Tag Archives: Business

Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium

Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium:

‘The premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride,’ she wrote. Peterson, who lives in D.C., said that since her original post, she has taken ‘hundreds of rides’ with Uber. ‘The Uber experience is just so much easier for African-Americans,’ she told me recently. ‘There’s no fighting or conversation. When I need a car, it comes. It takes me to my destination. It’s amazing that I have to pay a premium for that experience, but it’s worth it.’


Uber’s on my personal list of companies that would have to screw up really big, and clearly in an institutional fashion, for me to stop using it. I almost can’t even listen to the taxi industry’s complaints about it. Uber and other ridesharing systems are only thriving because of huge, longstanding failure points in the taxi system that the industry doesn’t seem to want to fix:

  • Limited number of taxis on the road (which is often an artificially-created scarcity; many taxi companies have opposed the issuing of new medallions in their cities, to keep demand high and competition low);
  • Drivers who discriminate, and it’s so deeply ingrained in the industry that drivers aren’t even cautious about how they do it;
  • Entire geographic communities that taxi companies won’t serve;
  • Utter and total unreliability, even when a customer books a pickup days in advance;
  • Appalling customer service when things inevitably go wrong;
  • Doggedly sticking the customer with rotary-telephone-era inconveniences, in an iPhone world.

I use Uber a lot. The only instance in which I refuse to call an Uber is when I need a ride from an airport. Taxis are right there, and I’m aware that taxi companies often have to pay beaucoup bucks for the right to make pickups outside the door. I feel guilty for using a service that doesn’t need to pay anything at all.

But overall? I feel the same way about the taxi companies as I did about the independent bookstore a few miles away from my childhood home when Barnes & Noble drove it out of business. I’m not happy about seeing a business go under and people losing their jobs. But the fact remains that the store never carried anything I liked. I stopped going there entirely when I walked in with a friend and the owner gruffly ordered me, and I quote, to “roll right back out of here just like the tide.” The new Barnes & Noble at the mall carried everything and they seemed to encourage me to hang out and browse for as long as I liked.

The point is that you can’t consistently tell me that you don’t give a crap about me and then expect me to be on your side when a new business that fits my needs well starts making life difficult for you.

I won’t celebrate when your company folds. It’s worse than that: I simply won’t care.

In which I become a fashion tycoon

After the joy of seeing a great Penn & Teller performance dies down a little, I always think the same thing:

“Where does Teller get those shoes? Are they the sort of things that a freelance journalist could afford?”

I mean, he has some great shoes. Paired with his three-piece suit, they’re like the festive, berry-flavored dessert at the end of a fine meal. Perfect “I’m the cool uncle” attire; it says “I am creative, fun, and interesting, but I have a career and responsibilities.”

I’m not saying I’d wear them daily, but yeah! I’d love to have a pair of shoes like those in the inventory.

I often have that sort of reaction to clothes I see online. I don’t “shop” in actual stores. I see a news clip, or a social media post, and think “That’s a nice hat. I wonder where I could get it?” But you can’t search for “floppy hat, kind of like a cap, but also kind of like something a Renaissance courtier would wear, maybe, too” and expect to get a bingo right away.

It’s particularly frustrating because I know that everything in this world has been given a name by somebody. Someone who works in the fashion industry would take one look at this kind of shirt I’ve been trying (and failing) to find and say “Seriously? You can’t find a chambral-cut poplin shirt with a Newsome button-down collar and bias pleats at the dorsal midline? Did you even really look?

I went through this the other day, in fact. I’m casually looking around for a new “daily city carry” bag. My old one (the amazing Osprey Veer; I liked it so much I also bought the larger version) is starting to look shabby and I’d maybe like to get something classier. I know the basic style, but I can only try to do a broad search for “bags” and match what I see with what I’m thinking of. After lots of searching, I discovered that the terms “fly fishing bag” or “field bag” will uncover lots of likely candidates.

(I have fallen in love with the leather bags made by Gfeller Casemakers. They’re pricey, but I know that when I shuffle off this mortal coil my nieces and nephews – or even their children – will be fighting over who gets my bag. The ad revenue from one of my podcasts is delivered via PayPal…I might have to let those funds accumulate, and then go for it.)

All of this points to a surefire idea for a startup: something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, but specializing in fashion.

I see something I like, anywhere online. Or maybe I even just take a photo of something I own that I’d like to buy more of, but can’t find. I submit an image link to the Fashion Turk. Someone who works in fashion sends back either a shopping link or at least a set of keywords that precisely describe the thing.

For the right items, I’d happily pay five bucks per (successful) result. I’ve already been using this service in its analog form: asking friends “Wow, where’d you get that jacket?” when I see ‘em wearing something I like.

Yes, it’s a lot like Lieutenant Columbo asking “‘Scuze me…but where’d you get those shoes? I’m sort of in the market, see, and those are just the style I’m looking for…”

But what’s wrong with following Columbo’s lead? Those are some nice shoes. Chukka boots, which is a fashion term I now know about.

Microsoft Buys Skype for $8.5 Billion

And it’s done. All that’s left now is for Microsoft to wipe that tarty, shopping-mall-beauty-shop layer of gloss off of Skype’s logo and for pundits to wonder just why the hell this deal makes sense.

Conventionally, there are three reasons for Very Big Tech Company A to buy Tech Company B:

  1. Company B is profitable and underpriced. And if this company is profitable, they’re probably not going to agree to a sale unless the offered price is crazy-stupid insane, or the CEO of Company “B” has a daughter who’s demanded that her Sweet 16 party be held aboard the International Space Station.

    Skype is not profitable. It’s really more like a moderately good post-impressionist painting than a company: it only makes money for people when it changes hands. First for its original panel of venture capitalists, and now for eBay and the investment group that it sold 65% of Skype to in 2009. To be honest, they weren’t exactly a money hole — they were close to break-even last year — but clearly, Microsoft wasn’t looking to hook up The Skype Firehose Of Profitability to their money silos.

    (As to the other possibility: the ISS can’t hold enough teenage girls to form an effective clique. And really, what’s the point of spending five days orbiting the earth unless, for the whole rest of the school year, all but a dozen girls are frumping “EVERY-body was at Dylanne’s party except for me!!!“)

  2. The acquisition allows Company A to “level up” instantly without having to spend years engaged in a long, expensive and uncertain dungeon crawl. Best recent example: HP’s purchase of Palm. They realized that they wouldn’t remain a top-tier maker of computers if they didn’t have a strong mobile portfolio. Palm had a great mobile OS, interesting hardware, and a workable developer program in place. So HP wrote a big check and presto: they’re now in the phone and tablet business.

    The alternative would have been to start designing Android tablets and phones, which wouldn’t have given them “a phone and tablet business.” Ask Motorola or LG or any of the other Android makers if they feel like they’re running their own businesses. They spent a year wondering when Google was going to release Android 3.0. They finally had to stop waiting and commit to a lunch date with an incomplete OS.

    They’ll think about all of the features that their devices were supposed to have on launch day but which had to be deferred until Google releases the “really, totally, final, finished, we swear” edition of Android 3.0 and then they’ll say “No comment” in a tone of voice that makes you reconsider your impulse to ask a followup.)

    Serious players Own Technology. They don’t Have Partners…particularly not ones that they can’t push around. Hence the big check.

    It’s hard to imagine a conversation inside Microsoft that ended with someone saying “You know what would make everything perfect around here? A multi-billion-dollar videoconferencing unit.” That’s the sort of question that more properly ends with “…a movie theater-style popcorn machine in the breakroom.” So I tend to dismiss this one.

  3. Company “B” has such lovely parts. The company itself sucks, but it has a hell of a great team of engineers, or it owns some really important patents, or has a product that Company “A” is tired of trying to compete with.

    Here we go. Microsoft makes operating systems, business software, and consumer hardware and Skype helps them out in all three of their businesses. Now, Windows can offer its developers a videoconferencing toolkit for enhancing pretty much anything they’ve got going; Microsoft Office now has fundamental tools for business conferencing and online collaboration, and the Xbox becomes a phone network.

    There’s also a hell of a lot of value in simply owning one of the world’s largest social-media networks. Skype users who are both (a) smart and (b) paranoid will now re-read their Skype terms-of-service agreement more carefully: Microsoft just bought a fairly comprehensive database of who knows whom all over the world.

    (I wouldn’t worry too much. Microsoft, unlike Google and Facebook, has yet to figure out how to monetize evil. It’s almost adorable.)

It’ll be Skype-as-usual for the service’s existing users. I use Skype in a mission-critical fashion once or twice a week. For me, “business as usual” means I’ll continue to begin each session with the opening prayer “****in’ Skype!!!” until it settles down and starts working properly. I’m certain that the service will continue as its own brand and its own identity.

But it’s interesting to see what Microsoft will do with Skype over the next couple of years. I expect to see new features for Xbox and Office pretty quickly. Anything else that happens — or, more significantly, doesn’t — will be a peek into Microsoft’s management style and their ability to steer their own ship. The company has had a rather distressing track record of late, making big announcements and demonstrating interesting new concepts and products that just sort of lose steam and fade into the rearview mirrors.

That’s the problem with a high-profile acquisition. Over the past five years, Apple and Amazon have been the biggest “this changes everything”-scale tech innovators. Both companies are smart enough not to take the wraps off of something until it’s D-O-N-E. Not “an impressive concept video,” not “a functional engineering sample,” not even just “Available for sale.” By the time these “A” companies add items to their online stores, they’ve got the product, they’ve got the infrastructure that gives it a purpose beyond its function, and almost just as importantly they’ve got their story straight and can explain to everybody exactly why this thing needed to exist.

Microsoft now owns a solid, established, slightly-profitable video conferencing service. If, by this time next year, all they have is, um, a solid, established, slightly-profitable video conferencing service, then that can only be seen as a mission failure.

Microsoft doesn’t have to make back the purchase price. They have to make something of Skype, not from Skype. If they fail to grow as a company, I’m going to conclude that Microsoft has officially and deliberately taken themselves off the list of “A”-list innovators.