Embarrassed in Seattle

I have called Seattle home for more than two decades and my wife and I are raising our children here.  There’s a lot to enjoy and be proud of about Seattle – the City Council’s vote on ride sharing earlier week this isn’t one of them.

Seattle is a different city from when Microsoft imported me shortly after college in 1991.  Seattle then was best known for Grunge rock, which i happily ruined my eardrums on. Since then technology has completely transformed our lives, and our culture of innovation makes our community a haven for entrepreneurs and investors to create visionary startups that become lasting and enduring brands.embarrassedinseattle

While Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing startups may not be headquartered here, the local impact and benefits are not inconsequential.  I recently shared my own experience and week-long test of Uber-only transport.  But, ride-sharing isn’t just about the convenience of consumers finding a ride in minutes, it about the livelihood of these drivers who are now operating their own small businesses and becoming entrepreneurs in their own right.  I hear nothing but glowing reviews of Uber from the drivers and how the service has had such a  positive impact on their lives – schedule convenience, income, and safety. (I recently heard a driver’s story about how, as a taxi driver, he’d had a knife to his neck when a fare demanded he be taken to a location without paying. His words: “Uber changed my life.”).

The spark of an idea, the power of geo-located mobile devices, and an archaic and highly inefficient, supply-constrained taxi system gave way to the creation and rise of Uber and other ride-sharing services. I have no doubt the City Council’s short-sighted decision will be overturned in time. I am just extremely disappointed – and more than a little embarrassed – that it was Seattle (the land of legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage) that failed to recognize the future is here, and the past – well, isn’t.

Last year when I spoke at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur, I talked about the seeds of innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem starts with good government. I boasted that while not perfect, our system in the U.S. provides a supportive and rational system that enables innovation.   I used Seattle as an example of a vibrant ecosystem and progressive pioneer in policy that many model and follow. Apparently, Seattle’s City Council didn’t get the memo.

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  • Agree with you…they will eventually overturn this short-sighted ruling.

    any predictions on how long it will take?

    • Rich Barton

      As soon as Maria Cantwell can’t get an Uber when she needs one 😉

  • Henry Harteveldt

    Well written, Rich. These kinds of decisions seem to be made by elected officials who don’t take the time to explore and understand the benefits offered by a new entrant. If we truly are a free market society, our elected representatives should ask “is there any reason why we shouldn’t allow a challenger to enter” rather than “is there any reason why we should allow a challenge to enter.”

    • Rich Barton

      I second that motion, Henry. Nice to “see” you.

  • Jim Price

    Well said. This type of regulatory capture is still all too common (as Tesla can attest).