You've probably heard the news. Transport for London recently rejected Uber's renewal application for an operating license in the city, citing Uber's "lack of corporate responsibility." Consequently, 40,000 drivers are now jobless and 3.5 million users are without their preferred method of transportation. It's an unfortunate blow to the ride-hailing company that has dealt with an onslaught of scandals in 2017. Today, the company is working hard to salvage its reputation. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi pledged to appeal against the ruling, stating:
"It's critical that we act with integrity in everything we do, and learn how to be a better partner to every city we operate in. That doesn't mean abandoning our principles (we will vigorously appeal Transport for London's decision), but rather building trust through our actions and our behavior."
This instance serves as a cautionary tale for high-growth tech companies. Uber isn't untouchable. What happens when you lose sight of your core values and disappoint key stakeholders? The business will likely fail. In this article, we'll review the lessons tech startups can learn as Uber looks to rebuild.
Uber Banned in London: What Startups Can Learn
We've written about culture before; it's one of those vague words that gets thrown around a lot in the startup world. While most companies talk about it, very few actually embody it 100 percent of the time... But they should.
Small decisions about which tasks to prioritize, how to treat others, and how to behave are all dictated by company culture. However, it would be a mistake to assume culture solely impacts morale. As we have seen with Uber, people don't want to do business with companies who don't share their values.
Uber repeatedly ignored ethical violations of top-performers because they didn't want to risk losing profits. Ironically, the company's indiscretions have contributed to their burning through more than $2.8 billion in a short amount of time.
Key Takeaway: Put company values over profits.
Respond to Issues Rapidly
Keeping tabs on every department as your company grows is tough. At this point, you should feel comfortable trusting managers and department heads to maintain standards. However, delegation should never substitute regularly checking in with team members to ensure company values are being maintained. Any uncovered misdemeanors should be responded to without hesitation.
As Entrepreneur Guest Writer, Lisa Haugh says:
"Documented policies and processes must be circulated for all to see and applied with consistency and transparency, regardless of who’s involved. Most important, top management must prioritize and champion transparency and open dialog."
Key Takeaway: See something you don't like? Find out where everyone involved got off track, and recommit to the vision immediately.
Engage Your Team
With so much to get done, it's easy to overlook opportunities to garner employee feedback:
- You have an idea for lowering customer acquisition costs?
- That sounds great, but I don't have time to consider it right now.
- Customers are continually saying they wish we did x-y-z?
- That's interesting, but I want to keep our product the way I like it!
The above sentiments may look ridiculous in black + white, but they are actually quite common. Tunnel vision among tech startup founders obsessed with reaching finish lines leads to missed opportunities.
According to recent research, companies who focus on and engage with employees tend to experience higher profits. One way to keep a better pulse on team member engagement is through the use of a digital platform like Moodmap. The tool allows forward-looking organizations to understand, measure and harness employee happiness with just a few clicks.
Key Takeaway: It pays to regularly engage with team members.
Don't Get Arrogant
Finally, the biggest lesson we can learn from Uber is that a company is never too big to fail. In fact, it's when you feel most certain that you should double-check your assumptions. Many entrepreneurs become over-confident to the point of arrogance after achieving a certain amount of success.
As such, they overlook opportunities to grow in new directions and cut corners in ways that backfire. Is that what happened to Uber? Sure looks like it.
Key Takeaway: Don’t let past achievements distract you from objectively evaluating current situations.
The Startup Learning Curve
While it would be easy to criticize Uber, there is much to be learned from the company's recent setbacks. The story proves that having an in-demand product or service isn't enough to maintain success long-term and that even great companies can lose their way.
Further, the manner in which you treat your employees, the values you demonstrate and the vision you hold are arguably just as important as whatever you are selling. Will Uber be able to successfully reinvent itself in the face of recent scrutiny? While that remains to be seen, we certainly hope so. At one point, the multi-billion-dollar company called RocketSpace home.
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