the Valley with Uber’s tarred brush.
Now that the other shoe has dropped, and Uber’s CEO has been (somewhat) restrained, it’s time for the schadenfreude. Given Uber’s remarkable string of screwups and controversies, it’s cominginthick, in particular from the East coast. And while I believe Uber deserves the scrutiny — there are certainly critical lessons to be learned — the hot takes from many media outlets are starting to get lazy.
Here’s why. Uber does not reflect the entirety of the Valley, particularly when it comes to how companies are run. As I wrote in The Myth of the Valley Douchebag, there are far more companies here run by decent, earnest, well meaning people than there are Ubers. But of course, the Ubers get most of the attention, because they confirm an easy bias that all of tech is off the rails, and deserves to be taken down a notch.
“Old boys’ club” is more than a figure of speech. It must be an actual place on the map — one where an Uber board member named David Bonderman has apparently spent his life.
That’s the only conceivable explanation for what went down at Uber’s all-hands meeting yesterday. In the middle of this staff-wide event — called specifically to address the company’s traumatic crisis of sexual harassment and bro-culture misbehavior — Bonderman thought it was a fine idea to interrupt his fellow board member Arianna Huffington and crack a joke about how women talk too much. (Listen yourself — it’s at 6:40 on this recording at Yahoo Finance.)
A conversation with workers on the front lines of the on demand economy
What happens when millions of jobs are automated? This question was a major theme of the NewCo Shift Forum earlier this year, and to insure we heard from all sides, we gathered three representatives from the on demand workforce to hear about their experiences first hand. Read on to hear their insights into the future of work.
John Battelle: Concern about the future of jobs, and the impact of automation and AI is a major theme of this event. As we were putting together the program, it struck me that we can sit here and talk about all this and wave our hands. But shouldn’t we have the people whose jobs are actually being impacted be on the stage to talk about it?
Reputation and track record really matter in a crisis. Say you have a ton of credibility and good will with your partners and contractors, and one day it turns out that an “accounting error” had led you to underpay them. You can probably just apologize, pay everyone what you owe, and move on.
Uber faced just this kind of problem this week — but unfortunately for the company, its reserves of good will are exhausted. For years it seems that Uber has been taking its 25 percent cut not only from the base fare but also from the taxes on each ride, which in New York are considerable (The Wall Street Journal) — and as a result it has shortchanged its drivers. Now the company says it’s going to make its drivers whole, and the amounts can add up. Recode posted a receipt for one driver’s $7000 refund, and the Journal says the total cost to Uber is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Unicorns musn’t fall into the trap of the one trick pony
In the last 8 months I have been to see a lot of companies, big and small, and almost always the conversation has meandered from Google to the current set of Unicorns and what the future portends. I thought of writing all my thoughts down, then realized I have too many — so I’ll do it in phases. Here is the first stab — additions and edits welcome.
Having had the opportunity of working with Larry Page, I have been privileged — privileged because I got to work for one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world, and because I was there when the company’s culture, team and organization were being shaped.
Uber’s troubles deepened yesterday when a judge ruled that the lawsuit brought against the company by Google-owned Waymo should go to trial. Uber wanted to handle the dispute in arbitration instead, which is quicker and quieter. In a separate and more ominous move, the judge asked a federal prosecutor to review the case for possible criminal charges (Business Insider).
Waymo says Uber stole its autonomous-vehicle technology. Normally, disputes over intellectual property and trade secrets are arcane and dull matters, but this one is drawing a spotlight. That’s not only because of the dramatic nature of the charges — that Anthony Levandowski smuggled Google-owned blueprints to Otto, his own self-driving truck startup, which Uber then acquired. It’s also because Uber has built such a powerful reputation for fighting mean that the charges sound pretty plausible.
On Twitter and seemingly everywhere else, the term “late capitalism” has become a shorthand label for products, ideas, and stories that reflect the absurd excesses and ironies of the contemporary marketplace — like Nordstrom’s $400 jeans caked with a patina of mud, or the Bahamas music fest that descended into refugee-camp squalor. But where did “late capitalism” come from, and what does it really mean?
In The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey traces an intellectual biography of the term, which first emerged among theorists of the left in the early 20th century. Originally it applied to the postwar era of dominant megacorporations — the age of “what’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Then the Frankfurt School critics adopted it as a catch-all label for the way modern business co-opts the symbols and ideals of a rebellious culture and recycles them as marketing.
People generally do whatever they can to minimize their tax payments. If the Trump administration’s new tax proposals ever make their way into law, we’ll all have one big new tax loophole to leap through (The New York Times): turn yourself into a company.
President Trump wants small business, family businesses, and indeed all businesses that are currently organized as “pass-through entities” to pay the same low (15 percent) tax rate he wants to charge all businesses. A pass-through is any company that passes its earnings through to the owners for them to report on their personal tax returns. This includes everyone from your Uber driver all the way up to Trump’s own real estate conglomerate.