Tag Archives: uber

Core Intuition 287

We just posted Core Intuition episode 287, following up on Chris Lattner, WWDC, and Uber. From the show notes:

Daniel and Manton react to Chris Lattner’s early departure from Tesla, and segue into speculation about his job prospects, and the challenges of effective technical interviews. They talk about the new frameworks announced at WWDC, and overcoming fear of incompetence when learning new things. Finally, they react to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation, and think about what’s next for the company.

Thanks for listening. If you’re new to the show, you can subscribe in iTunes or Overcast.

Uber’s perpetual second chance

Last week, Uber sent an email to customers linking to the results of its investigation and the next steps for the company:

After a report of inexcusable workplace harassment surfaced earlier this year, our board and senior leadership took immediate action. They asked former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and experts from the law firm Covington & Burling to conduct a thorough investigation. After four months of review, this week they released their report, which you can read here.

People always deserve a second chance. Companies, not so much. I see no reason to use Uber again, especially when there are now many ride-sharing apps that are just as good.

Uber had a strong brand, and now they’ve undermined it. Uber had the best user experience, and now most ride-sharing apps have matched it.

Uber is still in more cities, but that’s less of an advantage than I first assumed. Austin went without Uber and Lyft for a year and the city’s roads didn’t descend into chaos. It was fine.

Maybe ride-sharing is a winner-take-all market as Ben Thompson has convincingly argued. But maybe ride-sharing is just one commodity feature in the future of transportation, and as these services are integrated into larger platforms like Apple Maps and Google Maps, Uber’s dominance will fade just as their differentiation has faded. (On the extreme side of this, some competition to Uber such as RideAustin already treat the infrastructure as nothing special, operating as a non-profit to serve drivers and riders.)

It may seem foolish to bet against a company with billions of dollars in revenue, but Uber has little competitive advantage in software to show for the huge investment and current loses. They have more drivers, but with frequent turnover, how loyal are those drivers? I took a ride with Fasten and my driver thought that signing up and driving with Fasten was so similar to Uber that perhaps Uber was even secretly running it.

Uber reminds me of the Trump campaign and administration: mistake after mistake, and they get away with it. But at some point the second chances have run out, and the problems will stick and have real consequences, taking the whole thing down.

Companies are not always built to last. Sometimes it’s unfair — products that never find the right customers despite the founders’ best intentions. But sometimes companies deserve to fail — mismanagement, bad products, and toxic culture.

Companies fail all the time. I hope everyone at Uber is ready with a new job when it’s Uber’s turn.

Lyft short film

Uber has been in the news lately, and not in a good way. I’m taking a short trip this week and decided to more actively look for ride-sharing alternatives. I’ll be trying Fasten in Austin and Lyft elsewhere.

One nice discovery in this search: Lyft produced a wonderful animated short film called June. It’s directed by John Kahrs, who as I blogged about a few years ago did Paperman at Disney.

I’m still annoyed that Lyft joined with Uber to first actively campaign against regulations in Austin and then ultimately left the city. But Lyft funding a film like this makes me feel better about supporting the company. There’s also a behind-the-scenes video.

We

Ten years ago I wrote a post about customer support. Nothing in my attitude toward customers has really changed since then, although my products have changed along the way.

Most of my Mac and iOS apps could be built by one person. Even Sunlit, which I developed with Jon Hays, could be maintained by one person. And so when providing support for my apps, I’ve always embraced being an indie company and said “I” instead of “we” when talking about my company Riverfold Software.

I’ve realized as I work toward launching Micro.blog that this product is different. It has a much greater scope than anything I’ve built by myself. To be successful, it needs a team.

This is why my first priority with the Kickstarter stretch goal was to bring someone new to the project. I was initially nervous about making that announcement. I thought that nervousness was because the stretch goal might not work, or because my post was long and could be misinterpreted, but I realize now that I was nervous because I knew it mattered.

The first decisions a new company has to make will end up shaping many things that follow. I worked at VitalSource for over 14 years because the technology decisions and leadership at the beginning were so strong they carried forward for years.

The same rule applies for a very different kind of company: Uber. When you look at their series of missteps, it seems clear that these are inherent problems that go back to day one. I think John Gruber is right when he says Uber’s response is “too little, too late”.

We can learn from every company culture that fails. I don’t expect to make all the right decisions with Micro.blog. But I’m going to try very hard to make the first decisions correctly, because it will make everything easier going forward.

Release Notes 2015

The best blog posts we write are as much for ourselves as for our readers. That’s one of the traits that makes personal blogging so special.

I published my essay last week from the hotel at Release Notes, right before heading downstairs as the conference got underway. Almost no one had read it yet, but the essay still helped me because it made me even more aware of when I accidentally monopolized a conversation. I did end up talking a lot about my new project while at Release Notes, but I also caught myself many times, making sure to turn the conversation around and listen.

And there was plenty to hear at Release Notes. I got something out of every talk and from many conversations with developers who I had never met before. Congratulations to Charles and Joe for putting together a great conference.

Highlights for me included Myke Hurley’s opening talk on Wednesday night about quitting his job and the first full-time year of Relay FM; Rob Rhyne’s fantastic whirlwind tour of accounting, which scared me a little because of everything I still don’t know about being independent; Jean MacDonald’s talk about podcast sponsorships and the fundraiser for App Camp for Girls; Pieter Omvlee’s advice on aiming to build a bigger business; and David Smith’s talk, which I’ll get to later. I could pull out lessons from each of these talks as well as the others from Rachel Andrew, Georgia Dow, John Saddington, Chris Liscio, Daniel Pasco, and Jim Dalrymple.

Thursday night was the “dine around”, a clever idea to split attendees into groups of about a dozen people, each meeting for dinner at an assigned restaurant. It’s easy to fall into cliques at conferences. This was a great solution to mixing it up, all but guaranteeing that you’ll meet someone new.

It’s worth saying something about the venue. Converted from the Indianapolis Union Station, which was built in 1853, the conference center and hotel served as a beautiful backdrop to the conference. My hotel room was even made from an old train car. As we left the conference center late Friday afternoon, I took another look up at the vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, making a mental note to read more about the history of the original train station.

On Saturday I checked out of the hotel, walked up to Bee Coffee Roasters (where I ran into a couple other attendees who were also still processing everything we learned at the conference), and then took an Uber to the airport. My driver was a musician; he had toured the country playing with bands, was working on a soundtrack which he played on CD for me, and had such an optimistic take on the world that it struck me in obvious contrast to the negativity we see online sometimes.

And he said something that stayed with me even longer while I waited at airport security and for my flight to board. He said that everything he had wanted to do in life, he had done. Sure, he’d love to tour with another band, he’d love to find success with his new music. But already he was content. He laughed when he said he could die happy, and he was not old.

David Smith mentioned in his talk at Release Notes that he used to want to do everything. Have a best selling app, win a design award, be admired by his peers, and other goals that many of us share. It was only when he set out with a more singular focus — judging every decision by whether it moved his business forward so he could continue to support his family — that all the other secondary goals started taking care of themselves as well. It was a great talk and something I needed to hear.

As a community we’re ambitious. We want to build something amazing and we want to make a positive impact on the world. But this week was also a reminder to me that it’s okay to be more focused, to tackle niche vertical apps, or make small boring decisions that will help our business. It’s okay, even as we want to do more, to slow down and be proud and content with the path that we’re on.