Why Uber Needs David Plouffe Almost As Much As Obama Did
There is no denying David Plouffe's had an impressive political career. Best known as the campaign manager of President Obama's historic 2008 campaign, he also worked as Senior Advisor to the President until January 2013. So when I heard that Plouffe was hired by Uber as Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy, I was like... Wait. What?
Uber is a startup giant, providing a modern alternative to run-of-the-mill taxi services. It operates in more than 40 countries — from London to Mumbai, Zurich, and Bangalore. In an interview with Politico, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick referred to Plouffe's new position as "campaign manager," basically putting Plouffe in charge of the company's global messaging, including all marketing, communications and policy efforts.
While many government employees move to the private sector for employment, it still may seem like a random pairing — White House strategist and digital ride-sharing startup.
So why might Uber need a political guru like Plouffe? Well, the company is in need of a messaging makeover...
Uber is locked in an ugly war with its competitor Lyft
Both Lyft and Uber have accused each other of sabotage and dirty tactics. Lyft recently accused Uber of calling for and then canceling over 5,000 Lyft rides as a means of muddling Lyft's service. In a statement, Uber responded to the accusation with its own accusation (which Lyft promptly denied, obviously).
These attacks from Lyft are unfortunate but somewhat expected. A number of Lyft investors have recently been pushing Uber to acquire Lyft. One of their largest shareholders recently warned that Lyft would 'go nuclear' if we do not acquire them. We can only assume that the recent Lyft attacks are part of that strategy.
There have also been instances of alleged driver-poaching, since the companies work so close to each other in San Francisco — both companies reportedly use monetary and freebie incentives to entice drivers to join their company. And whether these accusations are true or not, having these public squabbles is certainly harming Uber's public image.
The safety of Uber is in question
Uber prides itself on providing a new source of income to average citizens who sign up to be drivers through its digital service. That said, this means that total strangers are driving you around.
Uber has to prove that its service is just as safe as traditional taxi services. After troubling recent incidents –– like a D.C. Uber driver being arrested for sexually assaulting a passenger, and an extra "Safe Rides Fee" getting introduced in April when most customers thought safety was already expected and included in the price –– that may be a hard sell.
Traditional taxi companies and other competitive interests are doing everything in their power to make Uber's business practices illegal
Last but certainly not least, Uber's business is a huge threat to traditional taxi services and they aren't going down without a major fight. Protests have been frequent and battles are waged in political arenas and courtrooms with cab companies lobbying against Uber because of its lack of regulations. Most recently Uber is fighting accusations of illegal currency trading in India.
Discussing his new role, Plouffe told Politico,
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.
Whether he's the right man for the job or not, looks like Plouffe has his work cut out for him.