Personal Enterprise Economy

Palm Springs Airport Faces Growing Pains: Modernize or Marginalize

by Mike Montgomery

Tonight, the Palm Springs City Council will make a decision about the future of the region’s airport that will move the Coachella Valley into the modern era, or leave it behind in the dusty past.

At issue is a vote to allow city staffers to consider regulations to let rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft pick up passengers at the airport. This matter should have been settled last month but instead of making a decision, the five members of the City Council kicked the can down the road, without even laying the groundwork for their staffers to begin the process of ushering in modern policies for Palm Springs International Airport (PSP).

It’s never an easy road for rideshare companies. The taxi lobby is deeply entrenched, moneyed and willing to fight for its dwindling market share rather than modernize and upgrade its offering. That fight is in conflict with consumer demand, which is clearly and quickly moving to rideshare companies.  Other major airports across the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose already allow Uber to pick up passengers. By keeping rideshare companies away from the airport, the City Council is turning the Palm Springs International Airport into a second-class transportation hub and marginalizing the area’s residents and tourists in the process.

Unfortunately, a cursory reading of the tealeaves indicates a disappointing outcome for rideshare companies. Currently, the City Council would likely vote against advancing this conversation. Never mind that this means rideshares can drop people off at the airport but not pick them up, a scheme that makes no sense to average people who are just looking for a ride. But such is the strength of the taxi lobby.  Common sense would lead one to believe that there is in fact no difference between allowing platform companies like Uber to drop off passengers (which is currently allowed) and pick them up, but the taxi lobby has done a phenomenal job of warding off competition and will continue doing so until the threat passes.

Taxi officials have raised the false specter of alcohol and drug testing as an excuse to keep rideshare companies away from the airport. But if you think drug and alcohol testing do anything to make rides safer, think again. Study after study has shown that these tests are wildly inaccurate, easy to manipulate, and provide no additional safety.

Similarly, the taxi industry is trying to force ridesharing to use their antiquated system of fingerprint-based background checks. Again, rideshare companies have already found more effective methods for making sure their drivers are being safe. They do comprehensive background checks, monitor rides in real-time and encourage riders to rate drivers and file complaints (again in real-time) if necessary. The taxi companies cannot offer this level of service to their customers.

But my voice doesn’t count in this vote and neither do the voices of elected officials and residents of Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. The only people who matter are those five members of the City Council.

Uber recently circulated a petition in Palm Springs asking residents to voice their support for the continuation of the airport discussion — 3,000 people signed in one week. A taxi-led petition to stop the furtherance of Uber pickups at the airport garnered a mere 300 signatures. It’s clear that the people of Palm Springs, and its 1.5 million airport passengers, deserve to move into the future when it comes to their transportation choices.

The City Council should reconsider its stance in favor of pro-consumer policies rather than pro-incumbent protectionism and give the people what they want: an airport offering modern services for the modern era.

Why Clinton And Trump Need To Talk About Technology At The Next Debate

Technology is central to our lives. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the candidates.

By Kish Rajan

This week’s debate between vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine was the second time we’ve seen candidates come together on the national stage to discuss the issues. For the second time, technology was basically left out of the conversation.

I guess that shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. This year’s election, more than any other I can remember, has been more about emotion than substance. The most important issues seem to be getting pushed to the sidelines in favor of personal jabs.

But I can’t help feeling disappointed. These debates have been a real missed opportunity. Tech is quickly becoming the driver of our economy. According to the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs are growing at 13% per year, faster than any other sector. Tech jobs pay some of the highest wages, and for every new tech job, 4.3 more jobs are created in other fields thanks to the multiplier effect, according to the Bay Area Council.

At the same time, tech is decimating some industries and forever changing the nature of work. As technology makes everything from buying our groceries to writing news stories easier, traditional jobs are being lost and they’re not coming back. This is something our leaders need to face head on.

In the first debate, Hillary Clinton made a glancing reference to the power of innovation to create new jobs, but it was far from enough.

There’s a lot at stake in this election. In order to help grow the technology industry and protect workers, we need to modernize tax policies, come up with new strategies for education and workforce development, increase access to capital to start new businesses and reform regulations. These issues need to become part of the conversation.

Immigration is top of mind for many tech entrepreneurs but not in the way the candidates talk about it. Silicon Valley doesn’t want to keep immigrants out; it wants to let them in. The leaders in the Bay Area want to make it easier for entrepreneurs and engineers to cross our borders so new companies can be founded and others can hire the best and the brightest, no matter what country they’re from.

Then there is the sharing economy — I call it the Personal Enterprise Economy — which is growing in leaps and bounds. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit are remaking the economy in incredibly fundamental ways. A job is no longer for life; that’s just reality. These new companies are opening up new opportunities for people who may be underemployed or who just want more flexibility to control their own work life.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need regulations here to protect both workers and consumers. The choices the government makes about those regulations will have an enormous impact on whether or not this industry and its workers thrive.

And this new, tech-driven, future of work means that we need to rethink things such as tax breaks and benefits. Obamacare was a good start in that it gave everyone the chance to get health care without having to stay beholden to a specific employer. But we need to go further. More benefits need to be portable, sticking to the worker not the employer. We need to talk about things like wage insurance and evolving our tax code to reflect the changing nature of work.

There’s also the digital divide, a serious problem that is rarely publicly discussed among elite politicians. While at the top end of the economic scale people have access to iPhones, lightning-fast broadband and the newest whiz-bang wearables, too often people at the bottom are struggling with dial-up service if they have any access to the internet at all.

In order for this lower-income group to thrive, they need to be able to have steady broadband access, not just to be able to keep in touch with loved ones and take advantage of growing entertainment opportunities. This is much-needed technology that will allow them to apply for jobs, get online training and access benefits that are increasingly going digital.

Closing this divide needs to be a priority for our government. It would be great if our next president acknowledged this and talked about ways to fix the problem.

Technology can help create new jobs and move the economy forward but it can also leave people behind in its wake. We need to be dealing with both sides of the issue.

There are two more debates on the schedule. I’ll be watching next Sunday’s town hall closely to see if the candidates talk more about technology. I hope they will. Personal insults and clever one-liners are great for reality TV. But they don’t help much when it comes to leadership.

Why Pot Is The New Frontier For Tech Entrepreneurs

By Mike Montgomery

The cannabis industry is growing like, well, a weed. And the fact that recreational marijuana is on the California ballot in November means that we are about to see an extraordinary number of tech entrepreneurs enter this arena. According to cannabis research firm The Arcview Group, if the measure passes, the California cannabis market will grow from $2.7 billion to $6.6 billion by 2020.

Currently, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington are the only states where recreational marijuana use is legal. It’s a $5.7 billion industry (“the fastest growing industry in America,” according to Cashinbis) that is poised to take off once California hits the market.

There are plenty of hot areas for fledgling cannabis entrepreneurs. Edibles, vapors, extraction processes and growing systems, to name just a few. “If you are looking at product development, there is no standard—no one will tell you how to do it,” says Michael Devlin, co-founder and president of Db3, which makes Zoots edibles. “As the industry grows, they will ask for innovation. The winners will be those who respond to that.”

I checked in with activist Brian Caldwell, owner of Triple-C: The Original Cannabis Club, to see what areas might be ripe for budding tech entrepreneurs interested in the cannabis industry:

Mature consumer-facing software: Right now, Weedmaps and Leafly are the top two sites where cannabis consumers can look up dispensaries, find cannabis strains and read reviews. But neither is perfect and both need to mature a lot in order to be truly user friendly.

Weedmaps suffered from a lot of growing pains and has had a number of software issues. Leafly, while packed with information on specific strains and great technologically, seems to be struggling to gain traction.

Read the full article here.

Airbnb, Homeaway and a City’s Tortured Path to Drafting Short Term Rental Regs

By: Tim Sparapani

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is in the midst of a sometimes hot, sometimes cold dispute that’s currently targeting companies that facilitate short-term housing rentals online, but more broadly is a challenge to the internet platform companies that are propelling San Francisco’s and the nation’s economy. The current dispute stems from the Supervisors’ innocuous sounding ordinance that would force internet platform companies like HomeAway and Airbnb to either require those who offer rentals on their sites to register with the City, or kick the renters off the companies’ sites. If the companies refuse or resist, they face significant fines.

Of course, the City could and should just take direct enforcement actions against the property owners who aren’t complying with local laws but it wants the companies to bear this burden.

The first ordinance passed by Supervisors this spring was swiftly challenged in court, in part because it was an attack that violated a key federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that has helped the Bay Area’s tech innovators generate hundred of billions in economic value for the city, state, and national economy. Just last week, the Supervisors, who were previously resolute that the proposal did not violate federal law, withdrew the ordinance. They requested that the judge assigned to the case stay litigation while they rewrite the ordinance. Early drafts being circulated, however, appear to repeat the original mistake of punishing internet platforms when property owners fail to comply with the City’s registration requirements.

We live in the Internet Age, and more specifically, what I call the Internet Platform Economy. Internet platforms – Google, Facebook, eBay, Etsy, Tumblr, Craigslist, and a thousand others – are especially successful because they facilitate billions of people publishing content online, and with a few exceptions, the internet platform companies cannot be forced to police users’ content. America’s tech companies were empowered to create their online platforms by a provision tucked into a 20-year young federal law, the Communications Decency Act (CDA). With only a few exceptions, courts have ruled repeatedly that Section 230 of the CDA frees companies from liability for facilitating their users’ publication online of speech and content. This federal liability shield is the greatest single reason for the rise of these services because it is what allows internet platform companies to host billions of interactions without being constantly mired in legal disputes.

Read the full article here.

Airbnb regulation plan would do more harm than good

By: Mike Montgomery

As housing prices in Los Angeles continue to rise, the affordability crisis has been on the minds of state and local leaders.

It’s true that Los Angeles is among the least affordable rental markets in the country, due in part to the city’s historically low vacancy rates. But it is inaccurate and does a disservice to the actual problem to solely blame short-term rentals for this wide-ranging crisis that has sharpened over the years. Home sharing has been an important tool for middle class families to remain in their homes, in the city they love.

As incomes stagnate and the cost of living essentials like housing and child care rise, making a second unit or home available for rent on a short-term basis has helped thousands of families make ends meet.

And that is exactly what the overwhelming majority of home-share listings are — short-term rentals. Time and again, home-sharing opponents have attempted to misrepresent data to mislead Angelenos.

According to a study released in September 2015, more than 80 percent of home listings in Los Angeles on the home-sharing platform Airbnb are rented fewer than 90 nights a year. In the vast majority of cases, an entire home listing does not represent a unit of housing taken off the market but the home of a regular citizen rented a few weeks out of the year while the owner is on vacation or a work assignment.

The ability to rent out a room or a second unit has allowed many Angelenos to stay in their homes. In a survey of hosts conducted in February, nearly 3,000 said their income from Airbnb has prevented them from losing their homes to foreclosure or eviction.

Businesses throughout the city have enjoyed the benefits of Airbnb travelers. In 2015, the Airbnb community generated an estimated $920 million in economic impact for Los Angeles. These dollars are spread to local businesses and across parts of the city that don’t typically see much tourism activity.

Misleading statistics undermine the arguments of opponents who claim inaccurately that landlords are using home-sharing platforms as an end-run around rent control and other tenant protections.

Read the full article here.

The Next Shared Economy

By: Mike Montgomery

Economist Paul Krugman has pointed out that in the future, as computers start to handle everything from tax law to driving, the jobs that will be most in demand are the ones that can only be done by humans: things like gardening, house cleaning and plumbing. A higher value will be placed on jobs that a computer can’t do.

But talk to entrepreneurs in those kinds of fields today and they’ll tell you their biggest challenge to building a business is finding customers. For skilled laborers who want to work on their own, time spent chasing leads and marketing is time they’re not getting paid for their work. Also, these entrepreneurs still have to worry about things like inventory management, invoicing and sometimes payroll, but because time is money, the time involved in those tasks can make growing a sustainable small business incredibly challenging.

Enter the next phase of sharing-economy platforms, gig economy, or what I like to call the personal enterprise economy. Thumbtack, a San Francisco-based company that has raised $125 million and is valued at $1.3 billion, connects skilled workers with customers, taking a big burden off of the backs of these entrepreneurs. While most sharing-economy companies are creating platforms that give people ways to earn money between jobs or on the side, Thumbtack is trying to help professionals build full-time companies. According to a new report from the company, two-thirds of the professionals on its site are running their businesses full time.

“Tech helps liberate and empower people,” says CEO Marco Zappacosta. “It helps them build on a business and lead their lives the way they choose.”

Read the full article here.

Techwire.net – Rajan: The ‘Sharing Economy’ Is Here to Stay (Opinion)

By: Kish Rajan

I recently was a guest on a cable news show to discuss politicians’ attitudes toward companies like Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit. On this occasion, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes got particularly heated when I brought up the “sharing economy.” He shot back, insisting the name is misleading: “No one’s sharing anything. People are just selling things a different way,” he said.

Hayes isn’t the first person to make this claim, and I don’t completely disagree with his semantics. But I prefer to use the term “personal enterprise economy” to describe the new paradigm. Why? The substantive criticism is that rideshare drivers and home share hosts aren’t sharing their assets; in reality, they’re selling them. Point conceded, happily.

It’s called entrepreneurship, and that’s why this new personal enterprise economy is so exciting. Powerful new technology platforms are empowering regular people to become the CEOs of their own enterprises — marketing and selling their assets and talents to a global marketplace heretofore out of reach to the average person. Until now, global markets were the exclusive domain of companies with the resources and capacity to reach those markets. Technology is transforming that, opening up a new world of opportunity to everyday people. See the marketing consultant in Los Angeles using video conferencing to sell her services in Beijing. Consider the baker in Fresno selling his cookies to the customer in Brazil.

Read the full article here.

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