Last year, in the wake of two well-known startups (Uber and Square) clashing with local laws and regulations, we asked who was at fault -- the disruptor or the disrupted, the startups or the state?
Both startups, but especially Uber, had run headfirst into local ordinances, regulations, and cartels bent on preserving the status quo, but also hadn't done their homework or made an effort to play the political game before entering the market and upsetting the (legal) status quo -- easier to get forgiveness than permission, we suppose.
Now, Uber has pulled a U-turn and hired a noted behind-the-scenes political figure to glad-hand politicians: David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaign manager.
This Makes Sense for Political, Legal Reasons
When we wrote our last blog post on Uber, we dropped the truism that "proper planning prevents poor performance." And Uber wasn't planning much -- they were jumping into marketplaces here and abroad, willy-nilly. At the time, they had upset Washington, D.C., regulators with auto-tipping and not using yellow cabs -- local regulations that easily could have been complied with, or at the least, not outright ignored.
Plouffe, as a behind-the-scenes deal-maker, should be able to help with lobbying and efforts to change local laws. Indeed, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Politico that Uber "is trying to win hearts and minds" and that Plouffe would be the company's "campaign manager."
"City Councils are voting on Uber all the time, and we have state legislatures voting on us, on the regular," Kalanick said. "And there are even some referendums."
Plouffe added: "We'll be trying to change the point of view of established politicians, and there's a lot of resistance coming from people who want to protect the status quo."
...And for Public Relations Too
Obviously, a big part of managing a campaign is to control the story -- and Uber's had quite a few stories lately that could use some controlling. There was the surge pricing scandal, the time an Uber driver was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a passenger (plus that alleged close call), and of course, the add-on "safety" fee (because getting there in one piece isn't included in the base rate, apparently).
Plus, there's the war with Uber's rival startup Lyft, a hilarious back-and-forth reminiscent of two fourth-graders in the principal's office. One accused the other of sabotage via summoned-and-canceled rides, the other claimed the same, then there was some "they just want to be like us" talk of Lyft pushing to be acquired by Uber. This pettiness is not how mature companies behave, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Plouffe "adjust" the company's response in the future.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Plouffe change a lot of things in the future. After all, Uber, which is still run like a startup, has billions in funding and has entered into markets across the world -- from Indiana to India. There's a lot at stake and the company could use the guidance.