Everyone knows Uber has had the no good, very bad, absolutely frigging awful year from hell. For Uber, 2017 wasn’t so much another one on the books as a 12-month-long procession of humiliations and catastrophes. Mass firings, board battles, lawsuit after lawsuit, a breathtakingly massive data breach, multiple federal investigations, revoked licenses, protests, boycotts, executive resignations, and a seemingly bottomless bucket of bad press marked one of the most calamitous years a tech company has ever seen.
Yet here we are at the close of 2017 and Uber endures. Reach into your pocket, fire up the app, and you can still get a ride within minutes. How did Uber withstand such a lengthy and grueling beating? With some savvy crisis management!
Here's a list of 12 survival tips gleaned from the ride-hailing company's year from hell.
1. If it looks like your worst year on record might culminate in a huge drop in total value and the resignation of your founding CEO, make sure it coincides with something really distracting...like the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Yes, Uber faced allegations of stealing trade secrets, sexual harassment and discrimination, and losing millions of individuals’ personal information. But it did so at a time when the United States was grappling with possible electoral meddling, a president accused of sexual misconduct, misinformation, and a looming nuclear threat from an increasingly agitated North Korea. In comparison to all that, Uber’s problems seem pretty minor. Just don’t forget to have your CEO resign from Trump’s economic advisory council if your customer base stages a social media revolt.
2. The best thing to do if hackers steal the personal information of 57 million users is to pay the hackers $100,000 for their silence.
If the breach becomes public anyway, get rid of your security managers.
3. When a video of your CEO yelling at a driver about pay rates surfaces just nine days after a former employee's blog post about gender discrimination at your company goes viral, reassure the world that said CEO will be seeking leadership guidance.
On Feb. 19 of this year, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler hit publish on her now-infamous blog post alleging that her manager at Uber had asked her to sleep with him and that when she reported his behavior to HR, nothing was done. On Feb. 28, just nine days later, Bloomberg published a video from earlier that month of CEO Travis Kalanick excoriating a driver who pressed him about falling rates and low earnings. “Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” says Kalanick, unaware he’s on camera. Unfortunately for Kalanick, his vow to hire a COO and improve his leadership skills wasn’t enough; four months later, he resigned.
4. If, during an all-hands meeting about sexism and sexual harassment, one of your board members makes a sexist comment, get him to resign!
When former Uber board member David Bonderman told current Uber board member Arianna Huffington that adding more women to the board meant there's "likely to be more talking," it was like the cherry on top of a bad PR sundae. The two of them were, after all, onstage at a meeting in front of thousands of employees, discussing…how to make Uber less sexist. But Uber managed to recover from this fumble when Bonderman resigned his post just a few hours after the meeting adjourned, calling his comment “careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable.”
5. When reports emerge that your employees are burned out, overworked, and mired in a toxic work culture, set out piles of books about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep throughout the office.
Bonus points if the book is written by a trusted company adviser and board member.
6. Should a former security analyst write you a letter alleging that you surveilled competitors, stole proprietary info, and instructed employees to use encrypted messaging to keep the evidence off your servers, pay him $4.5 million and hire him as a "consultant."
Don’t tell anyone about it, especially not the lawyers of the massive company suing you for allegedly stealing its trade secrets.
7. When the judge in the case learns of the letter and accuses your legal team of knowingly withholding evidence, have your deputy general counsel explain — on the stand — that she's currently handling 749 other lawsuits the company is facing.
Those suits include class action lawsuits brought by drivers, class action lawsuits brought by passengers, suits about violent crimes, suits about alleged assault, suits about lost wages, suits about stolen medical records, suits about gender discrimination…
8. Hire a former attorney general to clean up your mess.
Former Obama AG Eric Holder helped Airbnb — surely he can help you, too! The report Holder’s law firm wrote on Uber after a five-month investigation still hasn’t been seen by the public, and there’s probably a reason Uber kept it that way.
9. If your “pugnacious” CEO resigns, replace him with someone who is not. Make sure that person has a sense of humor and inspires trust.
Uber’s shortlist for CEO candidates included former GE chief Jeffrey Immelt and HP CEO Meg Whitman. But at the last minute, Uber’s board selected dark horse candidate Dara Khosrowshahi, previously CEO of Expedia and notable for his “youthful vitality.” Born in Tehran, Khosrowshahi has been an outspoken opponent of President Trump’s policies, especially the ban on immigrants traveling to the US from certain Muslim countries. Experts said he’s known for his “internal calm” and “even keeled and low-key" demeanor, a big change after eight years of Travis.
10. Have a product people can’t stop using.
At the beginning of the year, the #DeleteUber movement took Twitter by storm. Since then, vows to boycott the app have been all the rage. And yet — whether because of special deals or slashed prices or some kind of perverse loyalty — lots of people continue to use Uber. In fact, UberEATs, Uber’s food delivery app, grew like crazy this year, becoming the most profitable part of the company. Uber the company has its faults, but Uber the app is a product people can’t seem to stop themselves from using, even when they want to.
11. Be willing to make concessions to your employees.
In an effort to rehabilitate its reputation, Uber had to do some things it probably never expected to do. It introduced tipping for drivers. It extended the window for employees who want to exercise stock options. It began offering in-office therapy, took steps to make corporate compensation more fair, and made driver ratings less draconian. A cynic might say Uber did many of these things to boost employee and driver retention. But cynic is just another word for survivor.
12. Finally, if worst comes to worst, convince a Japanese conglomerate to buy at least 14% of your company at a steep discount.
Uber’s massive deal with Softbank was completed in November. The conglomerate's purchase of $10 billion in Uber stock could reduce the power of some of the company’s current board members and smooth over some tensions inside its governing body. Uber called the tender offer “a strong vote of confidence” in its long-term potential, adding that the agreement put it on track to go public in 2019.
But even if it doesn’t IPO in the near future, for Uber, the year to come’s just got to be better than this one.
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Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O'Donovan at email@example.com.
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