That Thing About Uber

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For what it is worth, a confession. I deleted this app with the intent to never use it again, and then I switched to this one. That felt good. Then last week I was up in the mountains of Escazu, in Costa Rica, and I had to change my mind. At 3:30 a.m. a local taxi driver who was supposed to pick me up to take me to the airport did not show up. After a few minutes I finally relented and downloaded the app I had deleted. And something unexpected, something very good happened.

From about 3:35 until 3:45 the app showed “no cars available”–not surprising given the early hour. But I kept trying and then a car was suddenly available. He arrived within a couple minutes, and took me to the airport and I was the last person to check in for my flight. Perfect happy end to that story. But there was more. The driver was a neighbor of mine from 1996-2000 in another neighborhood of Escazu, where he still lived. We did not know eachother then but we both knew the same other neighbors and I was able to catch up on the old neighborhood as we drove to the airport.

I asked him how he came to be a driver for this company, and his story was a compelling one, compelling enough that I am sure the company would use it in its now-much-needed public relations campaign if they knew his story. What that conversation did for me was to humanize the app. I thought of keeping the app loaded on my phone, but did not make any decisions. One charming story is not enough to wipe away the reasons for my deleting the app. Then this:

A little over a year before Bozoma Saint John became the first chief brand officer at Uber, the transportation company’s best hope to rehabilitate its tarnished image, she hailed a ride from the Four Seasons hotel in Austin, Tex., to a nearby business dinner. What pulled up was a wreck.

“Hey, nothing’s going to happen to me in this car, right?” Ms. Saint John said half-jokingly to the driver. “You can drive, right?”

She expected him to banter back. Instead, he told her that a group of taxi drivers at the airport had vandalized the vehicle and that he needed the money from this ride to fix it. He also mentioned that he had been saving to see Iggy Pop, his late brother’s favorite rocker, at the South by Southwest festival, which Ms. Saint John was attending as the head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music.

She gasped. Her dinner was with Iggy Pop. Would the driver, perhaps, like to come along?

Cue the tears (and the five-star passenger rating)…

Read the whole article here. My confession is that I went back on my word to not do business with Uber; my regret is for being in a position such that if I had not reloaded the app I would have had a very expensive problem, and so I compromised my values. But I would do the same thing again, based on what happened. So I am still thinking about it. To Lyft: please expand into Central America soon!

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