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Tech In the Trump Era

“Listen to your customers…. they are the most important thing and define business” – Microsoft CEO – Satya Nadella

There is business.

There is the tech world.

And then …. there is politics.

Where they intersect can be challenging for any Chief Executive Officer (CEO). How are they supposed to act in an age where every thought and action are seen via social media, TV, news, etc. Are they allowed to have individual thoughts separate from the success and function of their country?

Well, if you ask Travis Kalanick, it’s been a hell of week that will probably define a part of his legacy.

Back in December 2016, after President Trump was elected, Kalanick was asked to serve on his an economic advisory council, and he obliged but he never thought a firestorm would emerge.

But here is the thing, it did.

After a week of protests and #deleteUber hashtags, Travis Kalanick stepped down from the Trump advisory council fueling the debate of what he should’ve done. Was it too late or how should CEO’s act in an over politicized world when at the end of the day, for businesses, not just tech businesses, money is the bottom line.

His clientele, the main users of his app, were not happy with his handling of the situation and comments.

Many of us at Silicon Jungle Labs were wondering who would cave first…. Kalanick or its users. Its clear Kalanick had no other option but to bow to the pressure.  But the question still remains, should he have?

To give a little more detail, because there are some people who are a little confused on what exactly prompted the #deleteuber hashtag. Last Saturday, after Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of 7 countries, from coming into the country, Taxi unions staged an hour protest. And let’s just stop there, as a person who lives in a city that lost Uber and Lyft to the Taxi Unions (and crazy citizens, yep I said it), they really really care about their money. But like many Uber drivers, Taxi drivers would be deeply affected by the ban, so naturally it made sense to do a protest of some kind, and it was only an hour. If Uber had done nothing, maybe no one would’ve noticed. But that’s not what happened:

“Uber received particular scrutiny on Saturday when it filled a void at JFK International Airport amid a union-organized one-hour taxi work stoppage in protest. That evening, the company announced it disabled its “surge pricing” near the airport, which increases the costs of rides during busy times.” – (source)

And then shit hit the fan

Then they complicated it further:

“Uber said its intent in announcing its no-surge-pricing policy Saturday was, to the contrary, to assure users that it wouldn’t be charging extra even though demand may have increased because of the taxi-driver protest. “Last tweet not meant to break strike,”Uber tweeted in response to the criticism and linking to a statement from Chief Executive Travis Kalanick condemning the ban for its “impact on innocent people.” (source)

Like Is said, if Uber and Kalanick had said nothing maybe they would be fine, nobody would’ve noticed. But they DID, and it was to capitalize on the strike. Regardless if came from a place of supporting Trump or generating revenue, perception IS reality.

If Uber users and Americans had not been in outrage, honestly, Kalanick would still be on the economic council and a week long discussion of whether to support Uber, should he resign, etc. would have never happened.

I think it’s just a reminder that business can be unpredictable. But there should’ve been some foresight on Uber’s part. Just based off of general knowledge, you know users of Uber and Uber drivers probably would have been upset about the ban, and someone at Uber should’ve thought about it, because clearly Kalanick IS out of touch with his users. There is no way not to draw that conclusion. Even if you are the biggest Trump supporter and Ivanka is your best friend.

Tech in the Trump era is going to have to pay attention to their actions, because people are watching and keeping close watch like never before. We may have come to the point where you’re not able to just  operate freely without some consideration to politics and opinions of the general public.

I know this goes in direct conflict with many business and sales folks who believe outside of economic policy, businesses should capitalize whenever possible which is what the purpose of the no surge policy was supposed to do. Tech companies, especially start-ups, are used to moving fast, and unfortunately, the big tech companies were able to get it right. Or maybe they were just able to see the firestorm that Uber was involved in.

The chief executive officers from several of Silicon Valley’s biggest corporations are planning to submit a letter to the White House jointly denouncing the Muslim ban and defending immigrants as an integral part of their industry and the country at large. Apple, Facebook, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), and Microsoft are among the corporations behind the letter.” –  (source) 

There are several lessons in this story, many feel Kalanick shouldn’t have to back down, because it is in the best interest of the company to have a positive relationship with President Trump. But let’s remember “Not one Fortune 100 CEO donated to his campaign”. We are going to learn if companies have to support Donald Trump or work with him to be successful. Many of these companies traditionally like to keep a positive relationship with sitting President.

But what will Tech do? Or better question, what should Tech do?

Tweet us about it at @thealibixstory with the hastag #TechandTrump


Also published on Medium.