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Opinion Editorials

The secret reason Austin tech wants Uber/Lyft back in town (it has nothing to do with ridesharing)

(EDITORIAL) Last week, Texas passed a bill to override the City of Austin and most people expressed enthusiasm. But the upper echelon were relieved for an unspoken reason.

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Sorry Austin, Texas wants Uber back

Anyone in Austin with a pulse and the internet has heard by now that the Texas Legislature passed a state bill overruling the Austin ordinance requiring ridesharing companies to screen drivers through the city directly. The proposed law would still require criminal background checks on drivers, but rolls back the fingerprinting requirements that drove Uber and Lyft out of town.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law, after which, Uber and Lyft have stated they will immediately resume operations.

City Mayors have argued this is an example of the state attempting to override local control so corporations can profit while public safety is at risk.

Uber and Lyft spent millions to fight and then overturn the 2015 Austin fingerprinting ordinance, but a sloppy campaign left locals confused (most of whom still can’t cite the facts). Add on top of that debacle that the outlying cities surrounding Austin proper, inserted themselves and wanted their cut – if Austin gets paid $X for every driver to get fingerprinted, they too should get $X.

Since then, local non-profit Ride Austin filled the void and when this bill passed in the Texas Legislature, they announced aggressive plans to challenge the 1099 model for ridesharing drivers, potentially moving to a bold W2 plan.

The pendulum of sentiment

Local sentiment has widely been enthusiastic about the potential return of the ridesharing giants, but nowhere more than in the tech community.

And the enthusiasm isn’t because Uber and Lyft are fellow tech companies, no, this has everything to do with a quiet pulse in the upper echelon of the tech community, and it’s all about the money.

You see, two major Austin City Council moves were made in recent years that gave the city an anti-tech reputation – Proposition 1 (that ended with Uber/Lyft evacuating the city) and Ordinance No. 20160223-A.1 which placed burdensome regulations on short-term rentals (STRs) by limiting occupancy to six unrelated adults, prohibiting indoor assemblies of over ten people, and requiring operators to give access to all buildings/rooms to the city without notice or warrant.

The STR Ordinance was particularly painful given that HomeAway is headquartered in Austin, one of the largest STR sites on the planet.

And locals were quite embarrassed when it came time for South by Southwest (one of the tech industry’s premier pilgrimages every year) and Uber wasn’t an option for visitors.

These regulations led to the tech industry ending an era of individuals caring about politics and the sector armed itself politically overnight as a whole, organizing in a meaningful way for the first time in Austin’s history.

Earning a bad rap

Despite the seeds of organization being planted, the regulations led to the perception that Austin politicians are anti-tech, which rippled throughout the tech and venture capital (VC) world.

Because investors, both of the angel or VC variety, see the city as not friendly to tech, they’ve quietly expressed an unwillingness to invest in Austin companies.

And who can blame them? If they invest funds in Austin companies and the city cuts them off at the knees, they believe they’ll be better served playing it safe in the Valley or in their own backyard.

Thus, the upper echelon in Austin tech is extremely excited about the expected return of Uber and Lyft. While there is a deep care and concern about mobility, the real reason being whispered in town, is that the kink in the financial hose will be straightened out and the flow will return, if not strengthen.

#DollaDollaBillsYall

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Paul O'Brien

    May 22, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    It’s really not more complicated than this….. some of Austin thinks we’re all downtown and can/will bike to meetings. Most of Austin is everywhere but downtown and well beyond the city limits. If we can’t get around, we can’t do business. Making it burdensome to get around, just because, is stupid.

    I don’t need to get an Uber. Austin being difficult about enabling any form of transportation makes it burdensome to get around and makes everyone in the world wonder why we’d bother to get in the middle of things that ease business.

  2. Judah Ross

    May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Good, it’s about time the tech industry started throwing their weight around. We have enough special interest groups driving the conversation, at least tech is generally progressive and pro growth. Next lets put some energy into highways and density.

  3. Pingback: Act II: Uber and Lyft are *almost* back in Austin - The American Genius

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Opinion Editorials

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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Opinion Editorials

‘Follow your passion and the money will follow’ is bulls**t advice

(EDITORIAL) Following your passion can create success, though it may not be financial. So should you really just “do what you love” and hope for the best?

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If you asked anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I’m a strong advocate for people following their passion. However, when I encourage people to pursue their dreams, this comes with a big asterisk.

I recently heard someone use a phrase along the lines of, “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” Um… no.

While it’s great that you’ve found something you’re passionate about, that’s only a trillionth of the battle. You need to be willing to work your ass off and be willing to sacrifice everything in order to make that enthusiasm into a success.

Most people that have started their own business will tell you that it took a while into the process to begin paying themselves. Again, if it truly is your passion, this is all worth it in the end. But if you like food and shelter, it might not be.

Say, for example, your passion is acting and your goal in life is to become a famous movie star. Now, you can’t pull a Tobias Funke and simply say, “I’m an actor” and then expect everything to miraculously fall into place.

Like any other passion, you need to invest in yourself. You’ll need to get headshots, take acting classes, and find a flexible day job that allows you to go on auditions. Cutting corners on any of this in order to expedite the process or save a few bucks will end up hurting you in the long run.

For the sake of this article, let’s define “passion” as loving something so much you couldn’t imagine doing anything else… you would even do it for free. And, as there is no correlation between having passion for something and money, you just might.

While doing what you love is admirable, be aware that it may take an incredibly long time to see results in the form of numbers. Because of this, it’s wise to always have a back up plan to support yourself financially and pursue passion with a strong business plan in tact.

It is never wrong to want to follow your passion. I personally think that everyone should give it at least something of a shot during the course of their career so that you never ask “what if?” But following passion because you read a cliche statement can lead to major financial and emotional losses, so put on your business hat before blindly chasing dreams.

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Opinion Editorials

Tech CEO tweet ruins years of a young designer’s hard work

(EDITORIAL) With a tweet here and there, thoughtless questions have potentially bullied a young Asian woman in tech out of her career.

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It’s hard enough for women, particularly women of color, to make it in the world of tech, without rude jerks questioning if you literally exist.

Sadly, that’s what happened to Naomi Wu, also known as “SexyCyborg,” a 23-year old cyberpunk superstar from Shenzhen, China who has amassed a huge following for her 3D printing experiments and other techie pursuits. Wu has 140,000 followers and millions of views for her YouTube channel, where she shows off her experiments and provides educational tutorials.

Unfortunately, some rude dudes from America can’t seem to imagine that a young Asian woman is capable of the feats that Wu has accomplished.

Dale Dougherty, CEO of the DIY magazine Maker (and an official schmuck), has cyberbullied Wu so badly that it is said to have damaged her career. He tweeted, “I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people.”

This despite the fact that Wu says that she has actually spoken to Dougherty, and that he knows she is real. “For Westerners who don’t understand the important of reputation in China it seems like a very minor thing,” says Wu, “it is everything here and there’s no repairing this.”

Wu has even lost a sponsorship deal from a 3D printer company over the accusations that she isn’t who she says she is.

Dougherty eventually apologized, but Wu says that “the damage had been done” at that point, and that Dougherty knew the accusations would be “devastating” to her “reputation and professional prospects.”

Wu says that the attack is motivated by white male entitlement to tech spaces.

She says that she can’t imagine Dougherty attacking “a white lady from San Francisco.” Wu has been an advocate for diversity in tech and maker spaces. “I kept pushing for more inclusion – not just me, other underrepresented people,” she says. “They didn’t like being pushed. This is payback.”

We stand behind Wu as she continues to push the edge in tech spaces, and say shame on you to bullies who won’t make space for women and racial minorities. Sorry you’re not as cool as SexyCyborg, but that’s on you and you need to get over it.

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