Travis apologizes, Uber #greyballs, and absurd receipts from Postmates and Instacart

XLIX

A profound apology.

Uber has surpassed dumpster fire status. I went on NPR Friday morning to talk about Uber’s meltdown; by the end of the day, two new things had happened. The latest:

  • Tuesday (Feb. 28): Bloomberg publishes dash-cam footage of Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver—“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit”—and shimmying to Maroon 5.

  • Later on Tuesday: Kalanick issues a “profound apology” for his behavior in the video and says he will seek music—I mean leadership—help.

  • Thursday: Uber says it will apply for a permit to test self-driving cars on public roads in California. Susan Fowler, the engineer who detailed sexual harassment at Uber, tweets that she secured legal counsel after the company hired a second law firm to investigate her account. 

  • Friday: The New York Times reports on “Greyball,” a tool Uber used to systematically identify and evade law enforcement in cities where its business is questionably legal.

  • Also on Friday: Uber VP of product and growth Ed Baker resigns.

  • Saturday: Kalanick is said to be seeking a no. 2 executive to help make key decisions.

  • Monday: The Financial Times reports that Uber employees are “losing faith and exploring exits.” That follows a New York Times report that Uber is considering ways to loosen restrictions on its stock options.

Let’s check in with Uber HQ:

The FT story seems particularly ominous. According to recruiters the FT spoke to, Uber employees have lost faith both in the company’s senior leadership and in the value of their stock options. I’ve heard similar things, with one employee recently admitting they valued the stock in their Uber compensation package as essentially worthless. This seems bad on two levels. First, stock is a key tool that Uber uses to recruit and retain talent in a competitive market. An Uber equity package is supposed to be the startup dream incarnate—a chance, vested over four years, to work hard and share in extreme wealth. As that dream is replaced by the grueling and toxic reality of Uber’s workplace, it will become much tougher for the company to keep current workers around and convince new ones to sign on. Second, while there were already plenty of reasons to question Uber’s $68 billion valuationexistential doubt from employees wasn’t among them. If Uber’s own staff is done drinking the Kool-Aid, what do Uber’s investors think?

Name game.

The craziest thing to me about the Times story on Uber Greyball was not that Uber used it improperly to evade sting operations, or served law enforcement a version of its app populated with ghost cars, or “geofenced” and monitored government offices, or even that Uber straight-up admitted to having had the program. No, it was that Uber named the tool GREYBALL. Here is some free advice: Just because your company is doing something vaguely nefarious doesn’t mean you have to call it something obviously nefarious. Evil-sounding names for evil-seeming plans are good for supervillains in Marvel movies and terrible for multibillion-dollar corporations. You’d think Uber would have learned that after GOD VIEW and OPERATION SLOG.

#AirbnbWhileBlack.

Inside Airbnb, a member of an anti-Airbnb group in New York, last week published a study that found that even in predominantly black neighborhoods, the vast majority of Airbnb hosts are white. Across 72 largely black neighborhoods in New York City (based on data from the American Community Survey), Inside Airbnb concluded that 74% of Airbnb hosts were white compared to 13.9% of the residential population. The racial disparity was greatest in Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Ocean Hill, East New York, and Stuyvesant Heights. Study author Murray Cox, a prominent Airbnb critic, also consulted with Ben Edelman, a Harvard professor who worked on a leading study of racial discrimination on Airbnb and in the broader sharing economy.

​“Airbnb has argued that it offers a fair number of properties in historically-black neighborhoods and neighborhoods with a high share of minority residents. Airbnb’s implication is that its service helps minority hosts by providing them with additional income,” Edelman wrote me in an email. “But this report shows that whites benefit much more, and that counting properties by neighborhood risks highly misleading conclusions.”

Airbnb, meanwhile, has condemned the study as “deeply flawed” and called its methodology “discredited.” “This study methodology and data is so flawed there is no way that anyone can put stock in its conclusions,” writes Laura Murphy, the former ACLU leader Airbnb hired last year to help fix problems with discrimination on its platform. “This is all a diversion tactic backed by a lodging industry that is deeply threatened by Airbnb.”

Order it again.

Here is a piece by an editor at The Ringer who claims to have ordered from Postmates 705 times in the last four years. It is long on descriptions of her life, her cat, and her food fantasies, and remarkably short on details about the actual Postmates service (i.e., wait times, service quality, delivery fees). The closest the author gets to hinting at what those 705 orders might have cost her is toward the end, when she admits to having spent $102.64 to get $42.94 worth of Italian sandwiches from a deli named Bay Cities delivered to her home. “Service fee” ($3.87), delivery ($48.50), and tip ($9.33) added a combined $59.70 to the order, a markup of 139%. “No, it was not the last we partook in Bay Cities,” the writer adds. I guess someone has to keep these on-demand companies going! Elsewhere, a customer in Boston paid a 78% premium to get their groceries through Instacart.

Other stuff.

Lyft seeks $500 million in new funding at valuation of $6 billion to $7 billion. How Jill Wetzler became director of engineering at Lyft. New Jersey man sues friend over unauthorized Airbnb rental. China’s “Uber for Bikes” Startups Are Being Taken for a Ride by Thieves, Vandals, and Cheapskates. Ofo valued at $1 billion. Uber and Ola won’t deter Indians from owning cars. MTBA expands use of Uber, Lyft for paratransit riders in Boston. Rhode Island AG wants fingerprinting for Uber, Lyft. Instacart in talks to raise $400 million. Amsterdam Airbnb fines top €500,000. French hoteliers intensify Airbnb fight. Analysts aren’t sure what to make of Tesla. Tech guy who called homeless “degenerates” wants to put them on a cruise ship. Encouraging Employee Ownership Act. Airbnb for parking spaces. Airbnb in Trump Tower. On-demand deodorant. I'm Renting a Dog.