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An Open Letter to the Uber Board and Investors (medium.com)
648 points by sdomino on Feb 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 374 comments

This is a great example of why you should make sure that your goals align with those of your investors.

Kapor Capital has a strong focus on social impact companies that benefit the disadvantaged.[1]

Travis is a phenomenal salesman and fundraiser. Travis convinced Kapor that, amongst other things, Uber was a platform for democratizing transportation, citing things like racism amongst taxi cabs to spin Uber as social good.

So now you have a company that isn't actually what it pitched itself to be. For many investors, hyper-growth and skyrocketing valuation will wipe out other concerns around culture, impact, etc.

The Kapors are showing (awesomely, in my personal opinion) that they are serious about their social mission. They're doing what they can to influence a portfolio company to live up to their expectations. Travis probably doesn't like that—it sucks to be called out!—but that's why you take investment based on aligned interests and not just awesome salesmanship.

[1]: http://www.kaporcapital.com/who-we-are/

Travis is a phenomenal salesman and fundraiser. Travis convinced Kapor that, amongst other things, Uber was a platform for democratizing transportation, citing things like racism amongst taxi cabs to spin Uber as social good. So now you have a company that isn't actually what it pitched itself to be.

But that's not true. Uber is still a platform for democratizing transportation. It has more or less completely fixed the issue of racism in taxi cabs (or auto rickshaws), which was previously a daily experience for me. In Maharashtra they've literally made an enemy of Shiv Sena, racist/nationalist political party, because they are undercutting the Marathi autowales.

It's also improving women's safety worldwide, which is a major issue outside the west. Literally days after an Uber driver raped a passenger in Delhi, my girlfriend at the time still insisted on taking a radio taxi home (wasn't Uber, which was shut down for a little bit) because she felt safer than in an auto rickshaw or taxi.

Uber is working - fairly successfully - to partially fix the issue of cronyism in governments around the world. They've taken private battles public and shown the world exactly how much people like Bill DeBlasio hurt the public.

This would all be a huge net gain for the world even if every >$150k/year engineer at Uber was horribly mistreated/marginalized/had their butt patted before shifting to another $150k/year engineering job.

The Kapors are not calling out Uber based on a utilitarian calculation. Uber is still exactly the force of good they promised to be, and their goals align just fine with the stated goals of the Kapors. It's just that their personality doesn't appeal to the zeitgeist, and it looks like that matters more to the Kapors than the actual good they do.

> Uber...has more or less completely fixed the issue of racism in taxi cabs

When I first moved to New York, I had a roommate. He was Brown educated, on prominent City boards and sharply dressed. Regularly, I'd have to climb out of bed and walk to our corner of 30th Street and 5th Avenue, a decent neighbourhood, to hail him a cab.

The reason? He's black.

I got used to quibbling with cab drivers over "broken" credit-card machines (magically resurrected when I threatened to call the TLC, their regulator). And dealing with my out-of-borough destinations being inconvenient. Or having drivers on their phones the whole way.

Yellow Taxis have gotten measurably better since Uber entered the scene. Credit owed where it's due.

I live in the South Bay, and every time I try to take Uber to SFO, the driver arrives, finds out the destination is SFO, apologizes, and cancels the ride. So apparently the problem is not fully solved.

At least they apologize. I've noticed a recent trend with bay area Uber drivers calling immediately after accepting the ride, asking the destination, and trying to strong-arm me into cancelling the ride if they don't feel like trip is worth it (the answer of course is hell no dude). I've been curious whether there has been a recent major change on their side of the app.

Drivers are able to do this because they can't be rated if the trip is canceled.

Passengers should never cancel accepted trips. That's what I explain to my passengers when they complain about other drivers doing this.

I never cancel my trips if the passenger is ready to go (some are too drunk or otherwise unable). Drivers who cherry pick can still be reported, but that's a manual process.

The leading cause for driver deactivation is excessive cancel rate. For that reason, the passenger should insist that driver cancel the trip.

I run into this when I call the passenger to confirm that they indeed wanted to order Plus service and that they are willing to wait 15-20 minutes for me to get there. They often think I am calling to cancel, but I never ask the destination since that's at least unethical and possibly illegal.

I don't think it's gotten any better as far as cracking down on drivers. When I try to get picked up at NYC area airports, if the driver calls right away and asks where I'm going, I hang up, cancel and report them for violating the TOS, and request a refund (which I've always gotten).

Isn't SFO a good fare? It's a long drive from the South Bay, and the driver is certain to find another passenger quickly after dropping you off.

Maybe I don't understand what makes a good fare.

They have somewhere to go to and by the time they drop you off at SFO, they wont be able to make their appointment. Or they don't want to be stuck in inefficient traffic.

Also incentives are based on trip count, not trip length as far as I understand.

It's a problem that needs to be fixed in big cities with these apps.

But the reason why they reject in these cases has nothing really to do with the person, but the action/destination. Definitely an improvement.

Yeah, that really surprised me when I saw an ad for driver recruitment that the initial incentive is a trip count one. Sure they have some anti-abuse system in there, but seems like a weird one to lead with in big cities where you could rack up 20 short trips in quick succession.

My girlfriend gets harassed by Uber drivers all the time, to the point where she had to switch to using Lyft or call the regular car services here in NYC (which used to be amazing pre-Uber, by the way).

The one time I took Uber Pool in Brooklyn the driver refused to let a black couple into the car, which we all protested and complained about, but nothing came of it.

In New York Uber isn't necessarily safer or less racist, although I'd concede it probably is in other countries.

Does your girlfriend give those drivers 1 star reviews?

For what it's worth, my girlfriend has taken an uber in NYC 100+ times, and has never complained about any kind of harassment from an Uber driver. She's complained to me about sidewalk/subway harassment, and workplace harassment, so I don't think there is a reason she would hide Uber harassment from me.

Also: Regular car services were horrible pre-Uber...which is why Uber took over NYC car transit.

It was basically: Call up a number, get answered by a guy with a heavy accent on a low quality landline, tell him what you want, and hope and pray that he understood what you said and the car shows up. If it doesn't, call another company and repeat.

There may be some miscommunication here. There are the 555-DRYV car services that are precisely what you described, and then there are the private car services that you routinely see lining up on Park Ave. to collect the glut of lawyers that had to stay past 8pm. The latter are fantastic.

There are hundreds of car services in New York City. Most New Yorkers have one or two they have learned work well for their neighborhood and provide good service and stick with those. Car services are no different than any other consumer service, there are a good ones and bad ones. Also why does it matter if they have a "thick accent"? You are suggesting that the communication is so poor that people regularly need to hang up and call another car service? This is simply hot true. There are times when you might need to call another service because they might be backed up but certainly not due to of a total communication failure.

Can't rate a driver who didn't start a trip. That's how they fly under the radar. Forcing the driver to be the one who cancels will get them on the radar and out of the system. Excessive cancel rates get drivers deactivated more than anything.

Drivers harass a woman by not accepting a trip?

>which we all protested and complained about, but nothing came of it.

Just curious to what extent you protested?

I have to call you out on this. Most drivers have both apps installed in their phone and their behavior does not change because they got hailed through Uber.

It seems I run into far less assholes driving for Lyft, though. Maybe their QC is better?


I mean, they can start out driving for both, but if you get fired by Lyft, you can't ever come back in most cases.

I had a terrible experience with a Lyft driver. I took a Lyft home after a long flight where I wasn't feeling well. I mentioned something about not feeling well. The driver decided I was going to die and mess up his car. Then, he tried to dump me at McDonalds. Only after arguing with him for 10 minutes in the McDonalds parking lot and refusing to get out of the car, he reluctantly sorta agreed to take me to the hospital except he took me to the children's hospital.

I took a Lyft in Las Vegas where the driver was clearly mentally unstable (sounded and acted it), let us out at the wrong place in an unfamiliar neighborhood in a windstorm, and got out to piss in full view of both his headlights and the front of the wrong house. He then had to drive us to the right place grumbling the whole way. I've not ever had any ride/customer experience that even compares in confusion and intensity of uneasiness in an Uber, despite their shitty engineering work culture.

Lyft doesn't seem to do any form of real background checks. I had a driver that very clearly shouldn't have had a license and didn't speak a single word of English. The dude straight up blew through two reds.

how can her experience with lyft be any better? most times the drives are using both services...

As I understand it, the Lyft vetting is more intense than Uber's. So many Lyft drivers can be Uber drivers, but the reverse may not be true. I could be wrong though, my only data points are talking with drivers and therefore anecdotal or hearsay.

I doubt it. My Lyft onboarding experience consisted of watching a couple of safety videos at an auto parts store instead of a 1:1 "mentor" session. Last I heard, mentors are gone in San Francisco.

Lyft requires newer cars, which could bar totally broke drivers.

I have perfect background check, of course.

Lyft is definitely hands-on when reacting to passenger complaints. They likely have sentiment analysis software for comments by passengers.

Lyft passengers are ruthless in ratings. It took me a while to recover from initial ratings while I was learning. At least your ratings are a rolling average of last 100 rides so you can fix the problem of bad ratings with new rides. Last week should help: got 17 5-Star ratings and no negatives.

I agree that Uber has a net positive social impact, but the Kapors are nevertheless right to try to force change here.

1) They have more direct control over, and responsibility for, Uber corporate behavior.

2) Uber corporate culture might bleed over to the customer experience.

3) The behaviors in practice at Uber are not good for anyone, even the "high-performing" assholes whose behavior is excused. Those behaviors keep talented prospective employees away and make current employees less effective.

Uber may, in fact, have an HR problem that needs fixing. I'll wait for the investigation to find out - Fowler seems fairly credible, but far too many incidents like this seem fabricated/unsupported/implausible, and get traction mainly because the media loves them.

I was only disputing the specific point I quoted. Even if everything Susan Fowler said is true, Uber is still a social good that is fixing racism in taxi cabs.

You kind of had me until you used someone's salary and work opportunities as an excuse for their harassment mattering less, or being overlooked.

Harassment is harassment.

>as an excuse

That part wasn't an excuse for harassment. And it also wasn't about programmers' salaries as justification. He was using rhetorical hyperbole to emphasize that the utilitarian benefit of Uber for brown and female riders is still true. That was a response to tyre's comment, "So now you have a company that isn't actually what it pitched itself to be.

Yes, harassment is harassment but it looks like yummyfajitas was responding to a specific business claim by tyre.

It was an excuse. "It's just that their personality doesn't appeal to the zeitgeist." Harassment is not a personality.

Yup. There are things in the world that are kinda bad, but worth imposing on people for the greater good of society (e.g., taxes, jury duty, bans on raw milk). There are things in the world that are really bad, and no amount of greater good justifies them. Harassment is one of them.

Part (but not all!) of the reason for this is that not every $150K/engineer is getting harassed, only some are, and some are doing the harassing, and in particular, those who are doing the harassing are, by all reports, not actually helping Uber's social mission effectively. If you're willing to sacrifice something about engineers to help Uber change the world for the better, sacrifice the people who take time out of their workday to proposition the people they manage, or who ignore their boss because they're trying to get themselves promoted, or who create and cancel projects to create the illusion of work, or who interpret people who sabotage their teammates as high performers. (And sacrifice them by firing them or better yet not hiring them, not by harassing them.)

This harassment calls to mind the most negative possible stereotypes of silicon valley tech bros. Misogynistic, rude, deeply unpleasant people to be around. The question is how did those people get into Uber in the first place, and why are they allowed to stay while all of their victims leave?

I don't give a fuck how much that woman was getting paid, it is not conditional on her receiving sexual harassment from her supervisors. It is conditional on her doing her goddamn job, and making people feel unsafe by directly propositioning them obviously interferes with that.

How do you decide which things are really bad, and no amount of greater good justifies them?

As a society, we've made the decision that traffic regulation, gun regulation or preventing the sale of loose cigarettes does justify the police gunning people down or choking them to death. (Note that after Eric Garner and Philando Castille, no one advocated eliminating the rules that got them killed.)

So why is an unpleasant work environment somehow one of those things that are unjustified no matter what?

Allow me to rephrase:

"So why is a hostile work environment somehow one of those things that are unjustified no matter what?"

Words matter.

Ok. Why is a hostile work environment unjustified no matter what, but strangling people to death in the pursuit of causes like cigarette regulation isn't?

This seems like a really strange argument to double down on. There is an overlap of people who discount harrassment based on salary, and people who discount fatal brutality by citing an unimportant crime. Instead it's the same outlook on how society should work that opposes both abuses. While people can choose to work harder on one problem, ranking them and deciding one should be ignored is a good tactic for insuring there isn't a critical mass of people fighting any injustice.

Furthermore, the type of people that want to invest in companies that decrease systemic racism and harassment experienced by their riders should also be concerned about similar problems at places closer to home. Framing these abuses as though they are not all different manifestations of failing to recognize other people's humanity on some level really undermines any progress.

I'm not making an argument, I'm merely questioning a philosophical claim I think is probably wrong.

Specifically, if you think (1) "There are things in the world that are really bad, and no amount of greater good justifies them. Harassment is one of them." but you also favor cigarette regulation, then you must implicitly think the inevitable shooting/strangling people/other violence is NOT one of those things that are "really bad and no amount of greater good justifies them".

Or alternatively, the stated principle (1) is not your real justification and merely a post-hoc rationalization.

I suspected the latter. But I was wrong - as it turns out geofft is internally consistent and also opposes cigarette regulation, firearm regulation, and all the other rules who's enforcement involves doing things that are "really bad and no amount of greater good justifies them". https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13725372

As you might imagine, I also disagree with society's implicit position in the cases you mention.

I don't. Nothing's changed, and nothing's been done to those officers. Society has implicitly accepted these actions as justified.

It's possible my statement was unclear: my disagreement was "Society, you are wrong," not "Your claim about society is wrong".

Regardless, this is whatabouttery. It's true that we have much more serious problems in the world than workplace harassment, like poverty and slavery and famine. That doesn't mean that the less serious problems aren't still problems.

I think what is at issue here isn't Uber's external accomplishments, but it's internal culture. It's great that Uber has been able to reduce racism in your area. But it doesn't change the allegations that there are deep dysfunctions internally.

In the US at least Uber hasn't done a very good job at eliminating racial discrimination. A study has found that drivers continue to discriminate, this time based on the race they assume based on the person's name.


The actual study says they are doing a very good job - traditional taxis discriminate vastly more than Uber/Lyft/Flywheel. Look at the tables at the end, it's easy to see a HUGE delta for traditional taxis, compared to relatively small (albeit statistically significant ones) for Uber.


I don't know whatever Lyft is doing, but I have a super low rating on Lyft than on Uber and I behave the same in both the cases.

Wait, as a driver?

No as a customer.

> their personality doesn't appeal to the zeitgeist

There's also the minor matter of breaking federal law. You can call this "the zeitgeist" if you like, but if I was an Uber investor I would be concerned that the company is leaving itself wide open to multiple class action lawsuits. The amount of their funding used to fight the many suits against them is also more generally concerning. Lyft doesn't seem to get into the same battles they do, so clearly it's possible to achieve good without being raging assholes while doing it.

From what I can tell, lyft doesn't do the same good as Uber. Uber does battle with corrupt politicians, exposes them to the public and opens cities up to competition. Then Lyft free-rides on this, follows them in and makes money.

When is the last time Lyft prevented someone like DeBlasio from helping the taxi cartel rip off consumers?

At the end of the day, Travis is a war-time CEO who is always going to be fighting things that keep his company from being as successful as it can be. This may sound good, but people like this are why we have laws. They need regulation. Look back 150 years if you doubt that.

"their personality doesn't appeal to the zeitgeist"

Really? The only problem you see at Uber is that their personality doesn't appeal to the zeitgeist? They are unpopular for superficial reasons and that's it?

> This would all be a huge net gain for the world even if every $150k/year engineer at Uber was horribly mistreated/marginalized/had their butt patted before shifting to another $150k/year engineering job.

Are you saying that it's okay to be harassed if the pay is high?

If so, please examine your own mind for its blind spots and learn a bit of humility, before sounding high strung and judgemental about others'.

Moving cab drivers from company X to company Y won't change human nature and 'more or less fix... racism'.

Getting kicked off the service for rejecting too many rides/being a jerk to passengers and getting low ratings/etc won't change human nature. It'll just change the nature of people who drive for Uber.

I'm fine with racist people having trouble finding jobs. Or only being able to take jobs where they don't have to interact with other people. If you can't make a person less racist, marginalizing them so they do less harm is the next best thing.

Why do you think that's true?

150 years ago, which is only a handful of generations, it was widely accepted in America that people of certain races were only technically human and were better fit for slavery than for living a full human life. That position is an extreme minority these days. What changed? Nobody eloquently argued that idea away, we merely made the culture that relied on that idea economically unviable (at gunpoint). We didn't even do a very good job of making alternative ideas more economically viable, and that hurt us deeply for the majority of that time.

If we move racist employees from company X to failing company Y, we make a non-racist culture more economically viable. People who are only weakly racist generally choose to give up on spreading their ideas (even if they still hold them) to choosing an economically worse option. People who are undecided are more likely to hear about or be part of the non-racist culture than the racist one. That is, historically, how we have been fixing racism. It hasn't been working perfectly by any means, but it's been remarkably effective.

Nobody eloquently argued that idea away, we merely made the culture that relied on that idea economically unviable (at gunpoint).

Capitalism is actually a great racism cure. Racism was always economically unviable.

It only existed because we passed laws protecting it. For example, greedy contractors hired negroes to build stuff until congress passed the Davis-Bacon law stopping that. Jim Crow wasn't a set of "you can discriminate if you want" laws, it was "you must discriminate". It was an extremely intrusive regulatory regime to the point of regulating dating choices.

Uber doesn't care about my race. All they care about are my dollars/rupees.

> Capitalism is actually a great racism cure. Racism was always economically unviable.

Well, sort of. What's good for the economy as a whole isn't always the same as what's good for you individually. I might prefer a world in which I know my kids have good jobs, but technology remains stagnant for a generation, to one in which technology improves and the economy as a whole grows, but my kids have much less reliable jobs. (This is essentially Pigou's argument about negative externalities; capitalism is, in theory, a great environmental cure, because you can't make money without a world to make money in, but that doesn't seem to be stopping any capitalists at the moment.) Or the effects of making the economically-rational decision might be so slow and so hard to detect that an actual human will fall back on their biases and never miss the profit they could have gained by not trusting their biases. (This is Greenspan's famous argument about hiring women economists.)

There's a timely and (at least for most people) non-racist example here: immigrants on work visas. Economically, it's good for my country to hire the best possible workers at the lowest possible salary, regardless of country of origin. So why do we have borders and ensure jobs go to equally-good workers at higher salaries (or worse workers at the same salary, or both)? Because we like a world in which the employment of our countries citizens' is protected, even at the cost of our economy.

Slavery was extremely economically viable. And the fact that you need laws to make slavery illegal, but you don't need so many laws as to make Jim Crow mandatory, leaves me skeptical of the use of unguided capitalism as an effective tool for ending racism (even if in theory it would work).

Well, sort of. What's good for the economy as a whole isn't always the same as what's good for you individually. I might prefer a world in which I know my kids have good jobs, but technology remains stagnant for a generation, to one in which technology improves and the economy as a whole grows, but my kids have much less reliable jobs.

This may be true, but it's completely unrelated to the point I made.

Slavery is only economically viable if you don't treat the slaves as economic agents. At the time when slavery was being debated, virtually no one actually made this argument because it was patently ridiculous.

In fact, the phrase "the dismal science" was coined by a slavery supporter to criticize the economists who opposed slavery. Slavery proponents were actually anti-capitalists who argued that slavery was better for slave and master alike - they favored hierarchical relations rather than exchanges based on mutual agreement. I know Moldbug has been shunned from society for advocating it, but you should read Carlyle if you want to understand history.

It's true that if you don't treat foreigners as economic agents, then economics does in fact suggest treating them as an exploitable resource as well. In fact, if you take that premise, we should probably enslave them rather than just pass protectionist laws against them.

So how do we enforce the right sort of capitalism, where all people are seen as economic agents?

One of the things that's usually attractive about capitalism is that it is, in a sense, the default. Absent a government saying otherwise, two individuals or businesses or even countries will tend towards capitalism in their relations. But absent a government saying otherwise, slavery also arises, in many places and times in history.

What changed to make people say "Hey, we're failing to treat slaves as economic agents"? It may be the case that on paper, slavery was not economically viable ever - but it was absolutely profitable and desirable in practice. (That may be the disconnect; I'm using "economically viable" in a practical sense.)

The default is pillage and plunder, not capitalism. Capitalism is what arises when you have a government that prevents people from pillaging and plundering, but does little else.

The question of who is an economic agent is exogenous to capitalism.

What changed to make people say "Hey, we're failing to treat slaves as economic agents"?

In the US, a bunch of religious crazies decided to force their biblical interpretations on everyone else. For a while they used politics and small scale warfare (e.g. running around ad night and chopping people's heads off) to push their morals on everyone else, on slavery and other issues like drinking and polygamy. Eventually the limited wars erupted into a total war for dominance, which they won.

I'm less familiar with European history so I won't speak about that.

What happened in Europe was that Britain had the industrial revolution, then twigged that they could make even more money if their competitors couldn't use slaves to compete with the machines, so banned slavery, and then enforced that ban on other nations using their navy, which was stronger than most other country's navies because Britain is so rubbish people who live there would rather die of scurvy than live there.

The ships play such an important part.

In the way capitalism arose from pillage & plunder.

Even way before the Industrial Revolution.

The navies protected the (taxable) commerce from further pillage & plunder.

But the only ones that could afford to build any ships at all were usually the monarchs whom had already largely pillaged and plundered the wealth of their subjects.

Capitalism at this complete a level of wealth concentration reveals its eventual destructive effect on free enterprise.

Due to the extreme wealth inequality ships could justify cargoes of volunteers who would virtually pay to live as somewhat of a slave somewhere else.

Eventually it was only a matter of greed whether a particular voyage would contribute to a more advantageous outcome when choosing either physical or financial bondage for their cargoes of slaves.

When the viewpoint of the capital owners is so far removed from that of the lowest-level subjects, the difficulty for them to respect the (finer?) differences between physical vs. financial bondage of their servants in the 18th & 19th centuries evolves into the blurring of the distinction between financial bondage vs. financial empowerment of their employees in the 20th & 21st centuries.

Simply depending on where the powerful draw the line when greed is involved.

When the money must make money even under adverse conditions, the result of unbridled capitalism tends toward slavery of some form or another.

Depending on your point of view, I guess.

No, but accepting the ride before seeing the passenger's face does reduce discrimination. Just like blind resume reading does (although, see sibling comment by cstejerean). "More or less fix racism" is a wild exaggeration, but being safer, less-discriminatory and less-corrupt than taxi services in parts of the developing world is quite a feasible bar to meet for Uber and they in fact do often meet that bar.

That said, one can meet that standard, and provide a better/cheaper transportation service and everything else in Uber's mission without standing for a toxic workplace environment for women, no matter how much they are or aren't paid. There is exactly one profession where the amount of money you are being paid justifies tolerating unwanted sexual overtures and is not the profession software developers are signing up for.

Based on this and subsequent posts, it seems like you're making an "ends justifies the means" argument.

Does the ends justify the means here? Not really. Lyft is arguably similar to Uber but without so many alleged and evidenced wrongs. We can quibble about how similar they are, if Lyft would be successful without Uber, how successful Lyft is, etc. but the fact remains that a sizable competitor in this space doesn't have as many faults and seems to be doing just fine for a startup.

Does the ends justify the means ever? Perhaps. But it is often an argument made in hindsight to diminish real wrongs for the sake of theoretical utility, when in reality there are many levels of gray that have fewer wrongs and similar theoretical utility.

I was only disputing this claim:

Travis convinced Kapor that, amongst other things, Uber was a platform for democratizing transportation, citing things like racism amongst taxi cabs to spin Uber as social good. So now you have a company that isn't actually what it pitched itself to be.

I did not make any "ends justify the means" arguments, or claim that what happened (if Fowler is to be believed) is acceptable.

> because they are undercutting the Marathi autowales.

Vast majority of the cab drivers are from the Northern states. The natives of Mumbai dont want to drive cabs.

there is a pretty frequent drumbeat of stories about drivers being racist/sexist. not to mention that this is a company one of whose VPs threatened to go after a journalist that wrote critically of it. not exactly a social "good", that. I'd love to see stats on how and where Uber is actually "fighting cronyism" as well, instead of just rote ideology.

The solution to cab racism was a lie anyway, I've been kicked out of an Uber multiple times because of "I don't go to that neighborhood" (which happens to be primarily black)

Don't you enter your destination before getting picked up?

Every time I've gotten into an uber the first two questions have been "PriceChild? Where are you headed?"

I'm very sure they don't get the destination when choosing whether to accept the ride, and often don't seem to get it until you get in the car?

I believe both services stopped exposing that information to the driver pre-pickup to lessen the problem of cherrypicking.

I do, which makes it all the more troubling. I assume these drivers didn't look at it before picking me up.

You don't have to.

It is laudable, and they definitely aren't going to get this level of concern from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Sovereign Wealth fund.

+1. I often debated if Uber was better off with a CEO like Eric Schmidt. But I think ultimately in this business, you need a certain mindset to really go after establishment and entrenched interests.

I don't think successfully going after establishment and entrenched interests is incompatible with being decent.


How can a company fight for equal rights while simultaneously encouraging the opposite in their work culture?

I think you are the one with "broken logic circuits."

This comment is beyond unproductive - it is outright rude. Please try to be civil - your points would be significantly more palatable.


Your same argument has been made by others in a less histrionic and rude way, and upvoted.

I'm a former uber s/w engineer. I've been with uber for nearly 2 yrs and most of the article content are valid. Employees voicing out genuine concerns will be met with severe rebuke. This will be swept under the carpet sooner or latter. For customers, the quality and experience of their ride is the only thing that will matter. This won't even affect their business.

Behaving unethically often benefits people in the short-term, but in the long-term it usually ends up a net negative, especially if the behavior keeps up. Uber's founders apparently don't understand this, and have imparted to you their misunderstanding.

Uber will have increasing difficulty attracting and retaining talent now that their toxic culture is public. When you're a rocket ship people are willing to gloss over a lot, but Uber no longer has 100x potential returns on options. The liability only gets worse as the stock matures.

Not to mention the wave of lawsuits that is likely coming as Uber employees are emboldened.

True, but for most jobs rewards are also set up in a way that short term benefits heavily outweight long term benefits. And that's not just top management. E.g., many software engineers are respected by their managers and team mates based on how many issues they close every week. Nearly zero reward for creating meaningful issues or solving a problem with a big long termin impact that is not an issue.

while Uber's culture problems are legendary...I've seen this type of complain at every single company I worked for (which is almost 2 dozens at this point), including when it was not true at all and people were just whiny that their idea for office decoration did not get accepted.

So we're starting to suffer from a "boy who cried wolf" syndrome, where when the complain is real, no one cares.

That's a big problem.

> I've seen this type of complain at every single company I worked for

Er, have you? Fowler's post said she was sexually propositioned over Slack, by her manager, on her first day, and that HR did not do anything about it, even though multiple women had complained about the same manager doing the same thing. That's the most egregious story of harassment I've ever heard of, including the made-up scenarios in the "workplace sensitivity" training I had to take last week.

Ah but did you witness it?

We are all reasonable people here and can agree that this behavior, if true, is disgusting and unacceptable. But is a "claim" evidence and should we assume it is by default "truth"? This is the crux of the issue.

If you stood accused of sexual harassment I'm sure you would hope society would take a moment to gather the facts before judging you, even if on an individual level you weren't a likeable person. Because being likeable and condoning sexual harassment are two different things.

> Ah but did you witness it?

Of course not. The comment I was replying to was saying (paraphrased) that this is typical, every company has these kinds of accusations, and I'm disagreeing and saying no, this isn't typical, either she made all this up out of whole cloth or Uber is an especially bad outlier.

> But is a "claim" evidence and should we assume it is by default "truth"? This is the crux of the issue.

That is emphatically not the issue, no one in this thread suggested that she should be believed (or disbelieved) uncritically. This stuff is murky enough to discuss without strawmen!

No. I was not talking about the sexual harassement stuff.

I was talking about "people make serious complains and get rebukked". Now, whilere there's quite a wide range of what a "serious complain" is, people say that everywhere.

Not all complains are equal. I'm not pretending they are.

I mean, most of her claims she explicitly mentions having a paper trail. There is probably many legal reasons why she couldn't directly posted the private email and Slack conversations to her personal blog. However, no one is stopping Uber from presenting evidence contrary to her narrative.

Really. You don't need to dump all your ammo on the very first day.

She said what needed to be said. If Uber challenges her account, she can post more information, assuming she is telling the truth (which I am for now).

Can you list some specific pieces of evidence that Uber could post (if they existed) which would change your opinion and make you believe she was not telling the truth?

> Ah but did you witness it?

I am curious about your question. I read Fowler's post, and then subsequent posts,articles,tweets,comments by other women and men indicating that the observations approximately matched their experience at Uber as well. Even in this thread, I see: "I've been with uber for nearly 2 yrs and most of the article content are valid. Employees voicing out genuine concerns will be met with severe rebuke. " . The article this thread is about is from Mitch&Freda Kapoor who are also stating the same.

I'm wondering, do you believe that Fowler's claims are faulty or false in some way and that the issues raised about Uber are similarly faulty/false or are you speaking about other cases/companies?

She says she has screenshots of those messages if she was lying Uber would have sued her by now. They know she has enough actual proofs to back her story.

She should release them.

In the article, she explicitly mentions sending screenshots along with thoroughly documenting the incident.

Yeah, I somehow do not understand why she resorted to blog about it and not just file a law suit (I just asked this in a top level comment).

A lawsuit would not really pay out that much. She got another job, so her damages are, what, a few tens of thousands of dollars? And it would mark her, for life, as someone who sues.

A friend has worked on sexual harassment suits and says it's unfortunate that, as far as he's experienced, every single one he's been involved in has been bogus. Meanwhile, he knows there are several people with good cases who don't bring them, because the social penalties are too high.

Part of the reason I believe her is that she isn't bringing suit. She's not trying to make a payday out of this. Further, she has alleged specific acts which can be definitely proven or disproven. If she made it up, it would be trivial for Uber to show she did so.

> So we're starting to suffer from a "boy who cried wolf" syndrome

It seems like you're somewhat sympathizing with Uber HR's decisions regarding this individual on account of the "boy cried wolf" syndrome.

This seems like hardly that at all. The events at Uber read like a systemic failure to deal with problems, and an extreme indifference to sexual harassment for the benefit of retaining "good" engineers.

Fuck this mentality.

edit: Forgive me if I am misunderstanding your comments.

Not the poster, but I think he means that Uber is the very wolf we've become too desensitized to recognize.

But I have not seen the endemic spiteful complaints he has. My impression is this place is full of wolves that are seldom called out.

To take the middle ground - I think there's been a lot of wolves crying wolf - Mostly on sheep, because that provides good cover. Sheep are afraid to cry wolf, even when being attacked, because of fear of ostracization - and unfortunately, we're very bad at telling wolves from sheep in a fight, particularly as a herd.

Yes, you're misunderstanding.

I was not even talking about the Uber case at all.

I'm saying how everyone who works at every company says they make complains about everything and never get heard. That makes it hard to figure out which companies are ACTUALLY bad at dealing with complains BEFORE something like the Uber bullshit actually happens. It prevents us from being proactive.

For anyone reading my above comment and who will not go through the sub threads:

I did not mean that I see sexual harassment claims like this one everywhere.

When I said "Ive seen this type of complain", I was talking about the person I was replying to. Employees who say the company never do anything when they bitch about stuff. Employees bitch a lot, so its hard to tell apart companies like what Uber seems to be, from companies with a lot of whiny employees, without actually working there.

Short of the Apple and Googles of the world, or the little koolaid trendy startups, all companies have a percentage of fussy employees who will say their employers screwed them over, so we have to take what people say with a grain of salt. Because we have to take so much with a grain of salt, we can't proactively find real offenders (as easily).

I mean, it may just be you and/or your close associates. Saying the industry is suffering from false reporting is kinda a stretch, though you do bring up a good point about sites like GlassDoor and all: take everything with not just a grain of salt, but a boulder.

>I've seen this type of complain at every single company I worked for

Wow, I have never encountered that kind of thing (admittedly I've only worked at 3 companies)

Everyone took what I said the wrong way, so Im pretty sure I worded it very poorly. That's on me.

I'm not saying that all companies are bad at dealing with complains.

I'm saying that for every company with a non-trivial amount of employees, there will be a bunch of said employees complaining that they made big complains that were ignored. "Management never listens to my brilliant ideas!" "We're all underpaid!" "People cry under their desk every day!" "The CEO doesn't understand my brilliant idea I figured out in 30 seconds!"

There's always people like that everywhere, and it makes it very hard to distinguish companies that actually take their employees seriously from companies like Uber without actually working there.

That's all I meant.

There must be something wrong with the way you choose companies to work for. My employers were pretty low on this kind of drama.

I deleted the app after the last round of bs and I'm not the only person who did this that I know. Not all customers are amoral wallets.

About $25 of my dollars that would have gone to them went to Lyft instead this week.

The problem I see with these accounts is that as a "former" employee you necessarily have a bias. Maybe you got fired, maybe you got burned out, but I'm not surprised you are angry at them and it's hard to weigh exactly the value of your opinion.

Fowler had specific accusations of fact. Either the "got told six times it was a first offense" thing happened or it didn't. Either the leather jacket incident happened or it didn't. Uber can easily claim these things aren't true if they aren't.

I have absolutely no insight into the actual case. If I was into gambling I'd bet that the allegations against uber are true.

But. From experience I can tell you that it is absolutely not trivial for a company to simply claim a given allegation is false. Even if the company is correct and truthful about it. With a tiny kernel of truth to otherwise false allegations, enough bias will give clear answers and the public verdict becomes all the more damning.

So as much as it may be appropriate to damn uber in this case, please don't do so simpy because they didn't go for "a good offense is the best defense" here.

I would be exceedingly reluctant to work with an investor who writes an "open letter" to a company in a situation like this, and particularly when that letter calls out the CEO in a pretty gratuitous way ("and we have both been contacted by senior leaders at Uber (though notably not by Travis, the CEO)"). You're supposed to be able to be open with investors and other advisors, so this is a deep breech of trust in a non-public company. I can't see taking advice from and sharing confidential or sensitive information with someone who has done that to you in the past.

(The sad part is I agree Uber has a problem and needs to change; Susan Fowler's blog post was remarkable.)

You know what? I am disgusted and ashamed that a message board that I read and participate in daily is reacting this way.

I'm sick of how Silicon Valley always puts money and internal graft ahead of inconvenient things like morals and acting like decent human beings. Beyond that, I'm tired of how everyone then tries to pretend that these actions that are taken out of greed and ambition to "rule the world" are somehow in the public's best interest.

I see no reason why you are reprimanding a pair of human beings who realized that the company that they have aided, abetted, and implicitly condoned through their investment, and then decided to do what little they could to try to influence that company to fix the situation.

Well said. Either SV is different than business is usual... or it's not.

And if it's not (and not willing to self police to a higher ethical standard), then we should really start asking whether we're comfortable with these companies having the amount of access to our lives they do.

Would you trust Walmart with an Echo type device in your house?

>Would you trust Walmart with an Echo type device in your house?

Offtopic, but that's an odd example. I wouldn't trust WalMart to be fair to their employees, suppliers, etc. But, they aren't the company that comes to mind when I think "who would I least want to potentially listen in on me whenever they wanted?" The company I do worry about in that space does happen to sell an Echo type device...and it's not Amazon.

What company would you trust with an Echo type device in your house? I think the entire proposition is insane given the state of the law.

In terms of "business model", clearly Apple is the one I'd trust the most, Google/FB the least, and Amazon in the middle. But I agree with laws the way they are, it's very problematic. Either the tech needs to change, or the law -- I have a lot more confidence we'll finally see a (not really re)-surgence in privacy protecting consumer tech.

What's different about Amazon vs Walmart? What makes them trustworthy?

If you dig down a bit, you'll find that it's not much.

There's nothing at all special about Silicon Valley companies with respect to ethics.

I was trying to find a well-known company to illustrate the difference in how we look at tech companies vs "non-tech" companies.

For another example, if Comcast compiles user data, it's scummy. If Google does it, we might gripe about it a bit, but it's business as usual.

I think you're misplacing motives here.

The root cause for the founder sentiment in this thread is empathy.

The firestorm Uber is facing may be self-inflicted and justified, but the management team there is made up of real people that are in all likelihood good at heart.

When you have an ongoing PR crisis, a letter like this makes things impossibly difficult. And, the fact that it's written by someone who's supposed to be a trusted team member is an arrow through the heart.

I'm sorry, but "PR crisis" continues the worrying (if thankfully rare) trend of people talking about this whole ... situation like it's an unfortunate but incidental bug that just needs to be ironed over, akin to some kind of "cost of doing business". There is a very important category difference between, say, Cloudbleed, and allegations of sexual harassment.

Bounds-checking errors and the like do happen, and in rare cases reach catastrophic proportions, as we saw today. Downplaying what happened in that kind of situation isn't quite right, but it's still victimless in a certain sense -- you're minimizing the PR damage to yourself while not exactly hurting any other party. But Uber's behaviour here is essentially an attempt to apply the kind of "mitigation" that a situation report for a security vulnerability documents to a human conflict. (Non-serious aside: do they have an in-house "Fowler incident report" being edited every ten minutes?) It'd be far more admirable if they could go the completely Homo economicus route and declare "We don't honestly care, as long as we're profitable, and we're going to do everything possible to combat this eventuality." or something along those lines that actually reflects what they think of this, but obviously that would be ... suboptimal.

Yes, Uber management may be (in fact, from the emails they're sending out to people "deleting Uber", they definitely are) suffering as a result, but the lack of a contrite "Yes, this happened, it shouldn't have" instead of the "This is contrary to our values, our ethos, and a few other words that conjure associations of fine, upstanding citizenship in our communities and such" (read "Lies!"), together with the obviously impartial steps they're taking to "investigate" the matter, make it difficult to find empathy for their pain here.

(Any strawmen or logically suspect arguments in the above are unintentional and I'd love being told about them. Damn, I'd use that for an HN signature if those were supported.)

I have absolutely no empathy for the management team at Uber. They are the ones that set their company up to be like this. They have known for a long, long time that their company culture was terrible. The only reason they're appearing to do anything now is because it became public.

I absolutely wish this "stress" on them, because they deserve it for letting their company get to this state. And people who are good at heart don't let their company's culture get like that.

> people who are good at heart don't let their company's culture get like that

This kind of comment is too harsh and over-simplifies the kind of decisions that growth-phase startups have to face. You have many battles to fight, and sometimes you have to make a trade-off. In Uber's case, they prioritized hiring and firing people to manage performance over dealing with culture issues. Not saying the trade-off they make is right - I think they all realize now they cannot treat themselves as a startup any more - but claiming the management at the company are not good at heart is just totally unjustified. Do you also think startups that lay off people when they don't need them or move operations to cheap regions to also have bad heart?

> lay off people when they don't need them or move operations to cheap regions to also have bad heart?

Those are always rather cold-hearted actions. Employees are not a disposable quantity that you can dump at Goodwill like surplus furniture; companies should make sincere efforts to avoid layoffs.

No. You can try to rationalize it all you want, but at the end of the day, as you said, they prioritized managing performance over dealing with harassment and sexism. And that is NOT what good hearted people do.

EVERY manager over at Uber has to own this. They are the ones at fault. And right now, they need to prove they are good hearted. That is not an assumption to make by default.

> real people that are in all likelihood good at heart

So are the harassment victims and underappreciated employees. Spread your empathy around.

"Good at heart" is kind of meaningless anyway. Judge people by their actions, and their sincerity by how they respond to criticism and mistakes. It's a character test and they're failing it.

Mitch has invested in a company I founded before, and I would have him as an investor again in a heartbeat.

Your relationship with your investors and your board is both public and private (or at least, it's supposed to be). Yes, you are owed a private space to discuss difficult internal matters. But your investors are also responsible for getting you ready to be a public company, and that means holding you accountable when you've fallen below the threshold of what would be acceptable to public shareholders. As the letter notes, "accountable" by definition means in the open and out of your total control.

Mitch and Freada are doing Uber's shareholders a service (and therefore also doing Travis a service) by helping the company clean house before they're exposed to the harsher sunlight of being a public company. If you wouldn't have them as investors as a result, then you're not ready to be held accountable by others and aren't public CEO material.

fron the perspective of some founders, its easier to take the dumb money from overseas investment and sovereign wealth funds as you get the benefit of the funds but without the baggage of a minority investor with a blog who wants to change the world.

Mitch and Freada have already well accomplished "changing the world." Travis has many years to go yet before he can even be considered to be in the same league.

As they say, GIGO. Feel free to take on garbage investors, but don't be surprised if your probability of success goes down as a result.

Skimming their portfolio, it seems like their biggest accomplishment is actually funding Uber.


Can you name something they've done that has had a more positive effect on the world than Uber has?

Mitch Kapor founded Lotus, the EFF, Kapor Capital, and the Kapor Center for Social Impact. I don't know exactly where his wife contributed among those things, but they generally refer to themselves as a unit these days so I do, too.

He's invested in UUNET (!), Real Networks, Asana, AngelList, Dropcam, Omada Health, Optimizely, Twilio, and many more startups.

He was the founding chair of the Mozilla Foundation.

And much more. He is a lion of industry, having made his mark across multiple generations. Uber is important, but it's one company whose wins are not yet even solidified. Travis isn't even close to being in the same league yet.

If Optimizely and Asana stopped existing, most people would never notice. They would definitely notice if Uber vanished.

Doubly so if the fixes Uber made to city governments were also to vanish.

Do you know who Mitch Kapor is? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitch_Kapor

You may be confusing, "thinks they're changing the world," with something more like, "Trying not to do any more harm than necessary."

I don't believe their public letter helps Uber -- it just puts Kapor Capital in an antagonistic relationship with Uber in general and likely Travis in particular, and weakens the plan Uber has committed to (bringing in a former AG, already familiar with the company, with very little delay, to do an investigation -- he's not an outsider, but I respect his integrity more than a completely random attorney), before we've even seen if it produces good results.

I can't tell how much of this was because Uber decided to find someone themselves, vs. relying on Kapor's Project Include.

There is a difference between "held accountable" (which would be shareholder/board actions) and "throwing bricks through the window" (which is this).

Shareholders are well within their rights to take an "antagonistic" stance with respect to companies whose values disappoint. We need more shareholders like this, not fewer.

When one party in a 'relationship' behaves in an increasingly dysfunctional manner, healthy corrective behavior by the dysfunctional party's acquaintances becomes sharper and sharper until it resembles "throwing bricks through the window" to outsiders without historical context.

For example, parents can justifiably kick one of their kids out of their house if that kid is dealing drugs from the parent's house or something similarly extreme.

Thats the kind of situation investors are looking at with Uber. From the "benign" lawbreaking we consider disruption they've moved on to attempts to silence and intimidate journalists, and now a self destructive culture where the strong are preying on the vulnerable inside the company.

That can completely destroy an investment!

Minority shareholders writing angry public letters happens more than you think. It's just that normally it doesn't make it outside the financial news.

In public companies, absolutely (and in public companies, it is often the right course of action.). By investors in private closely held companies, no.

I think every situation is different, and Uber's legendarily toxic culture has remained unaddressed for long enough now that I am starting to think less of investors that silently allow this sort of thing to continue on in the name of returns.

If you're known to be a silent investor in Uber, how long until your deal flow starts getting interrupted because companies refuse to work with you? Maybe never, but I personally applaud these investors for finally speaking up.

Isn't that the point, though? By writing this open letter they're effectively holding the company accountable in an extreme, public way. I would hope a company would treasure such investors since they're willing to offer such "tough love".


I have a very different take - I'm a co-founder of a Kapor portfolio company & sent Mitch & Freada a note today thanking them for speaking up. I want investors who are patient and supportive (and my experience with the Kapors has been excellent in this regard), but also investors that hold portfolio companies accountable when necessary.

And I would be reluctant to work with someone who wouldn't write that letter.

I'm not asking this disrespectfully, but how do you intend to identify such people? Track down a list of all Uber investors who have not written such a letter?

Depends, are you asking about the parent poster's statement literally, or are you asking about the more general point of finding investors who have principles and integrity and are willing to hold you to them?

Could you explain why? Honest question.

I'm not the grandparent poster, but I can say why I would want that.

I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. If I were a founder and I made a mistake running my company, I would want my investors to tell me. I would want them to tell me privately, so I could do something about it without creating a huge public scandal. And I would listen to what they said -- I might, after careful consideration, disagree, but I would absolutely listen and take it to heart.

Now, suppose I were not the founder, but some other member of management in a company, and the company was making a mistake. I would want the investors and board members to talk to the CEO (and other people, perhaps even me, depending on my role). I would want the CEO to listen (just as I would). But if the CEO were NOT listening, if the CEO were part of the problem... well, then I would want the investors and board members to use other channels (even public letters if that's what it took) to rescue the company before it was destroyed.

" But if the CEO were NOT listening, if the CEO were part of the problem... well, then I would want the investors and board members to use other channels (even public letters if that's what it took) to rescue the company before it was destroyed."

Errr, they literally describe this as the case?

(IE they tried all of the channels you suggest first)

> Errr, they literally describe this as the case?

Yes, that's why mcherm is saying that he agrees with the open letter having been written and published.

They wrote that they already tried those channels. Justified at that point to grab the megaphone.

Interesting, thank you for sharing.

Because they prefer morally scrupulous co-workers. Just a guess.

I think they should do a lot more than the letter, but not publicly. (And to be fair, it sounds like they did, until recently.) The ultimate goal here should be "make Uber a better company -- for employees, customers, and society", not "burnish the Kapor's SJW credentials". The public letter accomplishes the latter, not the former.

The Kapors are invested in Uber. If anything, they would care more about the success of Uber than all the other commentators here--aside from any employees.

Right now, they're probably walking a fine line between doing the right thing and maintaining some sort of ROI. I didn't know about the Kapors until today, but considering Mitch's background as an EFF cofounder, the companies Kapor Capital has invested in, and their two other articles on Medium posted a year ago, their actions show they care about more than just profits.

If all the Kapors' effort happens to be for "burnishing SJW credentials" then so be it, at least they're making a difference in the real world.

From reading the letter it sounds like they've been trying to do more for years in private, without success.

What is your reasoning to state so unequivocally that the goal of this is not to make Uber a better company?

Do you agree at least in theory that there is some amount of time of attempting to influence a company in private without success after which it is appropriate to go public? If not why not, and if so why are you so certain that that time requirement has not been met yet in this case?

What are their "SJW credentials"?

I take the opposite view. Ethics are important. If I was to found and run a company I'd hope that I'd never let things get to the point that investors felt that this was a reasonable step. It sounds like up until this point they've been active and trying to help the company with these sorts of issues in a more discreet manner.

Mitch Kapor must know that a number of founders will react this way. That makes it a stronger statement, because it's costing him something.

As a thought experiment, what if Travis Kalanick personally committed a serious violent crime, and Uber the company was covering it up? I think you would agree that it would be ethical and commendable in that hypothetical case for Mitch Kapor to go public like this with his criticism.

So if you accept that, then really it's just a measure of what offense is bad enough that it's ethical for an investor to criticize an investment like this. Maybe to you this sort of offense is not so bad, it's on the "okay" side of the line, and to Mitch Kapor this offense is pretty bad, it's on the "not okay" side of the line.

I don't think either you or Mitch Kapor is a bad person here. But, maybe all this public outcry indicates it is worth you thinking for a bit if perhaps you are underestimating how bad it is to allow this sort of environment at your company. Maybe you have been thinking "hmm this sort of problem is X amount badness" and the reality is it's 3X units of badness.

Personally, this makes me more likely to want a Mitch Kapor investment. If I am founding a company then I really do not want the culture to be Uber-like in its treatment of women. In fact I'd like everyone working at the company to know that up front. After he called out Uber publicly, anyone taking money from Mitch Kapor in the future is making a statement that they care about their culture not ending up like Uber culture.

Anyway I can't see inside your head so I don't know if your real nuanced stance on this is right or wrong but I wrote this comment in the hope that you would reflect a bit and consider retuning your instincts on "how bad is this sort of behavior" to be more critical of it.

I don't think I'd want investors to publicly criticize a founder or CEO in their portfolio even if the founder was arrested for shooting someone (particularly outside the workplace). Plenty of other people can do this; there's no reason for investors to weigh in. If it were a situation which were work related, then the issue is "pending" vs. "resolved" status. (If it were a serious crime credibly alleged, then I'd expect the CEO to resign pending resolution, but there isn't a whole lot of cause for anyone to comment on it during that process.)

Totally agree with you about not wanting Uber-like culture. People should take affirmative steps to not develop that kind of culture. Investors should contribute to that. But, I don't see investors going public with their concerns about portfolio companies as contributing to solving that.

I would possibly feel differently if it were a situation where the investor had special knowledge of the incident, but otherwise, why should this one of ~1-100 people comment, when there are ~7b other people who could?

Though I agree there is a line in the sand, I think there's more to this than just "how bad is this sort of behavior"

In addition to severity, we need to consider: - the "impact" made by joining the conversation publicly - other available means to exert the same level of influence

Given the size of the organization and the fact that it was already in crisis mode, I'd argue this won't really change much. And, if that's the case, then the breach of trust isn't really warranted.

As outsiders, it's impossible for us to truly determine how impactful this letter will be, or whether there were alternative means to achieve the same change.

Given imperfect information, where does that leave us?

Well, making business decisions always involves incomplete information. If there's uncertainty around whether said investor's actions were justified, and I have a choice to take money from another investor on equal terms, I'll take the alternative (all else equal).

This is a practical decision driven by caution - not a judgement of character on said investor (I have a lot more respect for Mitch as a person because he certainly considered the consequences of this letter).

I appreciate this not because I think it will change Uber. I appreciate this because it will make Mitch Kapor's other investments realize that, if their internal culture is as bad as Uber's, they now have one more reason to improve it.

I think they know this. And they still wrote it. What does this tell us?

Hah. Yes, they are not looking to be all things to all founders. This is good signaling on their part.

I started a company while sharing office space with them--great people. I'm sure they've been working behind the scenes on this for a long time.

Being in the Kapor office I got a much more visceral experience of "diversity and inclusion" as a raise the bar strategy. Tons of smart people who were also happy and kind and productive.

Ding ding ding ding ding.

Two things can be true: This can be a breach of trust, and the situation within Uber is so dire, with so many people being just terrible human beings, that this breach was necessary.

How else should the investor respond? In many situations (I don't know enough about this one) I don't think it's acceptable to say nothing; it's effectively tacit support.

Unclear. It's a tough situation.

I wouldn't consider one of the (100?) investors Uber has to be responsible for Uber's actions, particularly since they're famous for ignoring their investors. Investors are most responsible for the investment decision itself; if they knowingly invested in Uber today, that's a different statement IMO than investing in Uber 4 years ago.

I would still prioritize fiduciary duty and privileged information/position as an advisor over anything else, unless there were criminal activity, in which case I'd bring it to the attention of the board and correct authorities.

I think you can criticize Travis and management a lot in private, and ultimately push for changes in management (although I don't think anyone would benefit from removing Travis!). Doing things in public is not helpful, though.

The other really helpful thing is probably a good reporting pipeline for employees if they think something criminal or illegal or unethical is happening. Less of an issue in a company the size of Uber (there SHOULD have been a way to report to someone...HR was weak, but legal/CFO?). In a smaller company, I'd consider an investor a good proxy for that.

I think you can criticize Travis and management a lot in private,

It sounds like that's what they've been doing ("We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside."). If the private approach doesn't work, what should one do?

Accept that they possibly can't fix Uber, and focus on making/helping other investments.

If your neighbor is beating his wife, and he won't stop when you talk to him privately, you have two options: You go public, or you accept that you can't fix him, and move on.

It seems like they feel some responsibility for having put money into a business where toxicity was tolerated, and also that their trust in Uber's management has been breached. Why do you think it's so important that they keep their views private rather than state them publicly?

I have a pretty bright-line rule: investors should not be publicly critical of portfolio companies or founders. This situation does test it, but in general I think investors, founders, and society are better off with that rule than without it.

(Doesn't apply to public companies, since you're appealing to potential co-investors. Doesn't apply in cases of criminal/etc. behavior when a founder or manager is replaced.)

And I don't. I believe that investors who would be quiet in this situation have shown that they have absolutely no scruples or morals.

I understand what your position is, but I'm asking why you hold it.

I have two reasons for asking this. First, criminality seems a really low bar to set before you can speak up about an ethical issue, and second, not speaking up about questionable ethical behavior often enables criminality to continue - Bernie Madoff springs to mind as a simplistic example.

I hold it because there's a huge value to being able to 100% trust your team/investors, and compromising it even for "cause" harms that, and on balance, is a bigger problem.

There are ~7b other people who can call out Uber's behavior who are NOT Uber investors. I don't think any particular value was added in this coming from Kapor vs., say, EKP. There are a lot of people who are not Uber employees or investors who have even more moral credibility here, too.

How are you quantifying this value to weigh one issue against the other? It seems like you're saying the potential profit is the defining factor for you, so I'm wondering where you consider the stakes to be valuable enough to override other considerations.

I don't see how people outside the team are supposed to call out bad behavior if they have no information about what's going on within the team because confidentiality is contractually enforced.

Trust has to be mutual. Once the investors have complained and not been listened to, how can they continue to trust?

> I wouldn't consider one of the (100?) investors Uber has to be responsible for Uber's actions

Not fully responsible, but still responsible. IMHO we are accountable for the consequences of our actions. As an extreme example, I shouldn't fund someone who uses slave labor. If I knowingly funded someone's violent, criminal act, I would go to jail.

I think the bar for criticizing an existing portfolio company should be far higher than the bar for declining to make an investment (and potentially telling the company why you're declining...not often done, but if it's due to a moral reason, probably worth it.)

Criminal activity is clearly a line which can't be crossed even for existing portfolio, but I don't think an investor is the one in a position to deal with that -- it's more for regulators.

Exiting the investment is probably the course I'd take before publicly calling out a portfolio company, for "non-criminal but terminally bad-for-brand" reasons.

Internal corporate governance (board/shareholder actions) would be before that, and extreme internal pressure before that. I'm absolutely not calling for investors to just let stupid stuff pass; I just don't blame investors for not taking action when not required, and I think there's a defined escalation path which doesn't include an open letter to a portfolio company which isn't public.

Kapor Capital focuses on funding companies that strive to make positive social change. Uber's behavior pretty much forced Kapor into make a statement; staying silent while touting their message of diversity would look extremely bad.

There's a bit of a theme in these comments that make it appear that the founder-investor relationship should become a suicide pact in the face of problems.

That seems inconsistent, curious how you reconcile. Some companies now might hesitate to work Kapors. Some companies now might hesitate to hire Susan. If you are okay with employee speaking up publicly when private action failed, why not an investor? Seems entirely within their rights and the moral thing to do.

> this is a deep breech of trust in a non-public company

How so? Senior leaders at Uber seeking "advice on a variety of issues, mostly pertaining to diversity and inclusion" isn't a bad thing.

Clarifying that Travis Kalanick, the CEO, wasn't one of those senior leaders, doesn't breach anyone's trust.

Really? This has the opposite effect on me. Uber and Travis were given plenty of opportunity to change and they didn't take it so the Kapors are taking action. We need more investors like Kapors and less amoral profit first and only investors.

On one hand you are right, but on the other I've seen this argument used soooo many times in my life by people who didn't leave you another chance. And if one can believe the content of the open letter, it also says that they already tried multiple times to discuss this in private.

Communication always has two sides. And if one side is not willing you can't just blame the other side.

I think you're misplacing where the deep breech of trust has occurred ... if an investor stays silent in this situation, I would regard that investor as suspect ethically.

And in this case, if the investor is pissed at Travis for not getting in touch (a different breech of the relationship), this is pretty good way of getting their attention (well, possibly).

Edit: disclaimer, I should declare my bias: #deleteuber

I'm sure this will be an unpopular opinion since most of us agree with what Mitch is saying and rightfully want change, but as a founder, this sort of behavior from an investor seems to be a giant breach of trust.

In early rounds, founders are looking for investors who will trust management to make decisions in the best interest of the company. EVEN if they don't agree with those decisions, it's expected that they'll be a team player and provide support in whatever way possible.

I'm sure Mitch thinks what he's doing is in the best interest of the company (and it probabily is!). But, he surely doesn't have perfect information on what's going on (only management has a full picture).

To me, the Kapor's are effectively claiming Uber has breached their trust.

They also indicate they have been a "team player" during prior incidents: "As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture. When Uber has come under public criticism, we have been available to make suggestions, and have been publicly supportive, in the hope that the leadership would take the necessary steps to make the changes needed to bring about real change."

So it's hard for me to fault them here.

For the sake of more thought provocation, what do you think about YC's "Founder Ethics" rules, and how would you want YC to respond if Uber were a YC company? http://www.ycombinator.com/ethics/

One notable difference with YC is that when they cut ties for ethical reasons, they do it privately, and dispose of their ownership.

It's a particularly principled stance.

It's not obvious that quietly separating is the principled stance when dealing with ethical issues.

Do you know of an example of that?

If he knew, sharing such information would probably not be consistent with the practice.

If you can't think/find an example of this happening, that would confirm the assertion that YC does this quietly and privately.

Or not at all.

My only problem with the YC rules are that some of them are pretty open to interpretation, although I trust the people making the judgment to be both competent and fair. (the standard catch-all "Generally behaving in a professional and upstanding way.", etc.)

I think the author realizes they don't have a full picture. They never claim to know all the facts. They even say in so many words that Uber has been unwilling to share it's internal corrective actions or have executives discuss with investors the sort of issues they're dealing with. There seems to be a veil of secrecy between management and these particular investors.

I don't think being a founder should mean that once the check clears your free to do whatever you want and answer to nobody. I don't think that's a very common arrangement.

These investors are looking for actionable steps that Uber is taking to improve. Not a one-size fits all band-aid PR statement or middle-management meeting.

They even say in so many words that Uber has been unwilling to share it's internal corrective actions or have executives discuss with investors the sort of issues they're dealing with.

Not only that, Uber wouldn't even give investors their revenue numbers:


> this sort of behavior from an investor seems to be a giant breach of trust.

I agree with you here, but I'm drawing a different conclusion. I think investors publicly taking their company to task should be an absolute last resort, but that it's justified in this case, because Uber's behavior is just that egregious.

EVEN if they don't agree with those decisions, it's expected that they'll be a team player and provide support in whatever way possible.

Up to certain limits, and respecting certain ethical norms. Apparently the Kapors came to the conclusion that those limits had been reached, and that Uber's behavior ultimately failed to meet those norms. Or in their own words: "We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside."

And so they felt it was time to act by other means.

Investors don't lose their right to an opinion. If anything, their opinion matters more because they've put their money on the line. Since it appears Uber only made token attempts to hear their feedback through past crises, it is entirely appropriate to take concerns public now.

Founders don't get unconditional support from investors. They aren't therapists or doctors or lawyers. When you take money from someone, you're giving them a promise in return. Yes financial gains are part of that promise, but so is conducting yourself ethically and ensuring that the "business" is just as successful as the "product". Treating your people right is part of the contract.

And helping support and nurture the companies they invested in does not mean simply enabling whatever the founders do.

> In early rounds, founders are looking for investors who will trust management to make decisions in the best interest of the company.

We're hardly in early rounds for Uber at this point. July 2016 was round 15 and Kapor's been invested in Uber since 2010 as angel investors (essentially round 1)[0].

[0]: https://www.crunchbase.com/funding-round/c76f942969286763614...

> who will trust management to make decisions in the best interest of the company.

And how is letting a culture like this go rampant "in the best interest of the company"?

> EVEN if they don't agree with those decisions, it's expected that they'll be a team player and provide support in whatever way possible.

I don't agree with you there either. It's not the investors responsibility or job to blindly follow the CEO. It's their job to advise them, to be asked for advise and to help correct course. But that also means you need to listen to them and when that's not happening investors need to ensure they're heard.

As a citizen, I'm frequently told to "vote with my wallet".

Therefore, I would hope that people with way bigger wallets than me would be held to the same standard.

It looks like they've been trying the dignified, private route for seven years. How long should they wait?

only management has a full picture

From the sounds of things, management has anything but "a full picture". Which is apparently part of the problem.

Oh, management has a full picture. It's exactly what they encouraged. HR doesn't just decide on their own to ignore the issue. That tone is set right from the top.

It's just that the full picture turns out to be a giant dumpster fire, and they don't want to admit that publicly.

I disagree; management is very very carefully making sure they do not have the full picture :)

Because at this point there's a good chance principals are going to be telling a jury what did they know, and when did they know it.

That's almost never an exercise in not having the full picture, it's an exercise in not having it on paper.

As an investor, I'd never give money to a founder who exhibits this sort of attitude.

Uber is facing a catastrophic crisis. This could kill the company, or at least cause massive attrition. If Uber isn't willing to take advice on how to get out of this terrible situation that it has created, it may well die.

And in situations like this, I find it a general rule to never give management the "benefit of the doubt".

Of course, I'm not trying to give you money, but I'd hope other founders don't learn from your behavior.

>...or at least cause massive attrition.


Blind app is anonymous, so obviously this is yet to be substantiated. If this attrition is actually taking place, we'll know very shortly.

>This could kill the company, or at least cause massive attrition.

They might have been safer if they were a snowflake. But the ride-hailing market has competition. Both from Lyft and just regular cab companies that are (slowly) starting to up their game.

Well that's the problem, isn't it? A founder looking for your money is not going to go out and say that they want investors who give them a blank check. But the fact is if they're deciding between you and another investor that is more "founder-friendly," all else being equal, they are going to pass on you.

Maybe massive attrition is the goal. Encourage employees with lots of unvested stock to quit to reduce dilution. Since earlier hires tend to be higher up the chain, creating a culture of insubordination and winner-take-all politics makes it hard to "vest in peace".

As others have said, management (in my experience) never has the full picture, it has its own perspective.

I'm curious about the breach of trust you feel -- surely investors in a company don't relinquish their values or place unconditional trust in the company? The Kapors are not a PE firm, and their ethical stands have been known for decades.

You can't on the one hand benefit from the brand value of investors like Mitch & Freida and not also expect such stakeholders to also expect a certain caliber of behavior by the company.

I think investors in a startup are forgiving of early missteps. Uber is way, way past that stage.

"In early rounds, founders are looking for investors who will trust management..."

And by "early rounds" you mean $2B, correct?

I dunno man, maybe there are higher ideals than "the company". Ever thought about that?

Or that they view "the company" and "the founders" as separate entities.

Uber isn't some scrappy startup anymore, it's a giant company with a market cap comparable to Nike or Costco.

> it's expected that they'll be a team player and provide support in whatever way possible

The way I read it, it sounds like they tried that and found the approach didn't work. So they moved on to "tough love" and are trying an intervention.

To turn that around, is there any situation in which you believe early-round investors can ethically discuss problems in public?

You're absolutely right it's a breach of trust. In the _worst_ kind of way as well. They're saying - I'm really upset about such egregious activities that took place at Uber, but here's why my continued investment is justified. It's pure posturing.

Nowhere in that letter did they discuss continued investing that I could see. This amounts to a wild accusation with no basis for it.

Being a "team player" often is shorthand for being willing to tolerate a bit of moral stench for the sake of everyone's economics - or to ignore the odor as long as the team member's heart isn't in the wrong place. Not everyone would accept that definition of team play. If the investor had sent this letter without engaging in private attempts first, that would have been a failure of team obligation, I agree. That wasn't the case here.

And what if Uber's management loses the trust of the investors? If management Fucks up, investors should NOT blindly follow the lead of poor decisions.

Made a throwaway name because I have an unpopular opinion.

We've likely read Susan Fowler's blog post. If true, it's awful behavior on the part of HR and management at Uber, and action should be taken.

But that's the thing: a blog post does not establish truth. We've heard from only one side of the story. No one ever asks about the other side, or about whether we are being misled. We only talk about the bravery of the author and condemn the other side.

I think the saddest part of our collective behavior is how quickly we come with pitchforks to a witch trial. We must remember that justice is not decided on Twitter, or on blogs. Justice is not decided by the voice of the accuser.

Did you see evidence besides Susan Flower's putting phrases in quotation marks? She mentions screenshots of improper behavior but provides none. What if tomorrow new evidence comes out that this whole thing was exaggerated or flat out wrong. How would it feel, to being so easily manipulated into drawing a conclusion, into retweeting a fiction, into writing an open letter?

Fowler made accusations of fact. They can be proven or disproven.

She didn't say opinions like "they were meanies to me" or "they gave a promotion to a man when I was the better performer." In that case, people would likely decide who to believe based on their priors.

Instead, she made specific accusations that, if false, Uber could easily show as false. Note that Uber has not even done that. Likely because she can prove the claims are true, in court if necessary.

No one ever asks about the other side, or about whether we are being misled.

That's just not true. There are numerous comments on HN that reflect exactly this sentiment, as well as every other point in your comment.

The other side is not Uber, it's the accused.

Can you please elaborate? Your initial comment makes the point that no one is questioning Susan Fowler's allegations, that it's only one side, that her "blog post does not establish truth." That's the point that many other comments have made, whether it be about what happened at Uber, or more generally about whether the allegations are true at all.

At this point, the accused (or Uber, for that matter) is perfectly free to make some announcement if they so choose. I wouldn't expect them to—nor fault them—as it wouldn't make any sense, politically or legally, to do so at this point, at least until the conclusion of any investigation.

No, this was a story about Uber, try to keep up.

Uber, up to and including the CEO, have admitted publicly that they're working to resolve internal issues.

In Kalanick's place, I would do the exact same thing regardless of whether the claims were valid.

2 years after a jury found that Ellen Pao was full of it, TechCrunch and other media still portrays her as a victim. Most likely they will do the same for Susan Fowler, even if (purely hypothetically) a court finds her to be full of it.


In such a media climate, you need to genuflect in the direction of all that the masses find holy regardless of the facts. At least if you are good at politics, which Uber is.

"2 years after a jury found that Ellen Pao"

... found that Ellen Pao could not prove her case on the balance of probabilities. That's not the same thing as you just said.

Fowler's claims are statements of fact that can be easily proven if true or easily disproven if false.

By whom? What do you think the public or the media would react when they see a young woman fighting with a multi-billion dollar company that is already in a PR crisis in a sexual harassment case? The truth is always more nuances than just true or false. If as a community we learn a good lesson, then all this is probably worth it.

As for Ms. Fowler, I don't expect her to be a neutral figure, and if you read her tweets, who called for boycott of her ex-employer based on false information, she clearly is not.

People ask for the other side all the time. But where is the other side? Why are they not using neutral outside investigators?

>"Made a throwaway name because I have an unpopular opinion."

Why do you feel the need to make a throwaway account to state your views?

The open letter wasn't about just this one thing.

What would an ideal way forward be for Uber? Recent incidents combined with a tainted past make public trust in Uber not the best.

Lot of people have suggest these problems stem from the culture. Culture of companies and people is similar to the culture of, say, bread. The starter really matters and sets the tone. I'd be interested in hearing from people who have seen a drastic change in culture at a big place or better yet, have been behind that change.

The other idea is it could just be a few rotten apples giving everyone a bad name. I don't know the answer.

>The other idea is it could just be a few rotten apples giving everyone a bad name.

There's no such thing as this.

Honestly, is everyone these days completely ignorant of what happens when you leave a few rotten apples in a big bunch of apples? In case you don't know, the correct answer is that very soon, ALL the apples become rotten. That's why we have the old saying about "bad apples": "one bad apple ruins the whole bunch". Somehow, these days, everyone seems to have forgotten the "ruins the whole bunch" part of the phrase which is so important to its meaning.

It applies outside of apples too: it applies to police, corporations, any human organization really. There's no such thing as "only a few bad apples". An organization that tolerates rotten people very quickly becomes thoroughly rotten.

Thanks for taking time to lay that out. I've felt like I was living in some alternate reality the last few years every time someone trots out that saying as an excuse to duck responsibility.

That may be a good analogy to make but it is not that simple. I am going to try find it, but there was at least one paper showing how it really depends on the placement of the kind of actors in a system. Enough (but an easy minority) of good actors in a system could "clean up" the system by ensuring everyone acts well. If you want a more relatable simple analogy is a benevolent dictator cleaning up the mess.

You've flipped the situation. Arizhel isn't making an analogy, they're correcting your misuse of one ("a few rotten apples") to defend a conclusion that is the exact opposite of the one it implies.

Allow employees to sue as a class for cases of sexual harassment. Currently, Uber's employees are bound to confidential, bilateral and binding arbitration.

Next, deputise an ombudsman to whom every employee has a confidential and direct line. This ombudsman reports directly to the CEO and the Board. They should have a large amount of authority surrounding recommending dismissal of any employee to the CEO; whenever a recommendation is made, it should be copied to the Board. In return, the ombudsman should carry a significant amount of personal liability in connection with sexual harassment at the company.

This is how compliance works at many financial firms, and it's very effective. Compliance officers are deputized by the U.S. Treasury for anti-money laundering purposes. This makes them personally responsible if something goes wrong. It shows.

> What would an ideal way forward be for Uber?

How about firing sexual harassers? And any HR staff that systematically lied to cover it up. And the people who gave them those orders. And not taking forever to do it.

Simply firing people that have committed a certain offense may not fix the underlying problem—only treat the symptom. But I agree that sexual harassers should be separated from the company.

I'm not saying that's all they should do but, fundamentally, all the policies, training, press releases, investigations, CEO statements, etc. are secondary to the core test of whether bad behavior is encouraged, ignored, tolerated, slapped on the wrist or punished severely.

Not just that: cancel any stock options or other perks they have too.

New leadership is one option. Depends if investors feel a change would improve things or not

I think this open letter gives a very clear recommendation; have a truly independent investigation that leads to recommendations for change.

There's a grand tradition of founders being fired/resigning once their companies grew up, in order for the companies to grow up more. Kalanick's resignation is likely the ideal way forward for Uber as a company; it will be very difficult for him to solve this problem as it's tainted his reputation.

> What would an ideal way forward be for Uber? Recent incidents combined with a tainted past make public trust in Uber not the best.

Usually these are handled with a shake-up at the top, and other involved people being let go.

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