I got to talking with my Uber driver, as one does, Wednesday morning, the day after an embarrassing video surfaced of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver.
My conversation partner for 20 minutes had not seen the video, but he’d heard about it. A Brazilian who’d been driving for UberX for two years, he was a taxi driver before that. He drives about 10 hours a day. The money isn’t great, especially after car maintenance, gas, and car washes. But he needs the work, and he’s grateful for it.
He told me what I’ve heard countless times already that Uber “doesn’t care” about its drivers. Then we got to talking about what the company could do to change the dynamic. Here’s our list:
* Cut commissions. It irks Uber drivers that they give up 25% of each fare to Uber. The company sometimes takes low or no cuts when it launches in new cities, winning loyalty from drivers. It also offers various incentives to get and keep drivers on the road. But for a long time the commission was 20%, and drivers who started at that level are grandfathered there. My driver agreed enthusiastically that if Uber cut commissions to 20% across the board drivers would be pleased.
* Maintenance. Uber could buy an auto repair shop in its biggest cities and then offer free services to top drivers. The company has a wide array of negotiated deals with service providers in San Francisco, but put-upon drivers would love a no-strings-attached perk like free tune-ups.
* Free car washes. Uber should buy car washes and offer a free wash each week to all drivers who met a minimum threshold the week before. My driver Wednesday told me he gets his Toyota Prius washed three times a week, knowing he’ll be rated poorly by riders if he doesn’t.
* Build a tip jar into the app. Uber has resisted tips for years because they create “friction.” This is nonsense. Lyft allows riders to tip. Uber could abandon its rating system, which drivers despise, and instead allow riders to tip drivers. This would cost Uber nothing.
Uber’s reputation has taken a major hit this year. Some of these measures might repair it with a constituency it badly needs to mollify. As my driver said, “Every little bit helps.”
BITS AND BYTES
Snap: Crackle or pop? Snap stock will begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange for $17 a share under the ticker “SNAP.” The initial public offering values the company at a lofty $24 billion. As we learned from the botched public debut of Facebook and the comparatively smooth rollout of Twitter, it’s best not to read too much into the first day of trading. (Fortune, Reuters, MarketWatch, Wired)
Lyft looks to raise $500 million. The ride-hailing firm apparently sees an opening to win over investors amid Uber’s endless series of recent controversies. Lyft is said to be seeking a funding round that would lift the company’s private valuation to somewhere between $6 billion and $7 billion from its appraisal last year at $5.5 billion. Meanwhile in China, UCAR—the Lyft to Uber of China rival Didi Chuxing—said it is raising $1 billion. (Wall Street Journal, Reuters, TechCrunch)
Yahoo cookies stolen from Mayer’s cookie jar. The aging Internet portal disclosed Wednesday that intruders forged cookies—bits of tracking code—for 32 billion user accounts, granting them access over the past two years. Yahoo’s general counsel Ronald Bell has taken the fall for the data breach debacles, which Yahoo said in a regulatory filing the legal team should have reviewed further in 2014. The board has determined that CEO Marissa Mayer will not collect her 2016 cash bonus, and she has forgone her 2017 annual equity award. (Reuters, Fortune, Fortune)
Facebook slashes Oculus price. The social networking giant has dropped the cost of its virtual reality headset to $500 from its original $600. The company also reduced the price of its accompanying Touch motion controllers to $100 from $200. Oculus co-founder and head of Rift Nate Mitchell told Fortune that the discount was attributable to “improvements” as “component prices are coming down,” but he declined to elaborate on the specifics. (Fortune, New York Times)
Cash Box goes ka-ching! Cloud storage firm Box announced on its latest earnings call that it achieved cash flow positivity, bringing in more money than it is spending, for the first time since its IPO two years ago. CEO Aaron Levie described the milestone as an “inflection point” for the company. Levie also offered some advice to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel in the leadup to today’s IPO: “Overcommunicate your strategy,” he said. (Reuters, CNBC, TechCrunch)
Nintendo’s hotly anticipated Switch gaming console goes on sale for $299 tomorrow. Here’s everything you need to know about the system. As a handheld, the Switch feels respectably rigid and durable, an unostentatious but beautiful carbon-black slate that’s like a blue collar version of an Apple product. At roughly the same weight as an iPad mini (about 300 grams), it’s compact enough to make playing games comfy. If your hands get tired in this mode, you can slide the Joy-Cons up and off (a tiny release button behind each lets them disengage), prop the Switch on a flat surface with its rear kickstand, then continue playing wirelessly, your hands free to roam like creatures loosed from cages. Fortune sister Time’s Matt Peckham has the review.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Exclusive: Berkshire Hathaway Energy Inks Deal with Data Crunching Startup, by Michal Lev-Ram
No One in the World Has Lost More Since Trump’s Rise than Carlos Slim, by Joseph Hincks
Yelp’s Latest Deal Might Make Waiting for a Table More Bearable, by Rachel King
Elon Musk’s Moon Mission Is Exciting, Audacious … and Iffy, by Jeffrey Kluger
ONE MORE THING
Bill Gates’ hat trick. The Microsoft cofounder apparently uses a simple tactic to remain incognito in public: he wears a hat. Gates revealed his method of camouflage in an “ask me anything” session on the forum site Reddit. (Fortune)