It was a great run, really. For most of its brief existence, Uber has gotten nothing but great press—and deservedly so, since the popular ridesharing service has provided a great way for people in cities to work around sclerotic taxi commissions and local cartels that serve entrenched business interests rather people looking for convenient new ways of getting around in cities.

But lately—and especially after offensive statements about investigating journalists critical of the company’s top management and some of its business practices—the only press Uber seems to be getting these days is bad press. “Call it Uber Angst,” reads a typical recent story in The New York Times about the growing movement to delete Uber’s app due to perceived moral lapses. “This is a new quandary faced by customers reliant on Uber’s on-demand taxi app but unsettled about supporting a company whose attitudes toward privacy and women have been making headlines.”

Here’s something else to consider: After spending years antagonizing would-be regulators, Uber is now working with them to hammer out agreements that will let the company flourish even as less-connected competitors face tougher regulations.

Does this latest strategy, which involves hiring former Barack Obama adviser David Plouffe to smooth things with cities, mark Uber’s turn from market disrupter to political player? That’s the question I ask in my latest Time column. A snippet:

In The Myth of the Robber Barons, historian Burton W. Folsom made a distinction between market entrepreneurs, who got rich by providing goods and services to people at cheaply and efficiently, and political entrepreneurs, who maintained and grew their market share by lobbying for regulations and special privileges that gave them an edge. Folsom underscored that it’s common for market entrepreneurs to become political entrepreneurs (think Thomas Edison, who used all sorts of political connections to kneecap market rivals).

Uber’s latest strategy may make sense from a business point of view—Plouffe even calls it “Uber-mentum”—but if you believe in free markets, it’s just as dispiriting as most of the other things that have ginned up anti-Uber fervor. And to the extent that new regulations make it that much harder for the next great disruptive business to come along, it’s worse still.

Read the whole thing here.

Why Values Matter in On-Demand Transportation

I took last week off from blogging for family reasons which means I sat out a big wave of posts about Uber. Don’t worry, I am not going to rehash that particular discussion. Instead, I want to point out what I believe the big questions are that should be asked of all companies in this sector which includes two USV investments (Hailo and Sidecar). Here are two questions:

1. Are drivers genuinely independent contractors? A legitimate concern here should be that the level of control that comes from location monitoring and automated dispatch is turning drivers effectively into employees (but without any of the benefits). One way to counteract that would be to require that dispatch companies have a driver API. Sadly New York City is contemplating the opposite with a law that would require drivers to only associate with one service (“base” in New York lingo) at a time. Our two portfolio companies have taken different approaches here. Hailo works primarily with regulated drivers who have special rights and obligations governed by local governments (this has proven to be difficult) and Sidecar is taking a marketplace approach that gives drivers a larger degree of control and the potential for differentiation.

2. What is the trade-off between fairness and efficiency? As I pointed out in a post on Uber’s surge pricing, transportation is not a commodity market but rather a series of micro-markets. Demand and supply imbalances cannot be avoided simply through dynamic price adjustments without big implications. You cannot easily have enough supply capacity to satisfy peak demand (eg a rainy day like today in New York city) and yet pay that supply adequately at periods of lower demand. The traditional taxi systems have erred on the side of too little supply which created excess rents that were taken up by medallion owners. But it is equally possible to err on the other side where some group of drivers winds up systematically losing money. That is one reason why values matter a lot in this market.

That is true not just for the values of the individual companies but also what we value as society. We need to answer these questions in the context of what is happening in the labor market and how that is impacting inequality. I believe that as we use technology to expand the market for transportation — very much a good thing — we want to be careful to avoid the possible outcome of drivers as “meatware” — simply a human cog in a machine, threatened to be replaced by a computer.

Friendly Reminder: Don't use Uber

My friend just text me a screenshot of her Uber ride from last night:

image

Even if you know nothing of NYC or have never driven in this city, you can obviously tell the guy went ridiculously out of his way.  The most direct shot is like 13 minutes.

Read More

The nerve of some people! Imagine coming to a city and doing business without first asking permission from local officials!

That’s what Uber has done in cities all over the United States and Europe, and it’s created quite a storm among politicians and licensed taxi drivers, who have held up traffic in, among other places, Boston, London, and Paris just to stamp their feet at the high-tech competition.

What is Uber? It’s an innovator, and you know what means. It disturbs the regulatory landscape where protected firms have long settled in safely and comfortably. Suddenly, the advantage of being an “in” flies out the window. No wonder the regulation-spawned monopolies are upset.

To be more specific, Uber (and its competitor, Lyft) is a company whose smartphone app efficiently matches riders and drivers. When Uber enters a market, it carefully recruits and certifies local drivers. Then, using the app, people who need a ride can quickly find drivers to get them where they want to go. Customers are told fares in advance and how long they’ll wait to be picked up. After the trip, driver and rider are asked to evaluate each other.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? You’re probably thinking “yes” — unless you’re a licensed cab driver, a politician, a regulator, or a progressive. (Recent progressive headlines include “Of Course Uber Should Be Regulated” [Slate] and “Why Uber Must Be Stopped” [Salon].) They’re all going bananas.

Clearly the welcome wagon rolls out of sight when innovators come to town. In Paris, the government tried to mandate a 15-minute delay between ordering a ride and receiving a pickup. Fortunately, a court said no. The commonwealth of Virginia has told Uber to “Halt!,” while Austin and Miami have (figuratively) posted “Uber Stay Out!” signs.

The only losers from thwarting Uber are riders, who must suffer the inefficiency and backwardness of the local monopoly, and would-be drivers who can’t break into the business because of that protectionist, interest-ridden system. Did you know New York City had fewer taxi licenses (medallions) in 2012 than in the late 1930s?

What happened in Little Rock, Arkansas, is typical. Uber came to town to recruit drivers, so the city’s board of directors frantically began discussing what kind of regulations they should enact. Uber says it’s not a transportation company and should not be subject to the regulations governing taxis. Uber maintains no fleet of vehicles and employs no drivers. It merely helps drivers and riders find each other. But the discussion of regulations went on. Then Uber did something guaranteed to upset any government and its favored interests: it started doing business.

A member of the board of directors quickly let it be known that he would seek an injunction. It’s called “injunctive relief,” but who would be relieved? I’ve already indicated the answer: no one who deserves to be.

The statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, assumed the voice of the ruling elite when it reported that Uber “began operating in the city without approval.… The company is known for moving into cities across the nation without complying with transportation codes that are in place.”

Regarding Uber’s decision to proceed without waiting for the government to act, the newspaper reported, “Ward 4 Director Brad Cazort, who had a role in negotiating terms with Uber, said the company’s sudden start without following city guidelines meant they should no longer have input in the drafting of Little Rock’s regulations.”

That’ll show them. You won’t play ball with us? Fine, we’ll regulate you without your input.

What is the world coming to when any company can come to a city and arrogantly do business without asking permission, in essence, of those against whom it would compete? Does the new kid in town think this is America or something? Oh. Never mind.

Americans live under the delusion that enterprise here is both private and free. It may be nominally private, but it’s anything but free. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what freedom is. So they are unfazed when they hear that before you can do anything of a commercial nature, you need government permission.

You were taught monopolies are bad, right? Apparently not government-created monopolies.

Land of the free? In your dreams.

Seth Meyers Has A "Couple Things" To Say About Uber

image

It’s a car sharing service that’s competing with taxis in lots of major cities. Well, this week Uber is facing some serious criticism because on Monday their Vice President of Business, Emil Michael, told a group of people at a private dinner party that Uber should consider spending “a million dollars” to hire opposition researchers to fight back against critical journalists by digging into “their personal lives and their families.”

Okay, so Uber: couple things.

image

Then again, I think I saw a Sopranos episode once where Paulie said, “Remember, we don’t go after their families. That’s not us.”

Plus, what exactly is going on with the corporate culture at Uber? Earlier this year CEO Travis Kalanick called the fact that he now gets hit on by a lot of women, “Boober.”

image

Second thing. To his credit, Emil Michael apologized for his comments about journalists. But he also said that those comments he made in private do not reflect his actual views.

image

That’s not how it works.The comments you make in private are absolutely your actual views. That’s why you make them in private. 

It’s the comments you make in public, when everyone is listening and recording what you’re saying, that don’t reflect your actual views. That’s true for all of us. The truth is always worse than what we say in public. In fact, if you publicly said you wanted to spend a million dollars digging up dirt on journalists, I would have said, “Holy crap, Uber is murdering journalists.”

Third thing. Speaking of journalists, you made your comments about smearing journalists with journalists around. Arianna Huffington was there. The editor of BuzzFeed was there. Sure, you later said you thought the dinner was off the record, but you can’t tell a group of journalists that you’re planning on going after journalists. That would be like Voldemort walking into Hogwarts and saying,

image

Fourth thing: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the “Boober” guy, also apologized. But he did it in a series of thirteen tweets on his Twitter feed. Thirteen tweets?

image

Also, no one wants to read anything on Twitter in thirteen parts. It’s not a season of Mad Men. Write one tweet that says “My apology” and has a link. ‘Cause I’m not gonna get all thirteen parts back to back, anyway. I’m gonna get your first three tweets, then a fantasy football tweet, then your next two, then a sweet pic of the Biebs. And at that point I’m not going back to your apology because I got Biebs on the brain. 

Final thing: I don’t like that this happened to Uber. I use Uber. Sure, they price gouge. Sure, they charge you up to four times as much when it’s raining and two times as much when it’s cloudy. But it’s so much easier than taking taxis. And unlike taxi drivers, when I get into an Uber car and tell the driver I want to go to the airport he doesn’t go,

image

This stinks for me. Whenever some company or group does something disgraceful it’s always some product I like. Uber, Chik-fil-A, the NFL. Sure, I could eat KFC while trying to hail a taxi on my way to a hockey game, but I don’t want to.

image

WATCH:

I’m actually embarrassed that it took me until then to make the connection, particularly given I used to host the startup competition at a technology conference called “TechCrunch Disrupt.” The original Silicon Valley meaning of a disruptive company was one that used its small size to shake up a bigger industry or bloated competitor. Increasingly, though, the conference stage was filled with brash, Millennial entrepreneurs vowing to “Disrupt” real-world laws and regulations in the same way that me stealing your dog is Disrupting the idea of pet ownership. On more than one occasion a judge would ask an entrepreneur “Is this legal?” to which the reply would inevitably come: “Not yet.” The audience would laugh and applaud. What chutzpah! So Disruptive!

The truth is, what Silicon Valley still calls “Disruption” has evolved into something very sinister indeed. Or perhaps “evolved” is the wrong word: The underlying ideology — that all government intervention is bad, that the free market is the only protection the public needs, and that if weaker people get trampled underfoot in the process then, well, fuck ‘em — increasingly recalls one that has been around for decades. Almost seven decades in fact, since Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” first put her on the radar of every spoiled trust fund brat looking for an excuse to embrace his or her inner asshole.

These are Andre De Villiers’ new Mini Butchers!  Andre De Villiers is trailblazing the world of mid-tech folders with his ADV Butchers. These knives have an excellent feel in hand with a combination of precise and smooth action from the roller bearing and proprietary pivot system. The blade has a deep hollow grind, swedge spine, and fuller groove. This BEAST flips fast baby!

Available @ www.uberknives.com

#Uberknives #Tactical