Uber the product vs Uber the company

There has been increasing debate over Uber the past couple of months. Both in the tech industry and in the general press in both US and Europe.

It’s an interesting discussion to follow. For no matter what Uber does, a surprising amount of people keep defending Uber. Uber’s defenders are people who I rarely see publicly defending any company — and certainly not companies that operate in dubious ways. And even though there are campaigns such as #deleteuber, there is only very short lived effects: Uber is still the most downloaded taxi app:

Quick list of Ubers problems:

  1. Constantly breaking national and city regulations
  2. Large scale sexual harassments
  3. Broke car service solidarity during Travel Ban demonstrations
  4. Vast number of filed lawsuits

Uber is almost sui generis in being lauded for breaking regulations. Yes, a lot of us agree that current regulations should be changed, but usually we all agree to respect laws and work on changing them. But not in this case. To illustrate the point, look at this graph over lawsuits against Uber and somewhat similar services:

Why are so many defending Uber despite such significant flaws? I think we have to look at Uber the service and Uber the company to really understand this.

Uber the Service

Uber has one of the best product-market fit in the history. They have an incredible service that most of us really enjoy. It solves a real problem by providing much higher service at a lower price than traditional taxis. Add to this significant network effects which keep competitors out of most markets.

Uber the Company

Uber has a brand of pushing the limit: According to their storytelling, they are going head to head against an old and powerful lobby. While this is true, they are doing it by breaking laws until they get it their way. Not complying with laws is pretty normal for a company challenging the status quo. What is unique is that their default mode is breaking laws instead of trying to change the laws. And they do this while having a culture few of us find defendable.

We end up defending a company that shouldnt be defended, because we like their service so much. But it shouldn’t be like this: It is possible to build an excellent taxi service in a proper manner.

Defending Uber at this point is concerning at two levels: First, it is a direct approval of them breaking laws and treating women badly. Secondly, because of network effects, car sharing is largely a winner-take-all market. Defending Uber helps Uber get monopoly status in most Western markets. Once they have this monopoly, it will be even harder to get them to respect laws.

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