What Uber Taught Me
After 5.5 amazing years at Uber, I left last month to embark on a new journey. I want to thank all Uberettos for the magnificent time working together and building a truly impactful business. Working with each of you has been what I’ll most fondly remember: it has been a pleasure and an honour.
From launching & scaling Uber in the Netherlands in 2012 as Community Manager, to pushing the PRO team internationally, to building Uber Eats across EMEA as Launcher & General Manager with the most brilliant teams — it’s been one hell of a ride (and bite).
I’ve seen how a small band of bandits can change a city, a country, and even the world. How what we built very quickly became bigger than ourselves: about empowering partners, improving cities, and providing economic opportunities for everyone, everywhere. And how building the future starts with rolling up your sleeves and simply getting to work.
What I Learnt
In true Uber style, here’s a list of things I take away and learnt.
- I joined Uber for the brilliant people I met. They’re also the reason I stayed. The people are what I will miss the most. They are truly what makes Uber a magical place to work.
- The people were a better indicator of success than the initial product. In 2012 we effectively offered only private limousines through an app and hadn’t even started ridesharing. Let alone food delivery, autonomous cars, aircraft and freight and so on.
- Resource constraints empower people to be inventive, especially in the early stages. We had limited resources on our local operations team, but were all the more effective for it. To start or scale a business, you truly need a lot less than most people think. As there was no marketing budget, for example, we only used our product as marketing, bartered what we could, and starred in all our own photos/videos.
- Over-index on sharing and having teams learn from each other. Despite being resource constraint on purpose, we did share an incredible amount. Uber’s biggest (underestimated) strength is that it runs hundreds of local operations offices/startups, which are all empowered to test, fail and push change.
- Hiring and retaining talent is the most worthy and important task of any organisation. A players hire A players, but B players hire C players, etc. An overused adage, but quite telling. Uber may not have gotten retention and empowerment right all the way, but it is clearly the focus of the company today.
- Have a responsibility hierarchy, not a communications hierarchy. Some matters are confidential, but virtually all else is best shared honestly. Leading a team ≠ throttling information. Your team should be just as informed as you are, if not more so. That’s what management should be: informing and empowering teams to make the best decisions.
- Most people think they want more responsibility but are very uncomfortable actually getting it. Responsibility should invariably come with accountability. It’s ultimately being the person who owns the mistakes when things go wrong and being ok with getting no credit when things go right. Most people think it means cushy titles, cool business cards, and speaking at conferences every day. It does not. Do good work, be accountable, and the formal responsibilities will follow.
- Build something for others, not yourself. You’re welcome to want to use it, but the mission has to serve and empower others.
- Find the opportunity in every problem, not the problem in every opportunity: No business was ever built by focusing on what cannot be done. Find an opportunity and pursue it relentlessly, by focusing on the solutions, not the problems. Because you’ll encounter plenty of problems, only the solutions keep you going.
- Do the shit that doesn’t scale first: Don’t worry too much about scale and processes early on, especially as they might slow you down. You’ll need to do the stuff that doesn’t scale first before you know what scale should look like. Not the other way around. Don’t wait till tomorrow to do what can be done today.
- Building something is not supposed to be easy: Nothing worthwhile was ever easily created. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Don’t confuse easy with complicated though: building something is hard, but not necessarily complicated. The best ideas/answers/solutions are often surprisingly simple. They’re just difficult to create.
As to what’s next for myself, I’m not sure yet. It will probably be something small, scrappy, early stage all over again. And of course, I will be rooting for Uber all the way.
I’m deeply indebted to so many at Uber for this great experience. Thank you for letting me learn from you, for believing in me, for taking me along for the ride.