Over the last couple of months it feels hardly a day has gone by without hearing another damaging story about Uber. The company has been in a downward spiral of negative publicity and there are quite legitimate questions being raised as to whether the company can ever recover.
Last year I wrote a blog post called 'What one piece of business advice would you give.’ The post covers a topic that I believe to be of ever-increasing importance to a company.
It's all about having a bigger purpose. I believe that if your sole purpose as a business is to make money then you will eventually get found out. When you hit some major issues, or a credible alternative arrives in the market, you won't have built up enough brand equity and your customers will be only too happy to move on.
Uber has run into a perfect storm of experiencing some big issues while, at the same time, more and more alternatives are arriving in the market. And it simply doesn't have the brand to be able to withstand these headwinds.
I use Uber and in many ways I really like the service. The company has driven a great deal of innovation and is the first of its kind to reach real scale around the world. It makes getting around cities super convenient and is generally much easier and cheaper than a traditional taxi. But first mover advantage will only get you so far.
When I think of Uber I don’t think about its pioneering service anymore. I think of a muscular and aggressive company whose only purpose in life is the pursuit of money. They really had a chance to stand for something beyond this but chose not to.
They could have been about empowering a huge and global workforce with a job they are in control of, with a strong benefits package and without the need for a higher education. But they chose to keep their drivers self-employed so that they have to fend for themselves and have no real affinity for the company they work for.
They could have treated their drivers as 'partners' in the business. Kept their self-employed status but offered some benefits such as share options and given up a larger percentage of the pie to the driver. Play the long term game. Instead Uber provide drivers with no benefits and take an industry leading 25% of every charge.
They could have been about the democratization of travel - using technology to give more people access to what is often the best way of getting to your destination. Instead they rely heavily on their surge pricing to maximize profitability at busy times which puts the service out of reach for many people and generally leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth.
I don't know whether any of these are the right purpose for Uber. I’m not familiar with the inner workings of their business.
But what I do know is that they need to show us why they exist beyond the muscular pursuit of money. And they need to do it fast and in a truly authentic way. Without this the company is on thin ice.