Cancel That Ride: Three Lessons Every Entrepreneur Can Learn from Uber’s Missteps

Want loyal customers? It starts with loyal employees.

I recently met a young woman who had just left a position at Uber. I asked her what it was like to work for the company, given that it has had a number of negative stories about it in the news recently.

“Maya,” she said, “Everything you have heard about them is true.”

She proceeded to tell me that after she gave notice, no one talked to her about next steps. There was no exit interview, or directions from human resources about things like rolling over her 401k, or instructions on how to transition her projects to another employee.

“My boss just said, ‘Good luck,'” she added.

This young woman’s story echoes much of what we have learned about Uber, such as claims of widespread sexual harassment and a corporate culture fixated on profit above all else.

What message does this culture send to the company’s employees? It says you are not important. You are just a number. You can easily be replaced.

In the short term, Uber’s bad PR hasn’t impacted ridership too much. But how will it affect the business in the long term?

That’s a question entrepreneurs never want to have to ask. Luckily, most of Uber’s problems are avoidable. Here are three lessons you can learn from Uber’s mistakes:

1. Happy employees = happy customers.

In my travels around the world as an executive coach and leadership educator, I often use Uber. Drivers who work for both Uber and a competitor often tell me that Uber charges their customers more and pays their drivers less. They tell me they feel more valued by Uber’s competitors.

The lesson? If your employees are not happy, they won’t hold back. They will tell your customers how they feel. And, if they’re unhappy on the job, they won’t just deliver subpar service — they might just endorse your competitors, too.

2. Culture starts at the top.

Uber has a reputation for having an aggressive work environment, where workers are often pitted against one another and management ignores reports of misbehavior if the offenders are top performers. In a recent viral blog post, a former engineer, Susan Fowler, alleged that repeated complaints of sexual harassment were met with a shrug by HR.

In any organization, leadership sets the tone for the entire company. In the case of Uber, it’s clear that CEO Travis Kalanick is the head climate maker. Known for his combative, profits-at-all-costs attitude, Kalanick was even caught on video berating an Uber driver who complained that falling fares were hurting his livelihood. That video quickly went viral.

Culture trickles down, all the way to the people delivering the product itself (in Uber’s case, the drivers). Toxic culture leads to high turnover at all levels, from front-line employees to c-suite talent.

If you want great talent to stay, and for all your employees to be enthusiastic ambassadors for your company, don’t underestimate the value of company culture.

3. There’s nowhere to hide.

Fowler’s blog post has been written about by dozens of media outlets, and the post itself has been shared repeatedly. The video of Kalanick arguing with a driver has done the same. In today’s social media age, any news about a company can instantly go viral. A company’s missteps can no longer be quickly swept under the rug.

Consumers today also want corporate integrity. They encourage social responsibility with their dollars and support companies that align with their philosophies.

In the end, leaders have two choices, in the words of software industry leader Bill Bundy: You and your company can set the example, or you can be the example.

Which would you like to be?