Uber logo for "An Uber apology" on ThisIsSamsTown.com

An Über apology

Uber logo for "An Uber apology" on ThisIsSamsTown.com

A little before Christmas, the worst happened in Sydney. Martin Place suddenly became the center of attention when one man took hostages the customers of a café and the the whole started fearing about whatever was happening at that time.

In the wake of this event, Uber sent a communication that would trigger an immediate and angry response from the public. A tweet I came across, boasting surge pricing in order to draw drivers to the scene and “help” the people of Sydney get away from the danger zone.

More than a communication mistake. Just sheer stupidity from any point of view.

And on December 24th, an email came from Uber Sydney. A letter of apology. I copy the whole text below :

The events of last week in Sydney were upsetting for the whole community and we are truly sorry for any concern that our process may have added. 

Our priority was to help get as many people out of the CBD safely in the midst of a fast-moving event. The decisions we made were based only on helping to achieve this but we communicated this poorly, leading to a lot of misunderstanding about our motivations.

Surge pricing is algorithmic and kicks in automatically when demand for rides outstrips the supply of cars that are on the road. This encourages more drivers to the area where people are requesting rides. As an increasing number of people were requesting rides that morning in the CBD, surge pricing came into effect automatically and this is when you might have seen higher prices.

We didn’t stop surge pricing immediately. This was the wrong decision. We quickly reversed course and provided free rides to people needing to leave the CBD. In the end, no rider was charged to leave the CBD on Monday and all higher fares resulting from surge pricing earlier in the day were fully refunded.

It’s unfortunate that the perception is that Uber did something against the interests of the public. We certainly did not intend to. We will learn from this incident and improve as a result of this lesson. Uber is committed to ensuring users have a reliable ride when they need it most – including and especially during disasters and relevant states of emergency. We take our community commitment very seriously in the 250+ cities Uber serves around the globe.

Please know that we have listened to the feedback and we are working to standardise a global policy to ensure we’re serving communities in the most efficient, effective and helpful way possible at all times. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims’ families, those that were injured and the Sydney community of which we are so proud to be a part.

The “mistake” was more than a mistake as it led to misunderstanding and did seriously hurt the brand. Especially at a time when Uber should definitely not have to be handling more “shit” than it does already.

Let this serve as a lesson for every social media manager, for every brand representative out there. Whatever the situation, whatever the need for speed that social media push on people, just sit down, relax and … Think before acting stupidly!

Building a startup with friends … hurdles to face

A post usually draws its inspiration in recent experience or trending topics.

This one comes from experience and me finally opening my eyes or, well, just noticing that more and more startups I face are built by a bunch of friends.

I mean, usually early stage startups. I also mean young friends. The fact that I came to my senses during a startup contest held by a university might have helped emphasize this pinpointed view, I must admit.

Yet, my title theme remains valid anyway. Which is quite good, be it only for the sake of this post.

Building a startup is cool. Doing it with close friends might prove even cooler. Succeeding with them would be extreme.

Failing with them might prove difficult, at least.

Quick look at the process of giving birth to a startup:

Some guys (gender-neutral “guys” so my “guys” here is both guy-guy and girl-guy), sitting at a table, sipping some beers, discussing the World.

Idea pops up. Guys like it. Let’s work and build on it! A startup is cool. Let’s build a startup! I like marketing, I am to be the CMO. You had the initial idea and study business, you are our CEO. Open road to success!

When this works out, these guys have the best life and job ever and can enjoy speaker spots at the likes of SXSW, TNW, and so on.

When this does not work out, well, an increasing number of guys I meet are quite unprepared.

Failure sure is an option.

Now, the issue to be faced will occur when it comes to the actual handling of what failure includes.

A startup, be it the coolest one, the initially richest one, etc… is, at first, a company.

And a company has to be managed. And managed quite seriously.

Hurdles, faced by startup founders too

Hurdles, faced by startup founders too

That is where my friendly bunch of “guys” might fail. Talking to these people (various teams, various people, same issue), I asked them about how they were organized, who decided it would be organized this way and, more importantly, how they would handle crisis – and maybe the crisis that their organization would create.

Whatever the reason for failure or crisis, when startups are founded by half a dozen people, it means the revenue drawn from the product sold (assuming it is even sold) will have to cater for the lives of this whole bunch. The more people, the more money is needed. The sad bit is that numbers within the startup do not usually make bigger numbers on the market.

Call it the bodybuilder syndrome. The bigger the muscles, the more they need to eat. If the eating is too light, muscles will feed themselves out of their own selves.

For the startup, it means creating foundations for losing money even before making some.

Then, there is a second hurdle to face for those startups with numerous founders: the roles and responsibilities.

Even if everybody is basically happy to grant themselves C-titles, there might come a time when the skipper (e.g. the guy that everybody “smiled” to the CEO position in the first place) will have to skip.

During harsh times, the boss has to be the boss and act as the boss.

My question to this boss : “Are you ready to sack your friends ?”.

I have had little answers to this question.

As a reminder, a startup is a company. The CEO of a startup is the boss. The boss has to lead the company and make decisions even if the decision is about getting rid of lazy buggers (still friends) or laying off employees (yes, the CMO friend) to reduce costs and pressure on the company.

Too many lack that vision. That sure is the un-sexy part of startups but the sorry real-life though.

Actually, that is the “work hard” part (of the “Work hard, play hard“). A startup is a lot of passion and fun but a startup is also a real company.

So now, guys, work hard ! … And play harder !

[Picture credits : Phil Roeder]