Given Uber's prominence in the early days of the collaborative economy, it may seem odd for me to suggest, but I believe a significant decline in Uber's business may be terrific for the long-term interests of the collective consumption movement. My reasoning is that the sharing economy is not simply about more collaborative products but more collaborative companies. Viewed through this lens, Uber simply has not earned its premiere status in this new business movement.
Uber's embarrassments have been many and frequent, such as:
- Failing to stand by riders attacked by drivers,
- Being accused of misleading customers on how thoroughly drivers are screened,
- Forcing recurrent price decreases on increasingly angry drivers,
- Overly aggressive and dubious competitive practices,
- Sexist marketing programs,
- Encouraging drivers to take the risk of subprime loans despite the volatility of driver income,
- Making inflated and easily deunked claims about driver income, and
- Invading customers' privacy with a "God View"of all user activities.
All of these blunders occured before this week's embarrassing dustup over threats to dig up dirt against critical journalists and their families. Then, as if Uber's crap week needed icing on the clueless cake, the company's CEO, Travis Kalanick, compared his company's woes to those of the residents of Ferguson, MO.
|Travis Kalanick (Photo Credit: Silicon Prairie News)|
If Uber's leaders and investors are unwilling to foster the sort of culture consumers want and expect, then perhaps it is time for consumer action. There is a small but growing trend among people deleting Uber from their smartphones. Comedian John Hodgman wrote a blog post saying "I just can't get into the car with those guys any more." Tech writer Nilofer Merchant is also deleting her Uber app. I have deleted mine, and you can too.
Yes, Uber is an astounding service, but is that really enough? Study after study validates consumers' growing desire for better companies--ones that act ethically, contribute to the community and treat both employees and customers better. This is made clear by a slew of research such as Edelman's Trust Barometer and Havas Meaningful Brands study.
Some may suggest that an Uber failure would be a strike against the new sharing economy, but I believe the opposite is true. The collaborative economy is changing the world, but its progress will be hindered if we support companies that violate every tenet of the social era.
Cash may pay the bills, but trust is what drives the collaborative economy. Trust is the necessary ingredient to convert customers to new ways of consuming goods and to win the support of doubting regulators. Today, Uber's trust-killing antics are harming the entire sharing industry, raising suspicions about the kind of ethics and honesty that are driving crowd companies. At a time when Uber and other sharing economy companies should be winning hearts and minds, Uber's arrogance and mistakes are instead breeding suspicion at the Federal, state and local levels.
The best thing for the collective consumption movement would be for consumers to send a clear and unmistakable message to Uber and its peers. If enough of us act, we can shape the future of this emerging way of doing business. We can and should put the collaboration back into the collaborative economy and help Silicon Valley understand that we want more than better services; we want better companies.
Uber is not the only ride-sharing service around, and I urge you to consider exploring other options such as Lyft, Sidecar and Curb. The next time you use a ride-sharing service, make sure it is one that has earned not just your business but your respect, as well.
(Added note: It seems advisable to point out that my opinions are my own. Moreover, let me state that I want ride sharing in general and Uber in specific to succeed. But on the trajectory it is going, I fear Uber will not only undermine its own success but harm other companies in the budding peer-to-peer economy. If deleting Uber now can bring about a change in its corporate culture and force Uber to be more collaborative, trustworthy and respectful, then I will gladly reinstall the app in the future and feel as if I have helped the company succeed in the long term.)