Can This Ride-Sharing Start-Up Kill Uber with Kindness?

Ian Pajer-Rogers |

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From Vanity Fair:

by Emily Jane Fox

Talmon Marco was slouching in the corner of an elevator inside One World Trade Center, the tallest building in Manhattan, sliding his hands in his pockets. He is slight and soft-spoken, with a lilt in his accent and the coloring of someone who grew up on the Mediterranean. He smiles most of the time when he talks, in the way someone does when they are aware they are charming and believe they are the smartest person in the room. The technology industry is filled with wonky tough guys, and Marco is the apotheosis of this duality: he is a former C.I.O. of the Israeli Defense Force and a founder of Viber, a messaging and voice app that he sold for $900 million. Now he has funneled a chunk of that money to underwrite his most audacious act yet: Juno, a ride-sharing service that aims to go head-to-head with Uber and Lyft and their collective $65.5 billion valuation.

Marco is not without confidence. For Juno’s headquarters, he selected an office on the 84th floor of the world’s most famous building, though he is slumming it in a makeshift room on the 47th floor as construction crews ready the 10,000-square-foot space. After showing me around his office, Marco asked if he could see Vanity Fair’s headquarters, a few floors down. The twentysomething handling press for Juno asked if I ever saw Vogue editor Anna Wintour around the building. (Both Vogue and Vanity Fair are owned by parent company Condé Nast.) “Who’s Anna Wintour,” Marco asked, to awkward silence. “Oh, that’s who they say The Devil Wears Prada is based on, right?” he asked again, to silence.

“I’m kind of The Devil Wears Prada,” he said, looking down past his hoodie and jeans to his tan leather Prada sneakers. Mercifully, the elevator doors opened.

Juno is actually predicated on the exact opposite symbols of status. The company is designed as an antidote to Uber’s notorious worker problem—the company’s designation of its workers as independent contractors rather than employees; its relentless slashing of fare prices; and its insistence that drivers are partners when they are left to cover their own fuel costs, insurance rates, and maintenance fees, among other pointed issues. Juno, however, will give its drivers the option of being employees so long as they agree to work exclusively for its service; whereas Uber skims 20 to 25 percent off the top of each fare, Juno will take 10 percent. And Juno patrons will have the ability to tip their drivers if they do choose.

Most notably, Juno is offering everyone who signs up to drive for the service equity in the company, as long as they stay active with the company for two years. In fact, Marco said it is setting aside half of the founding shares to give to drivers over the next decade.

“We do this because it’s the right thing to do. You get better people when you do this. There’s no reason not to treat them right,” Marco told me as we entered the company’s office. “The bottom line is you have to treat people right. I think what Uber is doing is wrong from a business standpoint and wrong from a moral standpoint, and not necessarily in that order.”

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