Competition is fierce in the world of on-demand transportation. The consumer demand for better, more convenient car service has exploded over the last two years, and startups are racing to capitalize. In fact, the race is now so heated that it seems some companies are willing to try anything to put the brakes on their competitors.
As one of the early movers in a staunch, union-controlled market, Uber is familiar with pushing against boundaries. It’s been known to offer perks to drivers from competitive services to get them to switch, including $50 gas cards just for stopping by its headquarters and signing bonuses for those who switch. But with Gett’s claims today, it appears as if Uber’s aggressive tactics may have gone too far.
Gett launched its black car service and hailing app this fall in New York City with the goal of offering a better, more affordable alternative to existing black car options. With a $100 million run rate and a growing international business, Gett’s arrival was hardly lost on Uber. To welcome its competitor to New York, Gett claims that, over a span of three days last week, Uber employees ordered and then cancelled more than 100 of its cars.
Gett CEO Jing Herman equates Uber’s move to a malicious denial-of-service attack, as more than a dozen Uber employees worked together to request rides from its competitor. In some cases, the CEO says, they would wait until the Gett cars had nearly arrived before canceling their order.
Once they requested a Gett car, the Uber employees would have access to the driver’s number. On Tuesday, one of these Uber employees then texted as many of the drivers as they could, attempting to recruit them into the fold. In copies of the text shared with TechCrunch by Gett, the Uber employee offered Gett drivers money to come over to their camp — not unlike the methods they’ve previously used on pink mustachioed competitor, Lyft.
Uber, when contacted about the incident, confirmed that its employees had attempted to recruit Gett drivers. Through Spokesman Andrew Noyes, Uber admitted that its “local teams can be pretty determined when spreading the word about Uber and how our platform opens up new economic opportunities for drivers.”
Depending on where one sits, the word “determined” is either a fair descriptor of an ambitious, if not zealous philosophy, or a hilarious understatement. Uber’s statement, of course, showed that the company was aware that its business practice had likely crossed the line, but qualified that by saying that Uber had then paid any necessary cancellation fees. Whether that makes up for the “transgression” or not, remains to be seen.
The statement reads:
It was likely too aggressive a sales tactic and we regret the team’s approach to outreach of these drivers. But to be clear there was no time spent by the providers as the requests were canceled immediately and Uber did pay cancellation fees for these requests. We have messaged city teams to curtail activities that seek lead generation by requesting transportation services.
Gett, of course, was none too happy about the incident, as the CEO explained that it, unsurprisingly, had a disruptive effect on its business. Once Gett learned that it was in fact a coordinated effort and not random cancellations, Herman said that the company “quickly blocked the attack” and was able to prevent the system from being compromised. It has also immedliately blocked the dozen or so Uber employees from its system, which will prevent them from using Gett (at least under their own name) in the future.
In documents shared with TechCrunch containing the order forms resulting from Uber employees’ requests, it’s also clear that this not just some Uber intern who was coerced into launching a black car-style DDoS or a rogue employee. In fact, the dozen or so Uber employees whose names appear on the orders include a social media manager, operations manager, community manager and its general manager.
While Uber’s actions may be cutthroat and a bit over-zealous, just how far over the line Uber went remains to be seen. It’s not clear whether Uber could find itself on the wrong side of the law following this stunt and whether or not it qualifies as an example of an unfair business practice, which is, of course, illegal under more than a few states’ laws. For the time being, Gett declined to comment on whether or not it would be pursuing any form of legal action.
In competitive markets like the one Uber and Gett are operating in, a certain amount of “shenanigans” and “tomfoolery” are to be expected. While it remains to be seen what will come of this event if anything, it should at the very least make clear to Uber that if it continues down this road, more lawyers and courtrooms likely await. And not the kind that defined its early push into hostile and unfriendly markets — or that stand to win it favor with customers (or competitors).
For more, find Uber’s official response here.