Personal Enterprise 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.

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.

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.

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