King Kalanick dethroned: can the Sharing Economy triumph in a gentler way?

King Kalanick Dethroned: Can the Sharing Economy Triumph in a Gentler Way?

It was January 2016, when we published a post on this blog titled: Uber and the New Sharing Economy: Utopia or Dystopia?

There we wrote: “It’s electrifying to aim at your target without intermediaries but some agreed-upon rules have to be in place. (…) Will they concede that a measure of order is to be needed if we want progress to shape a better future for everybody? If they don’t, regarding themselves as above-the-law entities, these giants may soon show feet of clay. An economy that includes portions of sharing economy is desirable. Sharing economy by itself would hardly survive”.

Now, considering what’s happening at Uber, it could be sensible to rethink and repeat some concepts. It’s important to stress that sharing economy is great in principle and if executed well. Uber brought better, faster, cheaper transportation for millions, so you have to give it the credit it deserves. Could it be done without cutting through laws, ignoring basic fair play and weighing on the shoulders of drivers with no rights and meagerly paid? That’s the $70 billion question.

We think it could, but not at the speed with which they did it. Travis Kalanick resigned a few hours ago. Hours later Uber announced some new features. Among them are a tipping option and paid wait times. Some say that Arianna Huffington is now the real ad-interim leader and God knows if Uber needs some femininity to exit the cultural swamp in which it fell.

Gone is the “the bro gone pro, the freewheeling post-Randian slimeball whose insecure sense of entitlement is the foundation of his business model”: as The Guardian once called him. Just a few hours to make Uber suspiciously resemble Lyft.

The dogged competitor, which had tipping from the start, valued at “only” $7.5 billion, is now gaining trust and traction. More: it has become the good guy in a tale where the villain doesn’t only take bias from the public, it’s also under federal investigation and one giant lawsuit for allegedly stealing data from Waymo.

In the same week that saw the King dethroned another ride-hailing company hit the gutter: Juno, who poised itself as the anti-Uber, promising equity to its drivers and better pay, came short of those promises (after being acquired by Gett) and has been sued by its drivers.

This brings us to another matter: can you be “good” and prosper with the so-called sharing economy? (Foodora and Deliveroo drivers have also protested their conditions in many European cities). You can only if you want to scale at a “human” rate, by slowly building a virtuous circle of trust between the company, its drivers and its customers. This won’t make you become one of the richest men in the world, not for a long time and it’s also risky because the costs of any on-demand enterprise are gruelling.

Will Uber survive this terrible 2017? It will and surely with a new leadership it will keep prospering. It’s up to them now to decide if the social cost paid for attaining its position was justified. As Farhad Manjoo writes, just this morning, in The New York Times: “The world would be better off if we had some kind of Good Uber. And yet the ends still do not justify the means, because the means are so astonishingly reckless.” What might happen is that in five or so years other, more sensible companies, might get where Uber is now: showing to the World that it was possible to win by walking and not by ramming things down.

We dearly hope so and we’d be sad if the thought that their ascent was made possible by a bully paving the way could haunt the collective memory from now on.

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