21st Century Economy

How To Build A Crowdsourced Company, From the Ground Up

By Mike Montgomery

We have all heard the traditional story. You have an idea and take it to an angel investor early on — or a venture capital firm after developing a prototype — to get funding. But this model has its drawbacks. Investors can make demands that a founder might not agree with. Many VCs are only interested in an exit, not building a sustainable company, and VC-backed companies often fall just as quickly as they rise.

What if there were a better way? Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO and co-founder of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, thinks there is.

Back in 2012, Ahlborn was part of an online business incubator called JumpStartFund that harnessed the power of online communities. “If you think about it, you do everything online: your dry cleaning, your groceries, even finding love — but building businesses still very much happens offline,” he says. Ahlborn recognized the power of online crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter to bring people together, and he wanted to find the best way to harness the wisdom of passionate communities.

The opportunity arrived in the summer of 2013 when Elon Musk published a famous white paper proposing the hyperloop concept: massive magnetized tubes that could carry passengers at 700 mph from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Ahlborn thought the project would be a perfect fit to show how a crowdsourcing business model would work and asked Musk for permission to put it on the JumpStartFund platform. Ahlborn invited anyone to participate as long as they were willing to work in exchange for stock options. After sifting through hundreds of applications, he enlisted the help of 100 engineers. Many of them had day jobs at places like Boeing, NASA, Google and Airbus.

Read the full article here.

Staying In A D.C. Hotel For Inauguration Weekend? Prepare To Be Gouged

By Mike Montgomery

This weekend will be a historically busy one for Washington D.C. Today, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in front of the U.S. Capitol, where his fans were out en masse to watch. Saturday, hundreds of thousands will flood the streets of the city to protest his presidency.

No matter which side of the fence they’re on, every D.C. visitor staying in a hotel had one thing in common: They all paid an insane amount for lodging.

We did some research into rooms this coming weekend and found that hotels are jacking up their prices by more than 800%. Book a room at the Fairmont in Georgetown earlier in January and you would have paid $190 per night for a room with a king bed. The weekend of the inauguration? That same room will cost you $1,600 per night (and you’ll have to book for at least three nights.)

Prices won’t be any better in Dupont Circle. A room at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel, which would typically go for $99 per night, will cost you $899 per night the weekend of the inauguration.

It is a shame that these absurd rates put hotel rooms out of reach for most Americans who might want to either see democracy in action or protest the people who are soon to be running the country.

Read the full article here.

Technology Can Help Heal This Divided Country

By Mike Montgomery

On Tuesday night, America was hit with an earthquake. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. What Tuesday showed is that we are a country that is even more deeply divided than many of us thought.

At the heart of that division is a schism between the haves and the have nots. People who feel they have been left behind by the government and the economy may not have been heard by pollsters but they made themselves heard loud and clear Tuesday when they voted for radical change at the top level of government.

While it may be an uncomfortable situation, those of us in the tech space need to talk about the role technology played in that divide.

Those of us living in the iPhone bubble may believe that things like online banking, video calls and streaming music are part of the everyday life of all Americans but that’s not true. We still live in a country that has a very real digital divide.

Studies from the Pew Research Center show that people who earn less money and are less educated also have less access to the internet. While 88% of adults earning more than $150,000 per year have broadband at home, only 45% of those earning under $30,000 a year have the same access. Ninety percent of people at the top income level have smartphones compared to 53% of those at the bottom.

As more and more of the services that people rely on move online, those at the bottom are truly being left behind. They have less access to things like employment websites, online education and new banking options. Without fast access to the internet they are increasingly isolated.

Then there’s the very real problem of job displacement. While technology has made many things easier in our lives, it’s also made a lot of jobs redundant. By 2020 robots will have replaced an estimated 5 million jobs, according to the World Economic Forum. Those people who feel that the jobs they once relied on are deserting their communities — they’re right.

But here’s the thing. I also believe that technology can help solve these problems. Knowing the benefits that come from more people having access to the internet we can put policies in place to close the digital divide. We need policies that encourage states to upgrade their infrastructures to bring broadband to everyone.

We need to accept the reality that the economy, and with it the future of work, is changing fundamentally and it’s not changing back. We can’t pretend that we’re headed for a resurgence of reliable factory jobs.

Instead, let’s enact policies that train people for the jobs of the future. Let’s have a minimum wage so that those in the growing service industry earn enough to take care of their families. And let’s seriously consider things like wage insurance so that when people move into jobs that have less consistent income, they can still count on steady earnings.

But let’s also make sure that at a state level, we don’t overcorrect and put so many regulations in place that we chill new businesses. If the economy is going to grow, we need to encourage our tech entrepreneurs to continue to come up with new ideas that are going to drive the economy of the future.

These ideas are not liberal or conservative, they’re common sense. They are ideas that people on both sides of the aisle can, and should, come together to support.

With the election behind us, it’s time for both sides to work together to heal the problems we saw so nakedly exposed on Tuesday night. Our future depends on it.

The Cautionary Tale Of George Hotz And The Self-Driving Car

by Mike Montgomery

George Hotz is one of the best-known hackers in America. At just 17 years old, he was the first person to unlock an iPhone so it could be used by multiple carriers. He cracked the security on the PS3 and was sued by Sony. The two settled out of court with Hotz promising he would never again tinker with Sony security.

After years of angering corporations, Hotz decided to go legit, trading in his black hat for a white one, signifying his status as a newly minted good guy. He worked for both Facebook and Google before starting his own company Comma.ai, last year. At this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, he unveiled the company’s first product — the Comma One, a $999 box that could help make Honda Civics and some Acuras almost self-driving cars.

But then, last week, any excitement Hotz’s announcement had created disappeared because of some regulatory intervention. All it took was one sharply worded letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for Hotz to pack up his toys and go home. The letter, which Hotz posted here, said that the NHTSA needed to ensure that the device didn’t have a “safety-related defect” that might put drivers in danger.

In a series of tweets, Hotz said: “Would much rather spend my life building amazing technology than dealing with regulators and lawyers. It isn’t worth it. The comma one [sic] is canceled. Comma.ai will be exploring other markets and products. Hello from Shenzhen, China.”

But Hotz’s story isn’t about a new product being regulated to death; it’s about entrepreneurs who fail to take the realities of our government into account when they start to build their companies. Certainly, the NHTSA was simply doing its job ensuring public safety, and perhaps the agency could have communicated its concerns in gentler way rather than Napstering the potentially revolutionary device. But had Hotz gone into this with a team that understood the regulatory environment, this axle-breaking speed bump could have been avoided.

Read the full article here.

Why Election Technology Is Stuck In The Stone Age

by Mike Montgomery

In the past, technology firm Democracy Live has used a cloud-based platform to send ballots to U.S. military and overseas citizens around the world. Submariners, ambassadors in Paris and scientists working in an Antarctic lab are among those who have cast their votes using this electronic ballot.

But they are the outliers. We can buy movie tickets, order cars and even pay our taxes online, but for most of us, voting is a distinctly analog experience. We walk into a polling place and have our names penciled off by hand in a giant ledger before entering a booth with our paper ballot and pen or ink blotter.

So when will we see the era of online voting? The short and quick answer: no time soon.

“Voters are satisfied in the way they cast their ballots,” says Eric Jaye of consulting firm Storefront Political Media. “They prefer the security of a paper ballot and have worked to ensure even when the vote is cast technologically, there is a paper record.”

Democracy Live President Bryan Finney points out that most stateside voters (eight out of 10) this election will be marking their choices on paper or using an electric machine that creates a paper trail, even though that can actually cost more than if the states were to upgrade their voting to an online system.

That’s because security is still paramount. As we saw with the recent hack that took out Twitter, Netflix and other sites by exploiting the Internet of Things, there are real issues around online security, and until they are addressed, government officials are understandably wary of trusting something as important as an election to the internet.

Read the full article here.

Anti-Airbnb law will line the pockets of big hotel owners

by Mike Montgomery

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a huge mistake Oct. 21 when he signed into law a bill that restricts home sharing in New York. The new law will hurt homeowners and visitors and only help a group that doesn’t need any: the hotel industry.

The law allows for fines of up to $7,500 on anyone advertising a home rental available for fewer than 30 nights when the owner is not present. Thousands of people in New York who have been making extra money by renting out rooms (or their entire home) will suddenly be denied an important source of income.

The governor and his cronies claim that the law is being imposed to protect affordable housing, but this argument is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Everyone loves affordable housing, and who wouldn’t want to protect it? But the real aim of this bill is to give a big, sloppy kiss to the hotel industry.

And the industry’s delight was palpable. Hotel owners could barely contain their glee when they heard the news. Mike Barnello, the CEO of LaSalle Hotel Properties, which owns (among others) the Park Central, the Roger and Gild Hall near Wall Street, openly admitted that the bill will help him raise room prices.

On a recent earnings call he told investors that the new law should be a “big boost in the arm for the business … certainly in terms of the pricing.”

Helping hotel owners raise room rates while cutting off home sharing options to all socioeconomic classes will have a negative ripple effect on local economies. Our research has found that for every dollar spent at a hotel, 60% leaves the state and goes to corporate headquarters, many of which reside outside of the United States. But for every dollar spent on a home share, 87% stays in the community.

That means that New York is taking money out of neighborhoods and sending it to multibillion-dollar, multinational corporations with little incentive to reinvest in the communities in which they operate. It’s also going to force visitors to spend more on their hotel rooms, which means they’ll have less money to spend on things like shopping, shows and dining.

And let’s remember New York is more than just New York City. The new law means that a couple in upstate New York counting on home sharing to earn some extra money from tourists coming to see the fall foliage, suddenly face a massive fine just for listing their home. New York City might not be in desperate need of revenue that stays in the community, but other cities and towns are. They shouldn’t be penalized in this egregious way.

Read the full article here.

The Future Of Health Care Is In Data Analytics

by Mike Montgomery

Every minute of the day, eCare21, a remote patient-monitoring system, collects thousands of pieces of health data about more than 1,000 senior citizens. The telehealth system uses smartphones, Fitbits, Bluetooth and sensors to collect information about things like blood pressure, physical activity, glucose levels, medication intake and weight. The information is then compiled on a dashboard so that the patients’ doctors, loved ones and caregivers can keep an eye on them and provide proactive care, even from hundreds of miles away.

This is proving to be a valuable service for individuals managing complicated health situations. But Vadim Cherdak, CEO and president of eCare21, says we are only scratching the surface. Once his company partners with a big data analytics service, it will be able to glean even more useful insights from the intense amount of data flowing in.

Cherdak expects to be able to deeply analyze the data to provide better alerts and tailored recommendations for patients and caregivers. Cherdak has been looking at big data systems such as IBM WatsonCloudvara and Hortonworks, but the industry is still in the pioneering stages. No one yet knows the best way to make sense of the vast troves of data.

This kind of telehealth — which eliminates geographical constraints by using technology to help people receive timely medical care no matter where they are — is on the upswing. In fact, according to the National Business Group on Health, nine in 10 large employers will provide telehealth services to their employees in 2017. By 2019, NBG predicts, this number will leap to 97%.

Telemedicine may alleviate some of the struggles currently facing the health-care industry. We have an aging population, a shortage of physicians and an increasing need to manage chronic diseases. We also need to keep burgeoning health-care costs in check. Thanks to “constant technological innovation, increasing remote patient monitoring and rising use of treatments that require long follow-ups,” Mordor Intelligence predicts that the global telemedicine market will reach more than $34 billion by 2020.

Read the full post here.

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.

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