I ask the question in response to a headline in today’s New York Times business section, headlined: “Uber’s Lesson: Silicon Valley’s Start-Up Machine Needs Fixing.”The article pertains to wild child par excellence, Travis Kalanick’s ouster as Uber’s CEO this past Tuesday.
Farhad Manjoo’s analysis rightly points out that Uber’s problems were systemic and “a failure of Silicon Valley’s start-up machine.”
While not excusing Kalanick’s behavior, Manjoo places the blame for his frat house, take-no-prisoners culture on “…investors, boards of directors and anyone else who could have altered Uber’s course and clearly failed to do so.”
No argument from me. My question is this: Where were these VC’s, directors and others during the halcyon days of the dotcom era?
I can personally attest to having represented dotcom CEO’s (and their fawning staffs) who made Kalanick’s actions pale in comparison.
The dotcom CEO’s ranted and raved, openly dissed direct reports and agency partners alike and fostered truly toxic environments. And, no one said a word.
I recall an Israeli tech start-up CEO who commandeered our office space until his own was ready. He’d walk up-and-down our hallways screaming at whoever was on the other end of the phone and completely disrupting our productivity.
But, hey, he was paying us $40,000 a month and had given us stock options that would be worth millions once the start-up went public. So, what was a fledgling PR firm to do other than to suck it up and endure the abuse?
Another dotcom client employed a 22-year-old CMO who swore like a longshoreman and routinely screamed and yelled at our team (and her own hapless direct reports) in weekly meetings.
The CEO loved the young woman’s chutzpah and egged her on (and on). But, hey, they were paying us $35,000 per month and had also handed over options worth millions. (Note: PR Week proceeded to name this young hellion one of “PR’s up-and-coming stars”. Talk about not doing one due diligence. Ouch!).
Many of the meetings described above were attended by a lead investor, a partner from the VC that had provided an ungodly amount of seed money for a business model that made no sense whatsoever and would laugh out loud as their prototype Kalanick spat venom and expletive-laced epithets that would embarrass today’s hate mongers.
So, why is Uber a sudden wake-up call to Valley investors? Were they on lengthy sabbaticals during the 1990s? Or, did they conveniently “forget” the horrific behavior of the Travis Kalanick’s of yesteryear in search of the next big kill? It’s truly baffling.
Afterword: It should come as no surprise that the two dotcom CEOs described above went bust, along with their “game-changing”, profitless start-ups when the tech sector tanked.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of those once-upon-a-time masters of the universe cum Neanderthals are now Uber drivers who insult passengers in the exact same way they did employees and agency partners 20 years ago.