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Let’s start out by saying that I’m a big fan of both Uber and Lyft. I’m indirectly an investor in both companies as I’m an investor in three VC funds that are investors Uber and one VC fund that is an investor in Lyft. I have no idea how much actual equity I have in either company, but based on current valuations the dollar value of my indirect ownership is non-trivial. And Foundry Group came close to investing in Zimride (the predecessor to Lyft) but we ended up withdrawing from what we thought was an inappropriately high priced round, which, in hindsight, was clearly a miss on our part.
Regardless of my support and enthusiasm for these two companies, I’m bummed at the mud they are slinging at each other. I get that this is an intensely competitive market. I get that the stakes are huge. I get that all the reporting I’m reading is second hand and might be fiction. But the ad hominem attacks are escalating rapidly and the behavior they are surfacing isn’t pretty.
Techcrunch summarized this pretty well yesterday, after multiple articles from a variety of places including the NY Times and WSJ. The headline sets the tone: Uber Strikes Back, Claiming Lyft Drivers And Employees Canceled Nearly 13,000 Rides. The NYT article is Accusations Fly Between Uber and Lyft and the WSJ article is Uber and Lyft Rivalry Turns Nasty in War of Words.
I have no idea what, if any of what is being said is true. The tactic being asserted that is most disturbing is this one:
Accused Lyft behavior: “Lyft employees, drivers and one of its founders ordered 12,900 trips on Uber’s app and then canceled them with the goal of slowing down drivers who would otherwise be picking up actual, paying passengers.”
Accused Uber behavior: “177 Uber employees have requested and quickly canceled more than 5,000 rides from Lyft drivers over the past 10 months, Lyft said, in an effort to frustrate Lyft’s customers and drivers.”
As a customer, this sucks. If I was a driver for either service, this sucks. I think this ultimately backfires against each company equally.
Guys – both of you are trying to disrupt a massive market dominated by incumbents and government regulation. I’m sure these incumbents are now laughing their asses off at y’all are acting like petulant children, as they wait patiently for you to chew up capital, value, partners, customers, while generating additional scrutiny from the government forces in the incumbents’ pockets trying to slow you down.
I get that you believe price is a weapon – how you use it for you and your investors to decide. But by messing with each other’s service, especially in a way that negatively impacts your two key constituents, consumers and drivers, you are opening yourself up to a ridiculous amount of scrutiny and quickly playing a no-win, zero-sum game. There is no need at all for this given the massive size of the market opportunity before you.
One, or both of you, should rise above the fray. Keep on competing aggressively. But recognize that you are radically disrupting a market desperately in need of disruption and doing it beautifully. Don’t shit all over it, and yourself in the process.
Two big proposals from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today. First, he’s proposing to ban non-competition agreements. He’s also proposing an incredibly clever and innovative approach to immigration reform applicable only to Massachusetts.
I lived in the Boston-area for twelve years (Cambridge for four years and Boston for eight years. ) Even though I often say that was 11 years and 364 days too many for my “non-big city, non-east coast” personality, Boston still has a sweet spot in my heart. I had an amazing (and often excruciating) experience at MIT which was foundational to my personality, thought process, and character. I started and sold my first company there (first office – 875 Main Street, Cambridge; last office 1 Liberty Square, Boston). Techstars Boston was the first geographic expansion for Techstars. I’m not a sports fan but I always root for the Red Sox. I think I have more close friends in the VC business in Boston than in the Bay Area. Two of my closest friends – Will Herman and Warren Katz – both live there. And I know my way around downtown Boston – even after the Big Dig – better than any other downtown in the world.
The Massachusetts non-competition situation has always been stupid. In 2009, my partners and I at Foundry Group joined a coalition of VCs to try to eliminate non-competition agreements in MA. It’s awesome to see Governor Patrick take action on it since it’s one of the major inhibitors of the MA entrepreneurial scene.
The immigration report proposal is even more fascinating. It’s a great example of creative and innovation public-private policy at the state level to encourage and enhance entrepreneurship. Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge explains it succinctly in his post so I’ll just repeat it here.
“The idea is a simple one: create a private-public partnership to allow international entrepreneurs to come to Boston and be exempt from the restrictive H-1B visa cap. How is it possible to do this? The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS) has a provision that allows universities to have an exemption to the H-1B visa cap. Governor Deval Patrick announced today that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will work in partnership with UMass to sponsor international entrepreneurs to be exempt from that cap, funding the program with state money to kick start what we anticipate will be a wave of private sector support.”
Brilliant. As our federal government continues to struggle to make any real progress on immigration reform, I love to see it happening at the state level. In addition to being good for innovation, it’s the kind of thing that dramatically differentiates states from one another on a policy, business, and innovation dimension that actually matters and likely has significant long term positive economic impacts on the region.
Governor Patrick – kudos to you. Governor Hickenlooper – I encourage you to roll out exactly the same thing in the State of Colorado. I know exactly the people at CU who would be happy to lead this, as would I. And since one of our Senators (Michael Bennet) is leading the immigration reform effort in the US Senate and our other Senator (Udall) has been a strong supporter of the Startup Visa and immigration report from the first discussion about it in 2009, I expect you already know your broad constituents support it.
Oh – and to my friends in NY who have been helping on the immigration reform front, let’s crank this up in NY also! Why should MA have all the fun?
A few weeks ago a I wrote a post titled It’s Not Right vs. Left, It’s Old vs. New about the conflict between innovators and incumbents. As a society, we are just starting to wander into the real structural conflict around this and I don’t believe our government, either at the local, state, or federal level, really knows what to do about it, or how to effectively engage in it.
If you want a magnificent example of this, all you need to do is look at what’s going on with Bitcoin. Actually, you just need to read two relatively short “open letters” which appeared on the web this morning.
Now, read Fred Wilson from USV’s blog post A Letter To Senator Manchin where he explains how regulatory activity in the US is already inhibiting innovation around Bitcoin, rebuts Manchin’s perspective, and analogizes Bitcoin to the Internet.
It’s probably no surprise that I completely agree with Fred’s perspective.
For disclosure, I don’t have much of a financial stake in this game – I own slightly less than 20 Bitcoins (I’ve used fractions to buy some stuff), have no intention to be a Bitcoin trader (I don’t actively trade individual public company stocks or currencies either), and I don’t have a direct equity investment in any company around the Bitcoin ecosystem (although I have several investments in VC funds who do.) I originally bought the Bitcoins for the Coursera course Startup Engineering which I managed to get through the fourth week of before I couldn’t make enough time to keep up with it. I thought I’d bought 10 but was surprised to see a few months ago that I had 20.
While I don’t have a financial stake, I have a huge intellectual and emotional stake in this. Bitcoin is a fascinating innovation. It has the potential to transform a number of different things, where fiat currencies and payment mechanisms are merely two of them. As a computer science problem, Bitcoin is a fascinating one. And, as an innovation vector, it’s a great example of “new” in a world that is desperately trying to hold on to “old.”
We are going to have a very rocky road as a society over the next 40 years. As with every generational shift, there is a lot of disruption (the 1960′s immediately come to mind.) But the amount of change, pace of change, democratization of innovation and entrepreneurship, connectivity of communication around the world, and intellectual complexity of the new innovations being created will dwarf anything we’ve seen as a species since our first moments of sentience.
Bitcoin is just a visible 2014 example of this. As Fred says at the end of his post
“When something as new and as different as Bitcoin emerges, it is tempting to want to “put the Genie back into the bottle” and protect ourselves from it. But thankfully the US did not do that with the Internet. The impact of the commercial Internet on the US economy and our society as a whole has been massive and overwhelmingly positive over the past twenty years. We should approach Bitcoin in exactly the same way and if we do, I expect the benefits we will see will be equally important, impactful, and beneficial to our economy and our society.”
My message to all the incumbents out there is a simple one. The more you try to organize and control “the new”, the harder it is going to be on society. The new is going to route around things, just like the Internet routes around things. Rather than fight innovation, embrace it, encourage it, iterate on it, accept the mess of it, and play with it, rather than against it. It’s more fun and will serve us better in the long run.
For the past 15 years, I’ve signed everything in green ink. I don’t remember how it started – it just did. I think I found a green Paper Mate felt tip pen that I liked and just started using it. So – if you have something from me signed in green, you know it’s an original. Otherwise it’s a copy or has an electronic signature.
About once a month I get a document back from a lawyer with the request to “please sign in blue ink.” I’ve always found that amusing, so I do.
This morning I wandered by my partner Jason’s office and told him about the regular, recurring requests to please sign in blue ink. He looked at me like I was from Mars, which might be true. I showed him the request. He said, “I don’t remember which class in law school taught that documents need to be signed in blue ink.”
Just a reminder that it takes a long, long time for archaic business practices to completely disappear. Fax machine anyone?
“In Washington DC, it’s not right vs. left, it’s old vs. new” – Senator Michael Bennet
I’ve been thinking about this since I heard it last Sunday evening in a conversation with FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. I was part of a fascinating private group discussion with him and came away with a lot of respect for him and appreciation for how he approaches things. While I’m on a year hiatus from political stuff, I was intrigued by the opportunity to meet with him given my close relationship with Phil Weiser (CU Law Dean), and Phil’s deep respect for Tom.
In the midst of the conversation, this line from Michael Bennet, one of our Colorado Senators, popped out.
Michael’s statement rang true with me. But it’s not just in Washington, it’s everywhere. This is the classic incumbent vs. innovator challenge and we are seeing it play out aggressively across all industries and geographies as the machines, especially the software in the machines, have the impact on society that many of us have been anticipating and investing in for a long time.
The confusion – and conflict – in our society around this is just beginning. The mess in DC is just a starting point. Suddenly cities like San Francisco are struggling to reconcile two diverging classes – the rich and the poor – with the middle rapidly being squeeze out of the city. Cities like Chicago and Seattle are seriously considering trying to regulate a new generation of innovators, in the form of Uber and Lyft, while at the same time trying to present themselves as forward thinking innovative places to live. We went through this last year in Denver with Uber and my instinct at the time was that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s a really big iceberg. The incumbents are extremely powerful and love the status quo. Sure – they aren’t stagnant, but they’ll use all the tools available to themselves to protect their flanks. And the attackers aren’t from the left or the right, but from the new.
I’ve spent my entire professional career working on the new. I’ve always felt frustrated by the incumbents, by the bureaucracies, and by the old way of doing things. I’m not very nostalgic and spend most of my energy looking and moving forward, rather than trying to protect what I have.
Over the past few years, I’ve felt like the dynamic I’m describing was accelerating. There were days I just felt like I was getting older, but when I reflect on it, it’s no different that it always has been throughout history. While time marches on linearly at a very consistent cadence, change does not. It comes in fits and spurts and is as chaotic as the early days of any fast growing company. It’s not predictable, and when it accelerates, lots of crazy shit starts to happen.
I don’t have a solution to this, nor do I think there is one since it’s a completely unstable and dynamic situation. Many humans instinctively resist change. We fear the uncertain. We try to control what we can’t control.
Accepting the mess is part of the beauty of being human. All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.