Over the last year, leak after leak from Uber has painted a picture of a company that’s battling rampant sexism, misogyny and harassment. The press has been brutal, with a regular stream of articles criticizing Uber’s supposed “bro culture”. But finally an Uber leak, all the way back from 2013, makes Uber look somewhat good — and provides pointers to why outsiders are often shocked by its culture.
In October 2013, Uber had just launched in Miami as its 50th global city, and the team was celebrating. The company had planned a large offsite for its employees, and CEO Travis Kalanick had written an email to his team titled “URGENT, URGENT – READ THIS NOW OR ELSE!!!!!.” Now companies regularly apprise employees on Do’s and Don’ts before such team events, but Uber’s was rather unconventional.
“You better read this or I’ll kick your ass,” says Kalanick in the email. The mail is pretty self-deprecatory — large offsites often can mean extravagant spends, Kalanick assures his employees that it’s not the result of an “Internet bubble boondoggle”. “It’s a celebration of a major milestone for the company, as well as a chance for us to hold a company-wide retreat and organize our efforts globally,” he says.
Kalanick then lists out a list of do’s and don’ts for the employees, with the first do being “no lives should begin or end” at the event. Kalanick goes into some pretty specific details about the lives starting part. “Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command.” Kalanick even goes on to rue the fact that being CEO, everyone on the trip falls under his chain of command, meaning he’s not getting laid. “Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML”
The rest of the email goes to on talk about more responsible behaviour. Uber says there’s a no-drugs rule, and a $200 puking fine, and warns his employees that Uber doesn’t have the budget to bail anyone out of jail.
This is an email that’ll seem shocking to outsiders — mature companies don’t send mails to their employees discussing their potential arrests, but Uber was still very much a startup in 2013. Startups have a work hard, play hard culture, and this helps them move and scale faster than their bigger competitors. And few companies have moved faster than Uber, which after expanding to nearly 300 cities is now the most valuable startup in the world.
And for his part, Kalanick hits all the right notes. His note on sex emphasizes consent between employees, and also helps employees steer clear of conflicts at the workplace. Offsites such as these can get pretty rowdy, and he playfully but firmly tells employees that while they’re encouraged to have fun, they shouldn’t go overboard. And the mail itself is pretty damn funny.
But the mail also shows why Uber’s been pilloried by the press in recent times. It’s hard for someone to understand a company’s culture from the outside, and small snippets such as “You better read this or I’ll kick your ass” can be misconstrued without proper context. Startups, especially successful ones, operate as tight-knit clans with strong cultures that might seem odd to others. This one email doesn’t exonerate Uber — it’s very possible that Uber’s employees were harassed or discriminated against later on — but it shows that Uber’s culture is a bit close to the knuckle, and this hasn’t helped its public image since the allegations began to surface.
Here’s the entire mail.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Travis Kalanick
Date: Friday, October 25, 2013
Subject: 九 Info: URGENT, URGENT – READ THIS NOW OR ELSE!!!!!
To: Uber Team
Hey guys, I wanted to get some important information out there. I’ve put together a Q&A that we can use when other folks ask what we’re doing here, and have some DOs and DON’Ts for our time here in Miami.
You better read this or I’ll kick your ass.
Q&A – If I’ve missed anything, or you just have a random question, please reply to all on this thread!
Q: What is Uber doing here?
A: Uber has recently rolled out to its 50th global city. We are celebrating this company milestone and others and have organized a local grassroots movement to help bring Uber to Miami. #MiamiNeedsUber
Q: What does the Chinese symbol 九 stand for?
A: 九 translates to the number 9. It is a symbol that has internal meaning at Uber but is something we do not discuss externally.
Q: Is this an Internet bubble boondoggle?
A: It’s a celebration of a major milestone for the company, as well as a chance for us to hold a company-wide retreat and organize our efforts globally. It’s the one time that everyone in the company can meet in person all the people we work with every day.
I have gotten a list of concerns from the legal department. I have translated these concerns into a clear set of common sense guidelines. I’ve also added a few items of my own.
1) No lives should begin or end at 九
2) We do not have a budget to bail anyone out of jail. Don’t be that guy. #CLM
3) Do not throw large kegs off of tall buildings. Please talk to Ryan McKillen and Amos Barreto for specific insights on this topic.
4) Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML
5) Drugs and narcotics will not be tolerated unless you have the appropriate medicinal licensing.
6) There will be a $200 puke charge for any public displays on the Shore Club premises. Shore Club will be required to send pictures as proof.
7) DO NOT TALK TO PRESS. Send all press inquiries to Andrew – [email protected] Additionally, stay vigilant about making sure people don’t infiltrate our event. If and when you find yourself talking to a non-Uber (look for the wristband), keep confidential stuff confidential… no rev figures, driver figures, trip figures… don’t talk about internal process, and don’t talk about initiatives that have not already launched.
1) Have a great fucking time. This is a celebration! We’ve all earned it.
2) Share good music. Digital DJs are encouraged to share their beats poolside.
3) Go out of your way to meet as many of your fellow uberettos as you can.
4) If you haven’t figured it out yet, Miami’s transportation sucks ass. #Slang as many Miamians, drivers, influencers as you can as passionately as you can and let them know why Uber will make this great city an even better place. Every slang matters. #MiamiNeedsUber…
5) If someone asks to meet the CEO and Founder of Uber, kindly introduce him to Max Crowley.