In part I of this morality tale I looked at some of the effects of Uber’s surge pricing. Uber raises prices when demand is high — Friday and Saturday nights, say, when a lot of people want to drink without worrying about driving or in the particular case I looked at, after the explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City (which did turn out to be a bomb, evidently) when a bunch of people in that neighborhood suddenly decided they very much wanted to be somewhere else.
When the price of a ride increases during a time of unusually high demand, there are two effects. Some drivers who might otherwise not drive will find it worthwhile to drive. And some riders who might otherwise have requested an Uber will choose not to. They will either postpone their trips or skip them altogether.
One year ago, the folks at Nasdaq launched the Entrepreneurial Center, a non-profit with a mission to “educate, innovate, and connect aspiring and current entrepreneurs.” NewCo is a Center partner — we produce the Shift Dialogs in their extraordinary studio. In its first year, the Center’s founding team set themselves a lofty goal — to bring 2,000 entrepreneurs through their programs in the first year. By July, they’d hit their goal, and as of today — their one-year anniversary — they’ve crushed it: More than 3,000 have benefitted from the Nasdaq’s unique ecosystem of founders, VCs, and business leaders.
We’re putting the finishing touches on a Shift Dialogs interview with Nasdaq Vice Chair Bruce Aust, who also serves as the Center’s president. That interview will debut next month, but we thought it appropriate to post a couple of outtakes in honor of the Center’s first birthday. Congratulations to Bruce, Nicola, Celena, Cristina, Mitch, Jessica and the entire Center team. We’re proud to be a partner of yours!
On September 1st, Franklin Wise was not having a great day. He had just finished moving out of his San Francisco apartment, which he was forced to leave behind when a startup job didn’t work out. He was devastated over that; he didn’t want to move and was struggling with the changes he was undergoing. When the final items were packed in the truck, he kissed his girlfriend in that empty apartment, then he kissed her again, and a little more for good measure. She turned to go the bathroom, and he turned, as well, but not to the door. Instead, he took to the ledge and jumped. He ended his life on the street below and, in the process, broke the hearts of so many he left behind.
I knew Franklin from my time in LA, although we had not seen each other in years. We worked together at Myspace and shared an office in Santa Monica after that. He was a unique guy, to say the least — bold, slightly crazy, and full of dreams, just like most of the great people you encounter in the tech industry. He had a passion for what he did, but beyond that, he had the tenacity to do something. Tenacity is a vital trait in our startup world because you’ll fail time and time again. You’ll be discounted and told “No” over and over. You’ll be defeated and want to give up 100 times before you’re successful just that once. Franklin’s own startup ideas never really took off, which, no doubt, took a toll over the years.
When Uber puts surge pricing in place on a Saturday night, say, two things happen. The first is that some drivers who otherwise might sit at home enjoying life now find it worthwhile to spend time picking up people and taking them where they want to go. The second is that some people who want a ride decide to either delay their trip for a bit or find an alternative way (taxi, bus, walk, friend) to get to their planned destination. Some will decide to cancel their trip when they see the cost of getting an Uber.
These effects are particularly important when there is danger that people wish to flee. Last night in New York City there was an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood. No one at the time knew for sure what the cause was or whether it was part of more general danger in the area. A lot of people wanted to get out of the area and get out quickly. Surge pricing encouraged drivers to face potential danger. It also signaled to potential passengers whose desire for a ride was not urgent to step aside and make room for those whose need was very urgent indeed. The beauty of prices is that these people do not have to know what is going on. The higher price sends them a message.
“There will always be plenty of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things.” — V. Bush
Quiet magic happens when an at-scale platform emerges unexpectedly — things previously thought impossible, or more aptly, things never imagined become commonplace faster than we can get used to them. Think of your first Google search. Your first flush of connection on Facebook. The moment a blue dot first guided you to a red destination. Coding before GitHub. Taxis before Uber. AR before Pokemon Go.
When a platform is built that allows for unexpected adjacencies, magic is unleashed and the world sparkles for a moment or two.
“Failure is punished, and success isn’t rewarded, so it’s not surprising that we don’t have people introducing changes.”
As part of the NewCo Shift Dialogs, I had a chance to interview Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool. You can watch the video here, but because we had to cut it down for time, many fascinating portions of the conversation did not make it into the video. Below is the full transcript, with light editing for clarity.
Our Education System Was Built For The Industrial Era. AltSchool’s Platform Rethinks Learning From the Classroom Up.
For the second installment of the Shift Dialogs, I speak with Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool. I’ve known Ventilla since his days as a founder of Aardvark, a unique search platform acquired by Google in 2010. Since that acquisition, Ventilla rose to head of personalization for Google, where he learned the power of individual services at scale.
But as a new parent in the hyper-competitive Bay area, Ventilla and his wife found themselves dismayed by the choices society offered their young children. Private schools offered smaller class sizes and lots of privilege, but the model was pretty much the same as public schools, which are increasingly starved of funding and legally obligated to pursue byzantine and outdated approaches to learning.
I’m on vacation this week, so please enjoy an updated version of a piece I wrote early this year. It still resonates, and was published before we formally launched NewCo Shift. In fact, this piece is the essential framing behind both the Shift Dialogs (a new video series coming with partner Nasdaq later this summer) and Shift Forum (a new executive conference coming early next year).
Thanks to NewCo, I’ve gotten out of the Bay Area bubble and visited more than a dozen major cities across several continents in the past year. I’ve met with founders inside hundreds of mission-driven companies, in cities as diverse as Istanbul, Boulder, LA, and Mexico City. (Austin and Cincinnati are coming up later this month!) I’ve learned about the change these companies are making in the world, and I’ve compared notes with the leaders of large, established companies, many of which are the targets of that change.
The Water Wars Water is the resource we most count on, and, in the First World at least, it’s been the one we most take for granted. When it’s scarce, food runs short, political unrest becomes the norm, and the world’s diplomats send classified cables that make for scary reading. The Center for Investigative Reporting has reviewed many of those cables, and perhaps the most intriguing insight in this summary report is how civil wars in Syria, much of it now controlled by ISIL, and Yemen, where 14 of 16 aquifers have run dry, ladder to water shortages in 2008–9. And water shortages in one place can create more elsewhere. The report spells out how Saudi Arabia’s lack of water led to the draining of Arizona’s water tables — the Saudis bought land in Arizona to farm wheat for the kingdom — exporting “virtual water” through farming atop one of the US’s driest climates. It’s a new front in the inequality wars. As one classified 2009 cable reads, “the rich always have a creative way of getting water, which not only is unavailable to the poor but also cuts into unreplenishable resources.”
Is the Wall Starting to Crack in North Carolina? North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, who signed anti-LGBT measure HB2 into law, has issued an executive order “clarifying” some of the elements of the law. The order doesn’t change any major element of the bill and, as an executive branch official, McCrory has only limited power here anyway. But it does seem that the outrage against the law is starting to garner activity, if not yet meaningful action. The ongoing business response may be what makes that inevitable: Deutsche Bank announced yesterday that it is holding off on bringing 250 new jobs to the state, joining PayPal and others. Meanwhile, one adult-oriented company has found an unexpected but perhaps effective way to focus its North Carolina customers’ attention on the problem, hitting people’s entertainment needs in a far more primal way than even a Springsteen concert cancellation.
The putative book of the moment in tech circles is Disrupted, journalist Dan Lyons’s chronicle of his short, unsuccessful stint at HubSpot. Fortunately that moment will pass as soon as more people are exposed to it. Disrupted might be a moderately entertaining read for someone who’s never worked at a startup or has never spoken to anyone who worked at a startup, much like Lyons’ Fake Steve Jobs character engaged people who didn’t know much about Steve Jobs. Disrupted is filled with cliched language and pretend revelations (“50 is the new 65”) that someone as savvy as Lyons certainly realized long before he took a gig with the marketing-software firm. Lyons is a 30-plus-year veteran of the tech business. His professed shock at how startups are run rings false and makes one question pretty much everything else here (I can’t believe the real-life Lyons is as green as the one portrayed here). It feels like Lyons created an exaggerated, fictionalized version of himself, conceived with a movie option in mind, rather than shared what really happened, how he really felt, and what he really learned, if anything.