Inaction is Tacit Approval: Why I Deleted My Uber Account

I cancelled my Uber account – not just by deleting their app from my phone but also going through the painful, hard to find process of requesting that they remove my account completely (more about that in a moment).

Just to be clear, I didn’t cancel because I disliked their ride service. I loved using Uber. I talked my friends into trying it out. I celebrated their scrappy disruption of the archaic taxi industry. I was whole-heartedly rooting for the success of their company.

I have made the decision to not use Uber because I am holding myself accountable to no longer support companies that, through inaction, show their tacit approval for badly behaving executives – on or off the record.

This morning’s post by Fred Wilson inspired me to finally articulate exactly what was bothering me most about the entire Uber debacle: Somewhere along the line, we – as a culture – started glorifying the cut-throat, winner takes all behavior in entrepreneurs that make investors wealthy – and then have the audacity to be shocked when that same mindset seeps out in these wunderkind entrepreneurs’ personal lives. If we don’t want jerk tech, bro-culture, or bullying as a culture in startups, we need to decide that we won’t glorify or support those who are clawing their way to the top in a brutal anything-goes melee. We have to believe that no amount of talent, skill, vision, brilliance or drive is worth overlooking this kind of behavior.

As a woman entrepreneur, I definitely have my own share of exposure to bro-culture and sexist comments. Some of it I dismiss as unfiltered ignorance by well-meaning folks who are basically good but still holding on to some exclusionary mindsets. Some I ignore because it isn’t always my battle to fight, and tilting at windmills isn’t nearly as effective or productive as it may feel in the moment. But sometimes something is so over the top or happens often enough that it cannot be ignored.

For me, Uber hit that point over the weekend. It’s not like Uber didn’t already have a reputation for embracing underhanded, mean-spirited tactics against their competitors which crossed far over the line of being forgiven as guerrilla marketing tactics. Even though I hated to see what I perceived as a social good company stoop to bad behavior, I was willing to look the other way. It was simple and easy to use and made getting around in Los Angeles or New York City so much more fun than the uncomfortable back seat of a cab. Somehow when I watched for my Uber driver to arrive, I felt like I was part of an underground system (Is that you? Pssst? Do you have the password?) It was kind of fun sneaking around and breaking the rules of what the system said I had to do to get a ride in a city. It felt cool, kind of hip. I liked it, so I forgave the team this naughty way of gaining marketshare from their competitors.

Uber skimmed the headlines briefly from time to time with other stories of bad behavior or underhanded business practices, and even when news broke about  violating their users’ privacy as a very creepy party trick, I only shook my head in disgust. Oh, grow up, I thought. Stop acting like a bunch of middle school boys spying on the girls from behind the fence. It seemed immature and reckless but not something that I thought they couldn’t get beyond once their team matured into more thoughtful leaders.

But yesterday all of that changed for me. When the second most powerful individual in a company with a valuation nearing $4 billion lays out a ratherdetailed plan of how the company should spend $1 Million of their capital investigating the lives of any journalist – and their families – who have the audacity to actually write a negative piece about the company, I think it’s a pretty good indicator that Uber’s executive team has lost a bit of that hunger that gave them the early edge and landed firmly in the land of arrogance. When they can joke about blowing that much investment – other people’s money – on something so predatory, that’s just disgusting.

Now Uber wants us to forgive it all as a mistake since, poor guy, he had no idea he was on the record. Here’s a news flash for any entrepreneur who maintains close friendships with journalists: true news hounds will almost always be a journalist first and buddy second. Don’t ever assume you’re off the record when you’re sitting at the table with journalists – no matter how many bottles of wine or cases of beer have been consumed in the name of camaraderie. If you start laying out a road map for your own planned creepy behavior – whether its in theory or with true ill intent, don’t be surprised when it’s in the news the next day.

If Uber’s CEO had immediately stepped into the public eye and addressed the issue, it might have helped. Had he said – at a news conference or press release instead of his eventual tweet storm of half apologies, half justifications – that he was appalled, offended, or whatever emotional word he chose to use, it might have helped. He could have even had his colleague’s back. None of us want to CEO willing to hang one of their own out to dry without investigating fully what actually happened, so even if he had asked us to be patient while he got to the bottom of the issue, it might have been enough. But when there was silence, it was more than easy to fill in the gaps – with all of the news stories that had been building on each other over the past few months.

And so, despite how much I enjoyed using their service, I have cancelled my account. By the way, if you decide you want to do so as well, don’t spend any time hunting around in the app for the magic button that gives you the power to remove yourself from their system. It doesn’t exist. And don’t search through pages on their website, either. Uber doesn’t let you remove your own account. Then again, they’ve already proven to be poor stewards of data privacy, so we shouldn’t be all that shocked. What I had to do was send in a request for help. It went like this:

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Just like many of the ‘bad boys’ who are the darlings of the entertainment world because of their redeeming qualities, Uber was able to get a pass from me for far longer than they should have. But I’ve realized that when I give my money to companies that not only ignore the negative effects of unchecked bro-culture but actively embrace dirty tactics to get the advantage, I have become part of the problem that I am working to eradicate. Even if it’s inconvenient, and even if I don’t get to feel like I’m part of an exciting, hip movement disrupting a stodgy old industry the next time I need a ride in a different city, I’m okay with that. I really, really am ok with that.

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Are Women Entrepreneurs Better Off Than A Year Ago?

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

During yesterday’s second annual NMTC-WIT Luncheon, a reporter in the audience asked the panelists if things were getting any better for women.

In an article published this year in ForbesGeri Stengel predicted that 2014 would be the breakout year for women entrepreneurs. “While the number is still small —  nearly 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses — the percentage grew more than 40% from the previous year, according to the Center of Venture Research, which studies early-stage equity financing for high-growth ventures. Even venture capitalists have increased their support of women-led companies. It’s still paltry, but the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013. That’s nearly a 20% jump over 2012, according to Pitchbook, a venture-capital research firm.” Encouraging statistics that point to better opportunities ahead. But the real question is, as individuals, do we see new possibilities or more of the same status quo?

The answers from the luncheon’s diverse panel of men and women, including our own COO at APPCityLife, varied from some panelists seeing no change at all to a few answers that, yes, things have changed. As a female CEO, I am well aware of New York Time‘s annual report that of the top 200 highest paid chief executive officers, only two are women. I’ve also seen first-hand at least one venture capital door close because of gender. I could easily see the glass as 87% to 95% empty (the percentage of venture capital currently funneled into male-founded companies in the US).

I choose to see it differently. In my experience over the past year, I’ve seen both significant and subtle changes that make me believe there is more respect, opportunities, and equality for women founders than ever before. Despite a few fairly disheartening experiences with investors, I’ve also found passionate support from others. Our company raised almost $500,000 in angel and family fund investments over the past twelve months, and we’ve been selected as one of only ten New Mexico companies invited to pitch for a larger round of investment at the upcoming Deal Stream Summit. Because of our focus on solving problems in the civic space, I’ve had the incredible privilege of being invited to meet with leaders from around the globe and participate in discussions about civic innovation. And I have yet to find an instance where my gender created any barrier of entry into any office when I’ve reached out to civic leaders – even in some of the biggest urban centers in the US.

But more than anything else, the topics of discussion at the luncheon were a strong indicator to me of just how far we’ve come as a community in New Mexico. Last year’s luncheon opened with the very uncomfortable topic of the jerk tech apps pitched from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt. Almost the entire hour of conversation last year was focused on the unfairness, the bias, and the simmering anger of those who’d been passed over, ignored, and not taken seriously simply because of their gender. This year’s luncheon definitely covered some of the same challenges – the funding disadvantage, the challenge at being taken seriously – but what inspired me most was the questions that had to do with the real meat of running a business. Those questions were new. Topics ranged from the value of having Non Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts to implementing sales channels for international businesses. Instead of simply focusing on the problems women face, the panelists were able to share valuable insight and knowledge that were real takeaways for the rest of the crowd.

Perhaps the only reason we were able to focus on questions about business and expertise this year is because we did address the more uncomfortable topics in the past year. But I, for one, am heartened by the notion that as women, perhaps we’ve come to the place were the conversation can begin to change from how do we let women in at all to how do we help more women grow international, high growth companies.

It’s certainly what I and my cofounders have set out to do, and I am inspired by the growing support and opportunities making that more and more possible.

This was originally published on Huffington Post.