The ugly message: Hey honey, don't let the door hit you — hey, nice ass, by the way — on the way out if you don't like it.
Obviously, this is not representative of the whole company, as Fowler did note too. There are many, many good people working at Uber and they don't deserve to be painted by the same brush as those who are not as good.
Or, more precisely, the not-good who are too good. Fowler said Uber managers called these people "high performers" — those able to misbehave with no consequences because of their mad skills at engineering. Or, as Uber board member Arianna Huffington more accurately dubbed them at an all-hands meeting earlier this week: "Brilliant jerks."
While that sounds to me like far too many people in Silicon Valley, it's actually a very good way to describe the problem that Uber has. Which is to say, brilliant jerks and the executives who tolerate them, some of whom are also brilliant jerks.
So now what does Uber do to rid itself of them, as Huffington has promised she and a team investigating the mess would? From the looks of it, it has begun in a very fast and very necessary public mea culpa, which is likely being driven by what appears to be new and more experienced executives who have gotten there over the last six months.
The obvious face of that we-are-so-so-so-sorry has been — and has to be — CEO Travis Kalanick, who has also served — and quite effectively — as the chief tough guy at the company in the past.
In a profile of him that I did for Vanity Fair in 2014, I began thus:
Every now and then, when he's spoiling for a fight, Travis Kalanick has a face like a fist. At these times, his eyes crinkle, his nose flares, and his mouth purses just like a clenched hand readying a punch. Even his Marine-style, salt-and-pepper hair seems to stand on end and bristle, as it were, at whatever the 38-year-old entrepreneur happens to be facing down ... He has directed barbs — in speeches and videos, and on Twitter — especially fervently toward the taxi industry, but also toward city and local regulators across the country (and now the world), his rivals, and sometimes even his own customers when they dare to question his company's practices. But is it real? Sort of and yet not so much, as it turns out. As one venture capitalist who has worked with Kalanick says of him: "It's douche as a tactic, not a strategy."
Yes, Kalanick has done douche as a tactic very well indeed, which is one big reason the company grew so aggressively. As with all startups, the company's DNA is usually set by its founders and his swaggering tone seeped into the culture, where it then was magnified and went viral.
It also curdled. And that's why we find ourselves where we are now, where that unchecked pugnaciousness and a now-warped version of not-giving-any-fucks is no longer working.
How can I tell? Well, after a longish period of no really truly awful stories about some incident of bad behavior at Uber — which has plagued the company since its 2009 founding, as it has skipped from one avoidable controversy after another — this is precisely why the #deleteuber meme caught on so quickly just before this latest crisis.