An Open Letter to The Uber Board and Investors
Mitch & Freada Kapor
2.6K108

Let’s look at this for exactly what it is.

The business model extracts the most ‘value’ it can by commodifying the labor pool of drivers, at scale, so that the investors can reap all the real profits.

This isn’t Semco or Mondragon or any kind of driver-owned cooperative — it’s a startup that has raised an incredible amount of cash and debt to support a wildly inflating burn rate to support an even more wildly inflatable valuation, not to mention lobbying power. That means, by default, the almighty cash and debt are kings, the board members are the queens, so just about everything and everyone else are pawns.

And the bad behavior won’t stop even when the company becomes profitable. Some people in management positions — whether executive or mid-level — will continue to act like jerks because there are no incentives not too, and there is no ‘culture’ (that elusive, emerging set of phenomena) even remotely democratized enough to put real checks-and-balances in place. Remember that incentives often represent a distinct polarity in management: the shareholders only really care about maintaining the value of their equity, while employees only really care about maintaining their salaries. The human part ‘in between’… well…

This is where ‘shareholder value’ becomes a vacuous, bottomless channel for fancy storytelling — namely PR — to hide the realities of the extraction game being played. More correlative measures ensue to stem the bleeding caused by the source, which is greed, followed by resource stratification (“We need more drivers, stat!”) and a somewhat untenable IPO trajectory.

Untenable because there is no such thing as real growth without an earnest (re)investment in the people doing the hard work.

You want to transform the leadership structure? Foster a better ‘culture’? Empower employees through ‘diversity and inclusion’?

Change the business model.

Create driver-owned hubs, or at least some mechanism for them to enjoy the upside, and enable them to learn new skills beyond giving or sharing rides.

To do so would require a totally different approach to leadership, as well as totally different approaches to recapitalizing and restructuring the business operations.

Probably isn’t gonna happen, right?

But wouldn’t it be amazing — and quite a story to boot — if it actually did?