What can Uber promise?

When news broke that an Uber passenger had accused a driver of rape in New Delhi, the city quickly banned the service and the government sounded the alarm. But as Facebook employee Sriram Krishnan pointed out on Medium, this isn’t your run-of- the-mill Uber ban.

What happened in India shows just how little control any startup has over the cultural and political realities of another country, and it raises important questions about what Uber can promise passengers.

Krishnan writes:

“For us in the tech world – how do we scale services that we take for granted when the social/cultural foundations don’t exist in other nations or there are other social dynamics at play? Do we say ‘Customers need this service even if we can’t guarantee what we can in the first world?’ Or do we take a more nuanced approach (and what does that even mean)? I don’t know.”

Uber has long emphasized safety as one of the things that make the service great. Uber means you don’t have to drive drunk, your drivers are carefully vetted, and even if something goes awry, the app will create a record of exactly where you went and what happened.

But in a country like India (and in many other parts of the world where Uber plans to expand), vetting drivers is a hard task. As Krishnan points out, the idea of background checks in a country where records are unreliable or bribery is rampant is wishful thinking at best. And in the New Delhi case, it’s been reported that the driver turned off the app or did not have GPS installed. So much for the safety that comes with surveillance.

These issues are not Uber’s fault, but they speak to the fact that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for launching in every city in the world. They also ask passengers to be much more wary of what it means to get into a car with a stranger. Uber drivers have offered to turn off the app for me, disabling the record of my ride, to give me a discount when we’ve been lost or stuck in traffic. I’ve not given it much of a second thought while traveling through downtown San Francisco, but I would be incredibly wary of such an offer if I still lived in Namibia or China.

The company needs to think beyond what type of culturally targeted gimmicks will get riders in cars. (Kittens in San Francisco, hot women in France…) It needs to think about how to recruit and build the business. Perhaps in places like India, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to recruit as many female drivers as possible or try to match female passengers with female drivers. And it needs to think about what it can actually promise riders when they get into a car.  

In other Uber news:

  • The rideshare startup decided to launch in Portland, Oregon, without permission, and now the city has issued a cease- and-desist letter and sued the company, asking the court to declare that Uber is “subject to the City’s regulations.”
  • Meanwhile, a court in the Netherlands banned the company’s low-price UberPop service. “This is only the first step in a long-running legal battle,” the company said in a statement. No wonder the company had to raise so much money. Long-running international legal battles don’t come cheap.
  • A Spanish judge ordered Uber to stop operating in Spain.
  • Uber was ordered to cease operations in Thailand, too.
  • The Uber driver who hit and killed a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco last December was arrested and charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. The company says it bears no responsibility for the accident because the driver was an Uber partner, not an employee, who wasn’t actively picking up anyone when he hit the child.


Change.org has raised $25 million from two dozen investors, including well-known names such as Bill Gates, Jerry Yang, Evan Williams, Richard Branson, Pierre M. Omidyar and Reid Hoffman.

LendingClub’s amended S-1 filing says that the (unprofitable) company expects to price its initial public offering at $12 to $14 per share, valuing the company at nearly $6.5 billion on a fully diluted basis. Fortune’s Dan Primack has a nice summary of why this is such a big week for online lending.

Amazon rolls on…

  • The company entered the one-hour delivery fray, going head-to-head with startups like Uber and Postmates. Remember how eBay had to rethink its own courier service? Remember Kozmo.com?
  • The online retailer also wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration asking for permission to test drones in Washington state. Bloomberg reports that the company is already testing drone deliveries in other countries.
  • Finally, the Wall Street Journal says that Amazon is offering a new “Make an Offer” tool that lets sellers accept or reject bids for goods that are below the suggested sale price.

…and so does Apple

  • 9to5Mac reports that the company is hiring retail employees who have “a fashion or luxury background,” which could portend changes at its stores ahead of the Apple Watch’s debut next year.
  • U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers disqualified the only plaintiff in the iPod class-action suit against Apple, but she also declined the company’s request to throw out the case, saying that the prosecution could name a different iPod buyer as the lead plaintiff.