On Tuesday evening, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sent every one of his employees – some 11,000 people – yet another apology.
It was in reaction to a six-minute dash cam video, obtained and published Tuesday afternoon by Bloomberg, showing Kalanick in a heated argument with one of his drivers.
The conversation began amicably enough with Kalanick and driver Fawzi Kamel shaking hands. Kamel asked about reduced fares “in general” across Uber’s various offerings. (As Bloomberg noted, in 2012 an Uber Black ride cost US$4.90 per mile. Now it costs $3.75 per mile.)
Kalanick explained he lowered fares to remain competitive against other ride-sharing companies, such as Lyft.
“We didn’t go low-end because we wanted to,” Kalanick said, referring to adding services like Uber Pool to the original Uber Black. “We went low-end because we had to.”
“We could go higher and more expensive,” Kamel countered.
Then he continued, thrusting his finger at Kalanick and telling him that no one trusts him anymore.
“I lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you. You keep changing every day,” he said, adding, “You changed the whole business.”
“Bullsh-,” Kalanick said over Kamel’s shouting. “You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own sh-t. They blame everything in their life on everyone else.” He climbed out of the car, spitting “good luck” behind him.
“Good luck to you too,” Kamel said, adding that Kalanick won’t “go far.”
The video quickly sparked outrage. One Twitter user summed up the online ire, tweeting, “Ju[s]t watched video of CEO of #uber, and all I can say is #deleteuber.”
Kalanick’s apology, also posted to Uber’s website, began, “By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement.”
The language then grows increasingly melancholy, stating the incident “cannot be explained away.” It continued: “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me – and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
It closed with Kalanick “profoundly” apologizing to Fawzi and the “driver and rider community” as a whole.
Such language from the CEO suggested the apology was inspired by more than simply the video. The past few months have not been kind to company.
The biggest blow came in the form of a hashtag that spurred genuine action. After President Donald Trump issued a travel ban against seven predominately Muslim countries, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance staged a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport. About 30 minutes after it began, Uber tweeted it was lifting surge prices at JFK.
Quickly, #DeleteUber trended on Twitter. Sparked by this, some 200,000 people reportedly deleted the app in January alone (not too difficult an action when its major competitor Lyft is available in most major cities).
It didn’t help matters that, in December, Kalanick had joined Trump’s economic advisory council. Finally, after the social media campaign to boycott his company, Kalanick quit the council. In a memo to his staff, he wrote, “joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”
Mere weeks later, the company again found itself in an unfortunate spotlight when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti wrote a blog post alleging systematic sexual harassment and workplace discrimination against women at Uber.
Kalanick tweeted in response. “What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.” He added that there “can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.”
He also hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an investigation into these claims with the participation of Huffington Post founder and Uber board member Arianna Huffington and the company’s human resources chief Liane Hornsey.
Somewhat buried by these stories were the company’s ongoing issues with self-driving cars.
In December, Uber was forced to pull a fleet of such cars from San Francisco, just a week after deployment. The California Department of Motor Vehicles deemed the service illegal as Uber didn’t have the required autonomous vehicle license.
During that week, though, one of Uber’s autonomous Volvos ran a red light, which was caught on video. The company originally claimed this happened as a result of human error, as every car in the fleet cars also had drivers onboard in case of emergency.
Later, internal documents obtained by the New York Times showed the problem to be a mistake in the car’s programming. One document stated, “the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area.”
Compounding Uber’s woes was a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco against the company last week. It alleged Uber stole Google laser technology – called LiDAR – to build its autonomous fleet. As The Washington Post’s Michael Laris reported: “Misappropriating this technology is akin to stealing a secret recipe from a beverage company,” according to a blog post from Waymo, the self-driving company created by Google parent Alphabet.
“Waymo said the alleged far-reaching thievery – which it said was led by a former employee and involved the surreptitious downloading of 9.7 GB of confidential files and trade secrets – came to light in an apparently errant email.”
An Uber spokesperson said the company would “review this matter carefully.”
For all this, Uber’s net revenue seems to continue growing unchecked.