Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Universal Theory of Ride Sharing Startups

I’ve spent a decent chunk of the past couple of months explaining how Uber’s service is very clever, but the company is ethically reprehensible. I’ve written about it again and again and again and again, so I’m sure that many of you have tried to leave Uber behind. Maybe you’ve switched to Lyft, for example, or heard about the new Dryvyng app.

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but they’re not a lot better. Ryan Felton, Gizmodo:

Uber has had a relentless year of scandals, spurring the logical conclusion that its arch-rival Lyft is now in a position to capitalize. John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, spoke at length on Tuesday with Time about how his company’s attempting to do just that — and it’s ridiculous.

[…]

“We’re woke. Our community is woke, and the U.S. population is woke,” Lyft President John Zimmer told Time. “There’s an awakening … Our vote matters, our choice matters, the seat we take matters.”

Except the seat you take in an a Lyft isn’t much different from that of an Uber, even if Zimmer thinks his company is “a better boyfriend.”

Lyft’s sins include partnering with Uber to throw a tantrum about how unfair it is for drivers to have to pass a simple fingerprint-based background check in cities like Austin, and has attempted to suppress employee unionization.

So what about Dryvyng? The service was founded by Craig Brittain, who used to run a revenge porn site. Not a good start. And it gets worse, as chats seen by Melanie Ehrenkranz of Mic show, when he started hurling racist epithets at a prospective investor over Facebook Messenger:

That’s when Brittain flew off the handle. “You need to learn respect and to learn to listen, especially to racially superior people,” he said. “Later, you fucking raghead piece of shit. Hope you leave my country soon. And take your fucking Arab socialist communist friends with you. Fuckin’ towelhead piece-of-shit invader. Fuckin commie.”

What an abhorrent life Brittain has led so far.

And, earlier this month, JetSmarter — a service for sharing time on private jets — tried to extort a Verge journalist into writing a positive review or pay a $2,000 penalty.

I asked earlier today on Twitter why ride sharing startups seem to attract founders who are unrepentant assholes, and Ryan Jones came up with the best response:

@nickheer Can culture be defined by 1 person defining a ruthless market competitive basis?

Maybe it’s as simple as that: Uber, founded by an asshole, has been successful. Therefore — other startup founders in the same market might reason — they must also be assholes in order to be successful in the space. It’s sort of like how every smartphone launch seems to echo the way Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, except with hate, harm, and entirely unethical behaviours instead of a cool new product.

That’s my theory: ride sharing startups are run by assholes because the most successful one is run by an asshole, and they’re being rewarded.