Tag Archives: Government

UBER where art thou?

As the UBER debate rages across our country and others, I have a few holiday-time stories that make my opinion clear.

The first was early in the month. I was attending an event that gave out taxi chits at the end of the evening, very responsible, very classy. No fewer than three times on the ride home (it was a 10 minute drive) the driver said that I should just give the chit to him and he’ll take care of filling it out. I never said anything, but intending on filling the thing out myself, thinking it only fair considering it wasn’t my money that was footing the bill.

Once we arrived at my house I started filling out the information with every intention of giving a generous by fair tip. However, as soon as the driver noticed this he started yelling and berating me that I should of given it to him to fill out and that I would never get a cab again in my life if I didn’t. I handed him the chit and walked into my house, but the whole situation was fairly unnecessary and unsettling.

Number two was post-Christmas leaving a Jets game. A friend and I were both going to the St. Boniface-ish area and flagged down the closest taxi. When the driver pulled over he wouldn’t unlock the doors, but rolled down the window. When he asked where we were going and was told “St. Boniface” he responded, “Not far enough,” and drove away. We were able to find another cab, but still that is a pretty terrible way to treat potential customers.

The third incident was later that same night. Leaving a different friend’s place I called another taxi, which arrived on time. The driver than proceeded to drive like a maniac to my place, and when I paid I was told that I couldn’t use credit card and he didn’t have any change. He cemented himself a very nice tip.

There are so many similar stories to these and many far worse, which serve as the reason that so many consumers are hoping and praying for the government to get out of the way of UBER. To be fair I understand that the regulations put on taxis are unfair, but by artificially creating a duopoly in the market, customer service and innovation are dead. Having a system like UBER’s could easily have solved all the above issues:

  1. After the holiday party the UBER rides could be automatically charged to the company’s account, eliminating the need for any paperwork to be filled out.
  2. We would have been assigned an UBER car and left them a lousy review if they refused to pick us up.
  3. The payment being done electronically gets rid of the awkward “My card machine is broken” conversation that is part of so many cab rides. Also, I could leave a bad review for the poor driving.

Who knows if and when ride services will be allowed into Manitoba, but I hope they are by the time any kids of mine can drive (probably still a tall order, if past ‘progress’ in this province has been any indication). On top of everything else, it seems like a great way to earn some money for someone with a car.

Everyone Says We Should Support Entrepreneurs, But…

Supporting entrepreneurship should be more than a check-box on the list of talking points for public officials.

It seems like advocating for small business is a must have on any platform presented to the public, political or otherwise, but unfortunately that’s where the talk ends; at talk. Not only that, but it seems to stop at the exact same sentence for everyone. Something about needing a “Strong and robust economy where we support our entrepreneurs.”

No one has any plans, let alone any action to back it up. They win some points from the public for saying it, and then move on to something else. It’s time to put an end to the lame lip service.

I know that there are some existing supports, but let me tell you a little about them.

I’m not 100% in this world, but I have taken some time to research and try to apply for some grants. What I have found is that no one will return my calls or emails, and the process is unnecessarily complicated.

While I have a long list of criticisms, the one that I want to point out is that many of the grants or other programs require application and approval before any work on the business is started. How are we supporting entrepreneurs by telling them to come up with an idea, do piles of paper work, wait and then probably not get the money in the end?

In the case of my business, from conception to first client there was about 2 weeks. Was I supposed to say no to our first client because I couldn’t spend any money developing the product because I was waiting to hear back from the province on a grant I had applied for?

Obviously the designers and facilitators of these programs have never started a business.

This fact is the biggest short-coming, in my mind. While I’m sure they’re all nice people, I can’t see how being an employee for your entire career, or a career bureaucrat for that matter, qualifies you to tell business starters how they should operate or what they need.

What’s more, it always seems like the idea of what an entrepreneur “is” is way off base. Most entrepreneurs aren’t university drop outs that have low living expenses and can live with mom and dad. The average age of first time business starters is around 40 and 60% of them have at least one child. 10 more facts are listed here.

In the end we have misinformed people running poorly developed programs.

I do have to say that there are some who have success with grants and other government programs: Large businesses which have learned how to skirt the rules enough to access the money.

Helping entrepreneurs indeed. Rant off.

Privacy Concerns

Every time there is some report or Wiki Leak or Edward Snowden type that comes out and tells us about how the government is spying on all citizens, I’m always surprised at the outcry. Not at the fact that there is outcry, mind you, but rather the focus.

There is always a clear and loud cry about the government infringing on our privacy, but very little is said about how they are able to do that. Especially when the information the government is gathering is with the help of private companies, more often than not.

I don’t know if it’s thanks to the bias of media, the short attention span of the masses or some other factor, but every time there is a headline about how the NSA gathered more information, no one seems to give much thought to the foot note that it came from Apple, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, etc. While I don’t love that the American government has the ability to read my emails, I really don’t like how easy it seems for the private corporations to fork it over.

Paints a future that’s more Skynet than it is 1984.

To me it comes down to involvement of the commons. Even if it’s biased, skewed and corrupt, at least we the people have some involvement in government once every few years. Not too comforting, but there is something.

Also, the government could plausibly be using the information for security reasons. While it’s sneaky and unsettling, at least it’s an end that most of us can get behind. Even if you don’t support the means.

What I wonder about is what the corporations are gathering the information for, other than for personalized advertising and to give the government. You just know that it wasn’t sitting there unused until the big bad NSA bullied them into giving it up. If the information is being collected, it’s being collected with purpose.

I’m not really into conspiracy theories, nor am I that worried about what is being collected about me, to be honest. I know that I’m not doing anything criminal and can only assume that they have much, MUCH bigger fish to fry. I truly can’t see how my email is interesting to anyone other than me, and even then with some messages labeling me as “interested” is pushing it.

No, I’m more interested in human nature. Why it is that we’re so quick to jump all over our elected officials and give private companies the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it is because we feel as though the government is accountable to us, while there is no use trying to change the course of corporations.

Or maybe we have actually reached a place in society where we trust public institutions less than what’s behind the curtain at our favourite brands.

What Could Be Done Better

So like anyone who wrote something that received any higher-than-usual level of attention, I’m going to be riding on the coat-tails of last week’s post.

There were some comments on Facebook, which usually means it’s something that is top of mind for a lot of people. When it comes to winters, weather, driving conditions and government in Winnipeg, top of mind may be the largest understatement ever. Asking for an opinion on those is like shooting apples in a barrel (who would want to shoot fish?).

Being the narcissist that I am, I was thinking about my post over the weekend and got to thinking what could be done to better calm people down. Like it or not, even our mighty municipal government can’t control the weather and unfortunately that means it will likely snow again. And then the streets likely won’t be instantly cleared. And then citizens will get upset. And, more importantly, I’ll be reduced to yelling at my radio on the drive in again.

What it comes down to, as far as I can see, is nothing novel. In fact, I’ve been told this in essentially every job that I’ve held: Be proactive in communications, rather than reactive.

It’s simple. Imagine this scenario…

Mayor Katz calls a press conference. He says that the forecast is calling for extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snow. City crews are going to be out day and night clearing streets, but they can’t be all places at all times, so he and the rest of the City would appreciate citizen’s patience. In the mean-time, keep warm, stay safe and if you need to get somewhere give yourself a little extra time if possible.

How reasonable is all of that? Doesn’t happen, though.

What actually happens, as far as I can tell, City Hall gets the news that there’s going to be lots of snow and cold and then starts praying. Praying that the weather is wrong. That the snow clearing does happen instantly, regardless of what resources they have. That, and this is my favourite one, the people of Winnipeg will be reasonable, patient and forgiving.

Doesn’t happen though. The City instead sits on their hands waiting until Winnipeg has worked itself into a blind rage and then goes on the defensive. It’s plain to see at this point they have already lost.

So be a little more proactive next time. Worst case scenario is that things do work out perfectly and there was a little worrying about nothing. In that case, the City would be seen as the hero. Peoples’ expectations would have been brought down, only to be exceeded. Score one for the mayor’s popularity.

BC’s C3 Program

There was an article forwarded to me about BC’s new C3 program, in which the 3 C’s stand for Community Contribution Company. I would encourage you to read the article, but in short it is a new business model, “[d]esigned to bridge the gap between for-profit businesses and non-profit enterprises.” A company with this distinction will be legally obligated to operate for a social purpose(s), but there is also an aspect of financial return. The article then goes on to say how with this program, social enterprises are now able to access investment capital, while staying social.

While I don’t disagree with a model such as this in the general sense, I do have a few reservations about how this is positioned. Namely I don’t think that this is going to attract the investment dollars that the government assumes it will, because of the fundamental differences between the goals of a social enterprise and an investor.

By definition, investors want a return on investment. The VC / Angel Investor games are risky enough as it is, why would anyone want to enter that game with a company that is already at a disadvantage? Don’t get me wrong, committing yourself and/or your company to a cause is very admirable and all the best to you if you do so. You just shouldn’t expect to get rich off of it and still support your cause.

Ask the countless business owners who have pursued outside funding, only to be surprised a year later when their business didn’t matter at all any more. It all became about the investors’ return. They didn’t care how it happened, but they were going to make money off the transaction, or else. I don’t see how that can work when the organization’s goals are not growth and returns.

It would therefore be foolish for an investor to think that they will actually be getting a return on their money, after the social component is fulfilled. What’s more, if the structure of the C3 designation is anything like charitable status, any margin that is made needs to be given to the cause right away. Therefore a small piece of pie for the investor, if anything at all. The goals are just too skewed.

Going back a few posts ago, I think this structure would be better going the other way, so to speak. Rather than trying to make a hybrid in order to attract private investment, have a hybrid where the government lays off the enterprise about mandatory minimum donations, etc. Give them some time to breathe, reinvest in themselves in the beginning and grow. Even with just 5 years of operation before all profits need to start being given to the charity could mean the difference between a small, medium or large organization.

I commend the BC government recognizing the lines are being blurred between charity and private social enterprise. There is no doubt that changes have to be made the corporate structure and tax law. I just think that this change is not going to make the right kind of waves.