Why I support Chris Quinn

I first met Chris Quinn in person three years ago.  She came to a Startup Weekend and gave a speech about how New York wasn't doing such a great job supporting tech entrepreneurship.  It was frustrating, because we had come such a long way, and having a public figure deride our progress and tell the world we're not doing a good job wasn't going to help the situation.  Sure, we could always do better, but by focusing on the negative, it would have the effect of scaring off people who wanted to build their business here.  

So, I got an introduction to her and her staff and invited her to come to an event I was throwing at Madison Square Park so she could meet the entrepreneurs firsthand and hear about the growing businesses we had.  I introduced her to Dennis Crowely and Anthony Casalena who were both coming off hugely successful fundraises.

That's when I first got exposure to one of her best qualities--she listens.  She considers new information carefully and is open to revising her thinking based on new data.  

Since then, her staff has been open and extremely responsive with regards to issues around tech and entrepreneurship.  Her support made the Brooklyn Tech Triangle study possible and I'm always getting questions from her team about making sure their policies are keeping the fast growing tech sector in mind.

But her effort and responsiveness in the tech sector isn't why I'm supporting Chris.  It's her empathy.  She got to witness one of the most well run administrations any city has ever seen--so she's got enough experience seeing the operational side to make this city work.  However, I think most New Yorkers can agree that if there's one thing that we've felt that has been a bit missing, it's on the softer side of dealing with the public.  Mike Bloomberg was effective, but a lot of people have felt like the city's policies and efforts didn't extend to as wide and diverse a community as possible--and that we built something that looks a little more like a well-run machine than a caring community.  

That's what I've experienced firsthand from Chris Quinn--in a way that I'm not sure her campaign is doing a good job representing.  If you ever catch her backstage at an event or after a taping, she's genuinely charming and really loves meeting people.  She actually seems to be at her best off camera.  My friend works at the Joy Behar show on the production side and couldn't wait to tell me how Chris won her over in person--and this was someone who had been somewhat lukewarm about her at best.  If you want to like Chris Quinn, find a way to meet her is all I can say.  Personally, I think their campaign team should just have a camera trail her 24/7 and release documentary style videos all day--kind of like when we got to see Obama getting burgers.

For I don't know how long, Chris has been subscribed to my weekly tech newsletter, and do you know when I hear from her?  Not when I write about tech--it's when I write about myself.  If I mention my mom's health issues or the fact that I'm travelling, she's quick to respond from her phone with a "Get home safe!" or "Hope things turn out ok."  For over a decade, the Bloomberg administration has put together processes that make this city work--extremely well.  My sense is that Chris Quinn is the best person to make sure these are processes that work for *everyone* in such a way that you feel like a person living here, instead of a number.  

This next administration is not going to be an easy one.  The next mayor will have to deal with unions, pension reform, and the challenge of keeping up the city's economic growth--but these are things that can't be done by a machine.  They need to be handled delicately, by someone who will care about competing demands and limited resources.  

I know there are a handful of tech folks supporting Jack Hidary, and I got to meet Jack recently.  He's a great guy and I really hope he decides to stay in public service.  I wish he would have set his sights on a council position or something like that, because the city is a complex machine that demands some more experience.  He should be in public service, but if you want someone who understands and has already supported the tech community who has the qualifications to be Mayor, I can tell you firsthand that person is Chris Quinn.

I'm voting for Chris Quinn not because she's not the other guy, but because she's the best person for the job, and in my experience, the best person I've ever met in government. 

10 Things for Barack Obama's Second Term To Do List

Regardless of whether you were happy about yesterday's outcome, I think we can all agree on one thing:

There's a lot of work to do.

So, I figured I'd jot a few things down I think the President should spend his time doing between now and 2016.

 

1. Play nice.

The Democrats don't control the government, so if both sides can't work together, we're going to sit stagnant and deadlocked for the next four years while the rest of the world moves forward.  Obama's great failure in his first time was trying to push through policy without comprimise.  He alienated the Republicans just as much as they dug in their heals.  Both sides need to meet in the middle.  Without this, we can kiss the other nine things off this list because it will never happen.

2. Open up.

Our immigration policy is utterly ridiculous.  I have a friend that had to move back to Canada after living here 13 years because her company stopped paying her and she couldn't find anyone to pick up her visa.  She had no friends or life there, and she continues to freelance for US companies.  Instead, she spends most of her dollars there.  That's just stupid.  Immigrants have been behind some of the greatest entrepreneurial successes this country has ever seen--and we need to stop treating people from other countries as people who want to bomb us and start recognizing that anyone with good ideas and hard to find skills or the willingness to work should have a sensible path to making a life here and productively contributing to society.

3. Be strong, on a budget.

Gone are the days of wars fought with big iron.  We don't need to out tank other world powers anymore.  Our foreign policy needs to be fought with brains rather than muscle--and even the muscle needs to be leaner and faster, and more economically efficient.  We had just as great a military during the Clinton years, but we spend a ton more for it now--undoubtedly long on weapons that could destroy most of our opponents eight times over.  How can we right size our military budget while remaining a force for peace and justice.  We can no longer afford to fight wars on a credit card.

4. Educate for skills, not for degrees--and make smart cool again.

It's becoming more and more obvious that spending a quarter of a million dollars for an English degree has questionable ROI these days.  We talk a lot about getting everyone a college degree, but I'm not convinced that everyone needs one.  Our country is becoming short on technical and specialized manufacturing skills.  We need to make sure that people can afford to get the skills they need to be productive members of the workforce.  That's more than just providing more loans.  That's changing the way we're taught from day one.  That also means changing the culture around education.  How can you get kids more into building robots than watching reality TV?  Solve that and I feel like all our other problems will get fixed.

5. Set an agenda for addressing climate change and the environment.

New Yorkers have seen two major hurricanes in two years.  Droughts are widespread.  We need to figure out how to deal with our changing environment before we're forced to jetski to work.  This includes energy efficiency and safety.  There's too much at stake not to figure out how to make energy production cleaner and safer.

6. Get healthy.

I thought Michele Obama was going to do more to refocus our country on our poor health and obesity issues.  The best prescription for growing healthcare costs is to not need healthcare in the first place.  If we don't do something about the food we eat and the amount of exercise we get, we'll never get out of the healthcare cost issue.  I'd like to see more of a focus here.  Heart disease is the number one killer in the US.  Preventative care is the best investment we can make in our health, so let's get people educated and make it harder to eat yourself to death, especially in poor areas.

7. It's the economy.

The reason why I put the economy so low here is because I don't honestly believe that the President can really effect the economy much.  The economy happens to the President more than the President guides it in any way--other than in dramatic interventions.  Our economic problems now are structural more than they are cyclical.  Lower classes don't have enough mobility--financial literacy is poor, so households are mired in debt.  People don't have the right skillsets to compete.  These aren't the kinds of things that get solved month to month when the unemployment rate comes out.  I'm encouraged to see the return of some manufacturing to the US, but that's going to be a function of skills and innovation, and less current policy.

8. Continue to push for civil rights.

The tide is turning.  Gay men and women, minorities, and women are making great strides when it comes to leveling the playing field, but that needs to continue to happen and we have to make sure that we never turn around and move backwards.  Anyone who thinks that we're always going to be a country driven by old straight white men is just on the wrong side of history.  Diversity of perspective is how we innovate, stay out of war, and work together to solve tough problems.  It's not just about rights--its about being a better and stronger society. 

9. Send Donald Trump back into the hole he crawled out of.

I mean, seriously.  Is anything this guy does or says moving anyone in any direction but backwards?  I don't know what the President can do about this, but there are ways, no?  Because if not, I know a guy...  ;)

10. Get people involved.

In 2008, the masses came out in great numbers to help elect Obama.  Since then, we really haven't done too much.  We need to get more actively involved in our goverment--and that starts with understanding the issues and understanding what we can do about them.  How do you get a SOPA/PIPA-like outcry for every issue that is meaningful to someone?  We've become way too disenchanted to solve our tough problems together, because government can't do it alone.

 

The NYC Marathon: Feasible, Beneficial, but not Advisable

I read a post today about Uber, the app driven black car service that really resonated:

"Uber's an algorithm-driven company which responds to emotion with facts. However, especially in times of distress, people want to hear empathy, not data...

...In the wake of Sandy, Uber NYC implemented a set of decisions meant to increase supply (drivers) to meet demand (passengers). Uber probably didn't have a "what to do in a human tragedy" playbook and instead ran their normal operating procedures. This included putting 2x surge pricing into effect. In response to public outcry over gauging, they continued to pay drivers the 2x but charge passengers 1x, costing the company $100k/day (effectively they were subsidizing the marketplace). Then they put the surge back in place, but said they wouldn't take their share of profits -- all money would go to the drivers.

In response to the criticism Uber published lengthy posts explaining the dynamics of marketplaces. They were right, but oh so wrong. While the logic was true, the humanity was missing. The average person just heard that Uber was charging New Yorkers more post-hurricane... [greeting] emotion with facts. In the face of emotion, data can be a foreign language. It doesn't matter how loudly and slowly you say it, I don't understand. In fact, all you're doing is pissing me off.

This is how I feel about the NYC Marathon, which I will run this Sunday if they have it.  I understand that there are a lot of people who are going through some very difficult situations right now.  There isn't any part of me, however, that thinks that not holding the marathon will make food, shelter, water or power get any faster to anyone.  That feels like the people who say "Well, they can keep Times Square lit, so why can't they figure out a way to get power downtown?"  It just doesn't work that way.  It's a manpower and gallons pumped per minute issue.  You can't clean out electrical boxes faster than the pumps can take the water out of it and skilled engineers can splice new wires together. 

But people don't want to hear that.  Instead, if you check Facebook and Twitter posts, you hear people saying "People are dying, I don't care about your sub 4 hour time."

That's emotion talking--and there's something to be said for government not completely alienating the people it represents just because the data says it's ok to move forward with something.  That has serious long term effects.   People give up on government.  They fail to vote.  The smartest people don't want to participate in it.  They start blindly voting for "change" regardless of whether or not those who promise it are equipped to be leaders or can do things like simple arithmatic to balance a budget.

I think if they did run the marathon, it would bring in a ton of tax revenue and charitable donations, and not put anyone at further risk after the storm.  I think power will be back up for most people by the end of today--because I think the government is savvy enough to underpromise and overdeliver. 

But I still don't think it's a good idea to run it this Sunday, because it's not really what people need right now.  They need to feel like they have a government that is responsive and cares about them.  I think we have one, but it sure doesn't look like that when you look at images of homeless evacuees and hear stories of marathon runners potentially booting out Staten Islanders staying at hotels because they can't go back to their homes.  It kind of makes anyone who is fullly behind the marathon seem like they're on the wrong side of history.

Give it a week.  There's no way you can tell me that we can't push everything back.  It's such a monumental effort to make it happen at all, I can't imagine it's that big of an issue to give it more time.  I think after a week with power, regular commutting, most people will feel ok about it.  Lives of Rockaway, Staten Island, and NJ residents won't be the same by then--but that's going to take months if not years to fix.  The rest of us who were lucky enough to avoid their fate and just lose power for a week have to return to normalcy at some point, and I don't think a week delay is too much to ask.

If it happens, I'm going to run it.  I won't feel like it is diverting resources, but I will feel like there's a certain insensitivity to the whole thing--and if there's one thing I've learned from working with startups all these years is that sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is just listen and care, and stop looking at the numbers.


Problems Deep in the Stack: Top 10 Issues You're not Hearing at the Debate

I'm not sure whether or not Obamacare is a good idea.  Watching our two candidates quibble over obscure facts and figures related to it doesn't make me feel any more well informed about it either.  I think I'd need an hour long explanation of it by a team of experts to even scratch the surface. 

What people wind up voting on has little to do with most of the words and positions being covered, because most people don't understand the finer points of each infinitely complex and nuanced issue.  Even worse, none of all of the rhetoric gives me much comfort than anyone is actually focused on our real problems.  I'm pretty sure that the unemployment rate goes a lot deeper than what government program that got enacted in the last couple of years did for it.  It has to do with more fundamental issues that probably stretch back decades.

But that doesn't make for a good soundbite--people want to hear that you're going to solve everything in four years.

Unfortunately, what I think the real issues are haven't been brought up in the debate, but unless they get addressed, I'm not optimistic about this country's longer term prospects. 

If I were campaigning, here are the issues I'd make a priority--and would therefore never get elected:

  • Americans don't like hearing the word "no".  They don't want to hear that they can't afford something, shouldn't eat something, or can't live in any sized house they want.  We've gotten tremendously fat and happy at the trough literally and figuratively, but good luck telling people that kind of lifestyle can't continue.
  • We're obsessed with long tail problems and not focused on what moves the needle.  If you reverse engineered where and how we spend our resources, you would think that the leading causes of death in this country are terrorism and strangers kidnapping your kids.  It's easier to combat other people trying to harm you than when the enemy is yourself.
  • We like blaming other people.  Preditory lenders, Wall Street fat cats, outsourced workers stealing jobs, immigrents, Congress--these are all the people who prevent me from being successful, ambitious and happy.  Personal responsibility is so overated.
  • We're afraid of anything different.  We're awesome at villifying other cultures and ways of living.  If you don't like apple pie, white picket fence, Jesus, marriage between a man and a woman, guns, beer, and only speaking English, then you're probably trying to harm us and we should make laws against you and bomb your country.  Hey, I like apple pie just as much as the next guy, but I'll respect someone else's right not to.  More for me... on cheat days anyway.
  • Being smart and ambitious isn't as cool as being famous.  Too many kids grow up in this country seeing that the path to success means being a professional athlete or doing something outlandish on television.  Forget math and science--the way to get ahead is to get noticed for how many people notice you being noticable.  What ever happened to the days where more people knew who the national chess champion was than the last winner of Dancing with the Stars?
  • We see the world as black and white.  Seems like all people care about are extremes--are you for this or for that?  Nuance isn't respectable.  The idea that you're maybe not sure exactly how you feel about capital punishment or abortion and can see multiple sides of something isn't tolerated.  You should be touting a red or blue uniform with a number on the back ready to go to battle against the other side.  Pick a team because there can only be one winner.
  • We care more about college than we do about elementary school or high school.  This generation is getting saddled by more debt than they'll ever be able to handle, because we're obsessed with the idea that everyone needs a four year degree from a top school.  I don' t know about you, but I felt pretty smart before I went to college and I don't think my capacity for intellect really changed that much from 18 to 22.  In fact, it's been scientifically proven that your early years do a lot more to determine your intelligence than your late years.  So why are we paying so much for college?  We're afraid to hire someone smart right out of high school or who went to a community college.  College isn't for everyone and we should do more to provide people with usable skills before they turn 18.
  • We don't care too much about learning after we finish school.  The world keeps changing, but we don't really feel that much pressure to adapt.  We'd rather fight tooth and nail to maintain our antiquated jobs than learn new skills to qualify for new types of jobs.  Imagine if our resume education section just showed what you learned in the last two years versus what you learned when you were in your late teens?  A lot of people's resumes wouldn't really look so hot. 
  • The couch is king.  We spend more hours passively in front of the television than we ever did before.  Kids don't seem to play outside anymore.  People don't gather together in public.  You leave the house to go somewhere via your car and then you come back.  Town square?  That's where the Cheesecake Factory is now--and it's definitely not for interacting with your neighbors.  The few times you do interact with your neighbors, it's about Cake Boss.
  • We believe that the US is the center of the world.  Whether or not that's true--we need to stop acting like it.  The world is more non-US centric than it's been in a long time.  Instead of being so concerned that other people learn English, we should be more concerened that our kids aren't learning Chinese or Arabic.  That would mean, in many people's eyes, an increase in borrowing from the Chinese and terrorists showing up on our doorstep.  

Sigh.

Empty Streets

When people ask me how long I've been biking, the answer is basically as long as I can remember.  One of the reasons why I liked biking so much as a kid was that biking meant a certain kind of freedom.  Each year, my permissioned domain got bigger and bigger.  First, I was allowed to stay on my side of the street up until certain house.  Then, came the whole side.  Then, the unassisted street crossing.  It wasn't that long before I could go around the block one street over, then two streets, etc.  Eventually, though, the limitation wasn't any kind of geofence--it was my feet.  I could literally only walk so far and I wasn't allowed to take public transportation on my own yet.

My bike exponentially increased the size of my world.  Once I was allowed to pedal off the block, I could go anywhere my wheels could get me within the gap between lunch and dinner--about four or five hours.  That was a pretty big distance.  My friend Vinny and I would go down to Manhattan Beach--not to go to the beach necessarily, but just to bike over and back.  We went all over. 

When we rode, there were kids seemingly on every street.  Fire hydrants were open in the summer.  Wiffleball games were in full swing.  The streets were teeming with kids.

Little by little, though, the numbers have dwindled.  Sunday morning, I rode over to my parents house in the middle of the day.  I didn't spot a single kid in the street the way there or the way back.

Where is everyone?

The answer:  Too afraid to go out.

So, it's not so simple.  You can talk about working parents, video games, etc., but this was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the summer.  These kids should have been outside.

Kids don't necessarily see how fear is playing a part in their lives--although when you get headlines like the tragic ones from Aurora about movie theater shootings, the fear strikes close to home.  A little boy on TV told a reporter that he'll just wait for things to come out on DVD now.  This is a child whose world is going to be so much smaller than the one I grew up in.

What's worse is that if the world you're allowed to experience is really small, then you're not as invested in what's going in around you.  You don't care as much about a world you don't really participate in.  It's not surprising that voter attendance seems to be trending down over time--why bother participating in things that don't really effect you as you sit indoors in front of a big screen?

I don't want to tell anyone how to raise their kid.  I don't have any children of my own.  I hope, however, that I'll find some way to come to terms with this:

There are risks in the world.  There are bad people.  There are sick people.  Those people might wind up in a movie theater, at a mall, on a commuter train or in a football locker room.  They can force the most unimaginably terrible experiences into your life and no amount of precaution can protect us all.  We fear these risks more because they have faces, narratives, and a lack of randomness.  Shootings aren't random, they are planned.  Someone chooses to put a gun in their hand and fire.  These things create fear the way kids getting cancer, getting hit by cars, or getting diabetes do not--even the latter numbers exponentially more occurrences every year, many times over. 

What we can prevent, however, is letting fear consume our lives and the lives of children.  This doesn't mean ignoring threats.  It doesn't mean not preparing yourself for emergency situations.  It means trying your best to let your children actually live in that world--and to know that the best life you can give them isn't locked up in the safety of the TV room.  They deserve more.  They deserve to be kids--the way you were when you were younger.

I'm not even sure that the world they're playing in is actually more dangerous than before.  Kids today are aware of so much more.  They have the tools to be smarter about their environments.  They have cellphones, Google maps, and ATM cards.  On top of that, they're not growing up with nuclear warheads 90 miles offshore or race riots.  Big city crime is at an all time low.

Yes, there's still lots of danger out there, but I'd make the case that the world is safer now than it was, believe it or not. 

Last Thursday, I went to go see Dark Knight thanks to a special sneak preview.  It was fantastic.  It was the best of the trilogy--an 11 out of 10.  It's so much of a must-see that I couldn't wait to write about it in my Monday morning newsletter. 

That was before I heard about the shootings.

I'm not going to tell you what to do, except that you should read two blog posts below.  My hope, for you, and for us, is that we find some rationality in this tragedy--that it sparks a thoughtful conversation about a) mindfully, but unfearingly continuing to live out our lives and not clamping down on our daily experience and b) what the average person has access to in terms of tools of widespread violence. 

The two most thoughtful things I've read about these topics are below:

Jason Hirschorn's "Take Back Your Weekend" and A Former Marine's Plea for Common Sense on Gun Control