I have never been more happy that my primary day job isn’t being a tech journalist anymore than I was during the run up to Uber’s IPO.
I have simply said everything I have to say about Uber. Pando started reporting on the cracks in this company’s culture, rhetoric, and business model way back in 2012. We were the first to detail cracks in their background checks, their dangerous misogyny, that they wouldn’t win in China, and on and on and on. And we did it despite threats against us, my family, and our business. We were always right. We are still right. What we are seeing now is more evidence of how right we were.
What more is there to say?
Ok, one thing it turns out. How exactly does a company as aggressive, as scorched earth, as pugilistic, as heavily funded as Uber now get cast as a poor little victim?
No sooner did stocks fall than did the Silicon Valley faithful trot out thought pieces and defenses of Uber as a misunderstood “next Amazon.” If anyone is with Uber, it’s the Valley elite. Perennial outsiders like Mark Cuban and Roger McNamee were two of the only ones saying that the company had a botched IPO because of its own actions and its own underlying fundamentals. Much of the rest of the world was desperate to blame someone else for Uber’s fall. Anyone.
Tuesday, the conversation switched to blaming underwriter Morgan Stanley. But perhaps the most outrageous “poor Uber” narrative was a suggestion on Axios that President Donald Trump may have timed his trade war with China just to mess with Uber. Nevermind, Uber’s shares stayed down even as the markets turned up last Friday, and that it lost another $7 billion in market cap on Monday.
“Uber the victim” is a fascinating and ironic hot take for so many respected business journalists, VCs and Valley insiders to be taking. A company that played fast and loose with rider safety, gaslighting its own customers when they reported assaults. A company that allegedly stole billions of dollars in trade secrets from rivals. A company that pioneered a “disruption” ethos of breaking laws in order to remake them. A company that a federal judge said engaged in “possible criminal actions” against critics. A company that has continually baited-and-switched drivers when it comes to pay. A company that allegedly obtained medical records of a customer sexually assaulted using its service in order to attempt to smear her. A company that refused to buy leather jackets for its female employees because they didn’t employ enough of them to get a price break. A company that, yes, threatened my family to silence Pando exposing all this and more. A company that—despite all of this—broke all known records of private company money raised by a startup.
How do you raise that much capital from that many investors, get that many second chances, and still get to play the victim? Put another way: If Uber is David, who the hell is Goliath?
If there were anything funny about Uber’s treatment of employees, critics, and drivers, the jokes would write themselves. “Oh, you were told you’d make one amount of money at the end of your journey but actually made far less? What’s that like?”
We’ve written before about the strange infantilization of powerful, “genius,” white male tech founders. They are granted almost unimpeachable divine rights to lead their companies no matter what when they are on their game, and yet, when they stumble, the excuse is that they are too young, too impetuous, they just didn’t know any better. Somehow the lack of a COO/Nanny was the problem, not the founder’s actions. Powerful billionaires do the darndest things!
It’s one thing to continue to infantilize Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, a father and a man in his 30s who has run one of the largest public companies for a decade with almost unprecedented control. At least Zuckerberg came to public attention when he was young. It was another thing when the Valley infantilized Kalanick as simply “needing a Sheryl” to keep him inline. Kalanick: A man with nearly unprecedented board control who’d shown a refusal to listen to anyone and who was also approaching middle age with grey hair at the time those hot takes were written.
Don’t believe me? Here’s one blast from the past that actually argued Uber didn’t need “a Sheryl” but Sheryl Sandberg herself, cast here as a magical Silicon Valley Mary Poppins, not an accomplished leader in her own right: “Sandberg has already proven that she can guide an immature young man into a leadership role and help create a company with a market cap of nearly $400 billion. She would have her work cut out for her: Zuckerberg was only 23 when Facebook went public, Kalanick may be more set in his bad ways. But then again, Sandberg, who’s 47, wouldn’t take any guff.”
That’s the gender dynamics of Silicon Valley in one quote: No matter how accomplished, women are here simply to reign in male founders who are actively and recklessly destroying shareholder value.
That infantilization of the middle aged tech bro is weird enough. But even I didn’t see that becoming the cover story for Uber writ large in the wake of a failed public bid.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- I have always wanted a Vespa but my husband says it’s too dangerous… is he right?
- How do you spend “family time” with your teenagers?