Uber’s problem is it scaled too rapidly. I don’t buy it.

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Most people will be aware of the resignation of Travis Kalanick founder and CEO of Uber a few weeks ago. This morning I could not believe what I was reading; tucked away on the inside back page of the Australian Financial Review[1] was a half column from Bloomberg.

The focus of criticism on Travis and other leaders of Uber relates to the way drivers were treated and hostility towards women by some in Uber’s leadership group.  In simple terms, the culture in Uber was less than constructive in the way it supported people within Uber irrespective of their level within the company.

What surprised me the most is one of the main reasons cited in the article was that Uber had scaled the business too rapidly and this was responsible for the challenges Uber is now facing.  Even more surprising to read was that Marissa Mayer the former CEO of Yahoo absolved Travis of the company’s cultural problems “I just don’t think he knew ….when your company scales that quickly, it’s hard”


For a start the choice to scale quickly was a deliberate plank in Ubers strategy and business model, however if I were a betting man, and I’m not, I would be willing to bet that culture did not rate a mention in Uber’s strategy and business plan.

I believe it was Mark Fields the former CEO of the Ford Motor Company who said in 2006 “culture will eat strategy for breakfast” and in my experience of working in organisational culture for 20 years he’s right.  People align with the culture much more readily than they do with strategy.

Contrast Uber with Facebook.  I have never met Mark Zuckerberg, however I have had the good fortune to meet his sister Randi when she spoke at the Wold Business Forum in Sydney in 2014. I was keen to understand where culture sat strategically for Facebook.  Randi’s response was that when she left her advertising career in New York to join Mark in California Facebook had 30 people, however she said, and I quote, “we invested time over the next three months designing a culture for when we would be 10,000 people.”  I think you would agree that Facebook also scaled rapidly.

There are two salutatory lessons from that which has occurred from in Uber.  First and foremost, leaders are accountable for shaping the culture; people walk what you walk.  There is overwhelming research by Cooke et al that proves this without a shadow of doubt.  Simply put, if you lead the business you shape the culture.

Second, if you are one of the myriad of start-up companies hoping to develop the next Uber or Facebook go back and check your strategy.  If there isn’t a section on culture I urge you to invest time now to devise how you will shape your organisation’s culture to support your growth no matter how rapidly you decide to scale.


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[1] Australian Financial Review July 12th 2017; Page 39; Rapid Growth is the Road to Hell