When A Founder Crosses The Line Towards Godlike Hubris

I recently noticed a frightening trend with certain founders in the tech industry.

–> Have a great idea.  Get a few key people to join you and build it.  Launch the product and raise money from investors.  Experience massive success.   Raise more money.  Gain hundreds of millions of users. Raise billions of dollars and fight off regulators.  Have unfiltered access to billions of people’s data.  Exploit it.  Believe you are the second coming of a God.  Act like an uncaring, immoral capitalist.  Care only about your wealth and not what you are doing to everyday citizens.  And so on…

With the recent Uber misteps and observing the resulting outrage which ensued, it has come to my attention that we, as an industry, need to take a long look in the mirror.  Founders need to take full consideration in how they are running their company, the culture they are creating, the data they are generating, and the ultimate consequences of their actions.

I hope Uber realizes they are doing to their users exactly what they were furious (I assume) about the government doing to them as citizens when the Snowden files were revealed last year.

We all need to understand we are standing at an unprecedented time in the history of business and technology.  Everyday Joes now have the opportunity to create an app or platform that one day might just become indispensable to mankind.  With its use, Joe will collect billions upon billions of data points on everyday citizens – like where they are currently, where they are going, who they talk to, what they typed, to whom, what they viewed on their phones, whom they connected with socially, etc..  With all this happening, Joe will find himself directly in the middle of our society, holding a treasure trove of personal data and a devil on his shoulder just waiting for the right time to temp him into exploiting it.

I mean, it’s like big brother!

But surprisingly it ain’t the government doing these things.  Imagine what Facebook knows about you.  Couple that with your Uber or Lyft usage data.  Toss in your twitter clicks, Instagram photos, Gmail history and Google Chrome browser history.

We are doing this to ourselves.  We are the ones creating this new world of massive data collection which is resulting in unprecedented spying, snooping, breaches of security, cloud hacks and the like.

This is your fault.  And mine.  It’s all of our faults.  All in the name of making more money.

I am not here to end the data analysis, in fact I believe in it and when done correctly it makes for a better end user experience.  I also know data collection is only going to get more prevalent with the expansion of categories like the Internet of Things and connected homes.

Yet, I am urging us to start thinking about things using a different filter, or scope of perspective.  Start asking yourself these questions:

Recognizing all possible data about myself and every other person is now being collected, how to I structure my platform to preserve mankind and the humanity inherent within our society?

How do balance personalization of my technology with personal security of my users?

How do I proceed when I know I CAN do something but unsure if I SHOULD do something?

Where’s my “do not cross line?”

How can we best usher in a new era of technology applications where security is inherent within the structure of the product, not an afterthought when plugging holes after launch?

How do I shift my perspective from making the most money possible with my application towards making the world a better, more secure and protected society?

Please start thinking about these questions and more…  It’s time we call a spade a spade – WE are the ones creating the exact surveillance society we were deathly afraid of growing up.  We just thought it would be the Big Bad Government or another foreign country, not ourselves.

Please understand hubris will sink anyone who thinks they are immune to it.  You – as a founder and someone desperately wanting to change the world – can now no doubt do just that.  You and your technology can alter the history of humans here on earth.  Just make sure you know what change you are putting in place.

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Hey Uber, I Like Your Ride… But Not Sure It’s Worth The $143 You Charged Me

I was charged $143 for a 5 mile Uber ride New Years Night and I am understandably not happy about it.

I like Uber, have been a fan for quite some time, a frequent rider and a brand advocate.  I am one of those people who pulls out my iPhone to show my  (low tech) friends a totally cool and new way to get a ride somewhere.

But maybe not so much anymore.

I feel like Uber was deceitful and lacked transparency on this decision.  Also, I think they did it on purpose to take advantage of their riders.  Uber made a recent business change they call “surge pricing” which is meant to be put in place on nights where demand greatly outpaces supply.  In basic terms, the more cars being hailed at a certain time leaves less cars left to pick up others.

So what to do?  Uber thinks the best decision is to jack up prices.  They call this a surcharge.  This is the email receipt I received afterwards.

When I hear the words surcharge, I think of a $10 fee or possibly something to that extend.  Uber thinks a surcharge is X times the ride amount is the appropriate way go.  Although they are stating they placed notifications and alerts at the point of opening the app and standing behind their decision,  I think it’s bullshit and here’s why.

I knew Uber would be more expensive New Years night.  They sent an email on the 28th, stating they proposed New Years change…. but conveniently  forgot to mention how much they would be increasing the rates.  My feeling is they did this on purpose, knowing if riders preemptively knew they would be charged up to 5X the normal rates they wouldn’t have even considered Uber.

Heres the email content:

We’ve only been in the Emerald City for a few short months but we’re already getting your patterns down. Whether you’re headed to the latest craft cocktail bar or going back to a well loved dive, you’re zipping around in Ubers like you own this city. Now that the mother of all party nights is upon us we know you’ll have a few glasses (read: bottles) of bubbly, and the last thing you want to do is call AAA for that tow-of-shame. We’re ramping up like crazy with the sole intent of providing a safe, convenient and stylish ride for as many Seattleites as possible on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve is what we call a *surge event* at Uber. This means we expect to see a massive demand spike and a supply shortage at the same time. During these events like NYE or Halloween there is a run on private cars in most cities and in order to ensure there are enough cars on the system (read: aka an Uber experience), we’ll be enabling surge pricing on New Year’s in a similar fashion to Halloween 2011. This means that rates on New Year’s Eve will likely increase during peak times of demand BUT when demand subsides or more supply becomes available, rates will automatically drop and you will ALWAYS know if there is a price increase before you request an Uber.

Champagne wishes and Uber dreams,

As you can read, how this was to be executed and the result on me, as the rider, is not mentioned.  All that was noted was that there was a possibility of an increase in rates based on increase in demand.  This is not transparency. Yes, they were on the right track about notifying riders and Uber followers about the change, but the particular way they calculated and executed this was totally wrong.

Uber has stated they used a dynamic pricing structure which may have been changing by the minute.  How the hell do riders know whether it’s going to be the same price or 5X the normal rates?  This is exactly why Taxi rates are controlled so closely, so no one gets out of control and starts jacking riders without their knowledge.  If Uber is going to cross the chasm to mainstream America they need to clean up this messy execution.

I could go on and on… but I won’t. I know I am not the only one pissed on this matter.  My point is transparency is not just a vague email or a short notification at a point in time where the rider has little other choices at hand.

@jnickhughes