New York City is a fantastic place to live--I've been here all my life. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
That being said, it isn't necessarily the easiest place to live, but it's worth it.
That's why I get excited when companies in my industry create businesses that improve the living experience of being here. The mobile phone has the potential to be incredibly transformative for the lives of NYC residents.
So when the city government seems to be bending over backwards to make tech companies want to start and grow their businesses here, conducting business here might be another story. Companies that make people's lives easier, should they run into entrenched Big Apple interests like housing and transport, aren't finding that NYC is as easy a place to offer their services to NYC residents.
Remember the on again, off again Uber and Halio taxi fiasco? Hailing a ride using your phone in NYC has had more hiccups, false starts, and court filings than you can shake a Citibike at, and I'm sure it's likely to continue. Ride sharing service SideCar was recently the target of a NYC police sting that resulted in two cars being impounded--cars belonging to drivers in their network offering rides to people.
Gone are the days of stepping out onto the road and offering up a thumb, because what you might get back from the city is a finger.
Government served an incredibly important role regulating ground transportation in the past. Oversight prevents outer borough price gauging on behalf of car services and abuse of unsuspecting tourists who don't realize that LGA is closer to the city than you think.
But do we need government playing the same exact role when loosely constructed networks can serve that same purpose. A bad Uber or Sidecar driver will never get another ride--and user side data can instruct people what they should expect to pay before they get a ride. It's not an accident that Uber drivers are some of the friendliest, nicest folks you'll ever get a ride with--they're working for stars!
Technology can also redeploy assets quicker than government can regulate licenses. If one particular area is being underserved, drivers on new networks can swoop in because of the economic opportunity to service customers. Apps can attract drivers to areas they wouldn't otherwise cruise through.
It's better for drivers, too. It makes getting your next pickup more efficient, and the user experience around taxi tipping has been shown to increase gratuities by nearly double.
That's why I faceplant when New York City seems to be the toughest place for all of these new services to operate. It's embarrassing for us as a tech community. We're supposed to be startup friendly, but the startups that want to come here and offer life improving services to the community can't operate freely.
It's even worse when it comes to housing and hotels. New York City has some of the highest average hotel costs in the world--and it's clogging up the free flow of entrepreneurs, startups and talent in the tech community. If a kid out of Carnegie Mellon majoring in computer science wants to come and check out the Big Apple for a week, it will cost her a lot more than two bits to stay here.
Enter Airbnb. It's undoubtedly the number one form of lodging for NYC tech entrepreneurs heading out west to pitch for venture capital--and for founders and startup professionals to come here to work on deals with clients and other companies when they come here. It makes NYC stays a lot easier.
Yet, in a misguided attempt to crack down on poor quality short term hotels, the city passed a law effectively banning Airbnb unless the resident is in the apartment. Instead, they limited the number of reasonable options. I'm sure there were some really awful hell holes being offered up for cheap--but transparency is the solution, not bathwater tossing. On a network like Airbnb, just like in the taxi situation, bad suppliers can't make revenue--and everyone has the incentive to offer a better service. If anything, the city should be encouraging people to use Airbnb--because it effectively outsources the impossible oversight job of checking on the safety and cleanliness of every last lodging space in the city on a regular basis. You can try to fight the illegal hotels, or you could encourage consumers to use options that have ratings, photos, and reviews in trusted communities.
The other problem with the city's Airbnb regulation is that a lot of people use Airbnb to make living in NYC affordable. They'll shack up with a friend for a bit to defray the cost of expensive rent. I know more than one NYC startup founder who keeps their business going because they essentially get their housing paid for by sleeping in the office or with family every so often.
It's kind of ironic, too, that Airbnb helped people find housing during Hurricane Sandy, yet this new regulation returns the favor with a good swift kick in the teeth.
NYC is a difficult place to be a legislator at all--so many competing interests. It's impossible to please everyone--but it does seem like we're a more difficult, more regulation intense place to conduct business than in other cities. If that's the case for startup companies--that they're going to be less able to run their businesses here than in other places, what impact is that going to have for company creation here? How many fewer ribbon cuttings will NYC's next Mayor be able to to attend for SF businesses opening up here if it's just a pain in the neck to offer up services that SF residents always seem to get first?
The hurdles that companies like Uber and Airbnb have had to go through in NYC are an embarrassment to our startup community. Being on the forefront of digital innovation here doesn't just mean wifi and it doesn't just mean apps hackathons. If the city's goal is to "help the world’s greatest city become the world’s most innovative city through online and mobile technologies that help citizens and enhance the quality of services", we need to be a place where regulation promotes new and more transparent business models, not stifles them with a ton of protectionist red tape.