Driver dustup at Uber's LA office illuminates the difficulty of moving offline industries online

By Michael Carney , written on May 7, 2013

From The News Desk

Funny thing about this whole trend of using mobile to disrupt the real world: It means you have to have contact with the real world. And when you are disrupting an industry that hasn't seen much change, technology, or innovation, not everyone understands the rules of engagement.

We're used to stories of Uber clashing with politicians, but apparently even dealing with its own drivers has been an issue. Uber has been in LA for a year and is finally moving to a new office in June – it can't come soon enough for some of the people it's been sharing space with.

Up until now, Uber has been housed in the CoLoft coworking space where more than 100 other solo entrepreneurs and members of small teams work each day. When Uber first moved in 18 months ago, it held all of its driver meetings onsite, making it common for guests to ask why there was a presidential motorcade parked outside. As its operation grew in scale, this ceased to be realistic and the company began taking meetings at an alternate location. Apparently, not everyone got the memo.

Yesterday, we got an amusing tip of a run-in between CoLoft staff and an angry driver:
I'm at this coworking space in LA called CoLoft. It houses Uber's LA outpost and they have this huge problem with Uber drivers coming by the office to complain/ask questions/demand payment they think they deserve, etc. There's a sign on the door that says "Uber does not accept visitors at this location" and I witnessed a driver storm in and then get escorted out and told "you are forbidden from coming in here."
This isn’t the first public run-in Uber has had with its drivers. The company’s SF headquarters was the site of a March protest over dismissals, payment disputes, and a lack of platform input.

With massive nine- and ten-figure valuations being tossed around regularly for the hottest startups – Uber has been reported to be currently raising a round at a $1 billion valuation – it’s easy to forget that these are still young companies, typically in a constant state of flux.

One problem with these massive valuations, is that they can create a bullseye for partners, vendors, contractors, and users. In Uber’s early days its drivers were seemingly grateful for the opportunity to gain independence from their traditional fleet managers. But once the luster wears off, all the technology in the world can’t remove the human element from the livery business. And people simply like to air their grievances.

The other issue for local online-to-offline businesses like Uber is the need to reestablish itself in every city. This extends to everything from gaining regulatory clearance, building network effects among consumers and in many cases contractors, and, yes, even finding office space.