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Uber has grown from a scrappy little startup fighting the taxi man to an entrenched behemoth sucker-punching its pink mustachioed equal.
That’s right, in part three of the on-demand transportation industry’s version of the Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker trilogy, Uber’s national campaign to undermine Lyft has been unmasked by The Verge. Spoiler alert: It’s a doozy.
Although it has been reported before that Uber employees frequently hop in cars with Lyft drivers and try to woo them to switch companies, the extent of the program wasn’t clear. Was it a handful of rogue employees? A mandate from Travis Kalanick himself? A local endeavor or a national one?
According to The Verge, it’s a widespread campaign so big it has its own name: SLOG. That’s a terrible choice of name; you can imagine someone leaning back in their chair cackling maniacally while saying it. For a company that just hired a head of PR straight from the White House, Uber should know better by now.
There’s a lot of weird and shocking little anecdotes to the program, which The Verge learned about through Uber contractors hired to do the dirty work. They’re called — a much sparklier name than SLOG — brand ambassadors.
Here are the top ten things you should know about the program:
- All those cancelled rides that CNN reported on and Uber denied knowing about? The Verge reported that the company does appear to know about those rides, and the rides are collateral damage from SLOG. Uber doesn’t want Lyft spotting its recruiters and blocking them from the application, so recruiters cancel rides when they’re matched with a driver they’ve tried to woo before.
- Uber gives its Brand Ambassadors a handful of cell phones and credit cards to create multiple Lyft acccounts, so that way when Lyft spots one Uber recruiter and bumps them off the platform, that person isn’t gone for good.
- Uber tries to win over Lyft drivers in part by telling them Uber has “more polished clientele.” Really.
- Some Brand Ambassadors carry “driver kits” complete with iPhones, so they can onboard a Lyft driver to Uber instantly.
- Uber gives detailed specific directions to its Brand Ambassadors, ranging from how long they should wait to hail the next Lyft after getting out of one (five minutes or less in big markets, 5-10 minutes in small, new ones) to what to do when a driver says no (politely ask why).
- Brand ambassadors can earn $750 for recruiting one driver away from Lyft.
- Recruiters use the messaging app GroupMe to share information with each other about which Lyft drivers they’ve already tried to poach so they don’t double up on recruiting a person and tip off Lyft.
- Internally, the brand ambassadors are sometimes called “sloggers” and one company email to brand ambassadors ended with #shavethestache.
- It appears the program is national. The Verge got its hands on an online form for the sloggers that listed ten cities from LA to Miami.
- When The Verge reached out to Uber for comment on the story, the company’s PR stalled and then preemptively published a blog post explaining SLOG to its users. Here’s a choice excerpt:
We’d like to set the record straight and demystify our recruiting efforts, which we call Operation SLOG (Supplying Long-term Operations Growth). With millions of riders and ever-increasing demand for more rides in even more cities, we are always working hard to recruit new drivers onto the platform. Across the board, Uber partners are earning more money, with more flexibility than ever before – and we want to make sure everyone has access to Uber’s unmatched economic opportunity.
Like other industries, ridesharing is a noisy marketplace. To market the benefits of driving with Uber, we cut through the noise to market to potential partners.
As you might expect, the reaction to Uber’s actions by the Twittersphere has been widespread condemnation. There hasn’t been any official indication that Uber did anything illegal, but its tactics are unsavory, to say the least.
However, I don’t think anyone should be surprised that Uber has adopted such tactics. The company has gone after Lyft in aggressive ways for years now. Although this campaign is much more sophisticated than anything revealed before, it’s certainly not out of the realm of what Uber has done until now. Travis Kalanick has always played hard with his competitors, determined to rule supreme in the ridesharing realm at whatever cost.
So far, it hasn’t hurt him with his customers, and I’ve heard people in the Valley offer grudging admiration for his stop-at-nothing business tactics. He’s the bully on the playground, and it’s possible he might win because of that.
Original feature photo by Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media. Adapted under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license from Wikipedia.