One urban mobility market that Uber and Lyft might ignore

As we look to the future of urban mobility, one of the questions I am constantly pondering is “Is there an urban mobility product that can effectively compete against an autonomous vehicle fleet powered platform?” From our experience, we know that the bulk of the ride-hailing market cares primarily about the average cost and time he/she spends on the ride. An autonomous vehicle fleet is expected to decrease the cost of rides and hailing times, so the question then is “What product could compete along these two critical dimensions with an Uber or Lyft autonomous vehicle product?”

In my experience, the only product that comes close is a commuting shuttle or van, which usually features a larger 15-passenger vehicle and a driver, and benefits from pickup, dropoff and time densities of the riders during commuting hours. There are two primary variations of the model: fixed vs dynamic routes. My challenge with dynamic routes is that it is essentially Lyft Line and Uber Pool, but with a bigger and more expensive vehicle. Since the Uber Pool and Lyft Line products are operating at significant scale and the experience is generally pretty poor because of the uncertainty surrounding when the rider will arrive to her destination, I think it will be very hard to build a dynamic shuttle product that creates a better consumer experience at a lower cost structure.

So the question really then becomes “Can the consumer’s per-ride total cost and commute time for a shuttle product be more competitive than an autonomous vehicle solution?”* NOTE: Since consumers can use pre-tax dollars to pay for dynamic shuttle trips, we need to consider the post-tax cost to the consumer.

Below is a first attempt to model out the cost structure of both products, and which product is advantaged.


Cost Advantage
Driver Cost Autonomous Fleet
Vehicle Amortization Commuter Shuttle
Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs Uncertain or Neither advantaged
AV Hardware Maintenance Commuter Shuttle
AV Software Acquisition and Maintenance Commuter Shuttle
Vehicle Storage Neither advantaged
Vehicle Refueling Autonomous Fleet (assuming electric AVs)
Demand Planning Commuter Shuttle
Demand Matching (Dispatch) Neither advantaged
Marketing Spend Autonomous Fleet
Insurance Uncertain or Neither advantaged


Cost Count of Advantages
Commuter Shuttle 4
Autonomous Fleet 3
Uncertain or Neither advantaged 4

This is of course a rough attempt to map out competitive advantage between these two products. I not only don’t know if this is accurate but I also don’t know the magnitude of each of these advantages.

Much remains to be learned about how low these costs will decline over time or whether they will approach some kind of asymptote, but I think this is the right way to structure this problem, and that this is the right kind of question to be asking when we look to predict what the long-term future of urban mobility landscape will look like.


*Of course, there are some qualitative aspects of the experience that differ, but there is a price at which some market segments find these qualitative aspects worth the trade-off. I will ignore these and focus on the primary value drivers of total cost and time of the trip.

Three cool lessons we can learn from jazz and apply to business

I just watched a talk given by Google Ventures partner Ken Norton about what we can learn from jazz music and how it is created. Below are the three ideas.

1  Get uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable

“Miles Davis nudged his musicians into a place where they were uncomfortable, the zone of optimal anxiety. What Larry Page calls “uncomfortably exciting.” When Duke Ellington challenged Clark Terry to play like Buddy Bolden. When Ella Fitzgerald thought, “uh-oh!” What Frank Barrett calls provocative competence: triggering people away from habit and repetition. Where there are no such things as mistakes, only missed opportunities. Embracing uncertainty when we make software, which is inherently unpredictable. We don’t know how our users, or our audience, will react, and that goes with it.”

While it is important that we push ourselves outside our comfort zone, it is also important that we don’t overstress ourselves to a point where we are unproductively worrying about being unproductive. Norton also mentioned the importance of making sure the team is not too stressed. As leaders and teammates, we sometimes need to make sure we pull team members back up the stress curve, making them feel less anxious, by making them feel more confident, competent, and part of the solution.

2 Listen carefully.

“Jazz is a continual conversation where listening is more important than talking. Big Ears encourage empathy, knowing where others are going, and helping them get there. Looking for mistakes that can become new opportunities. You can help by listening more than talking, by being willing to ask questions when you don’t know the answers, even when you think you do. Celebrate following and listening in addition to leading and talking.”

On this note, check out this Marc Abraham post on Socratic questioning.

3 Let everyone solo.

“In jazz, everyone takes turns both leading and following. Psychological safety means everyone knows their voice is valued, and that they’re not afraid to try something risky. You can create this for your teams by demonstrating engagement, making sure each person speaks and is heard, picking up on unspoken emotions, and showing your understanding.”

I think this idea is important and speaks to everyone’s individual need to feel like our work and contributions matter in the world. We all need to feel like we can offer something to the world and that we are thus valuable for these contributions. As leaders and managers, I think it’s important that we help make our team members and colleagues feel this way. It’s what good humans do. 🙂


How we know Trump doesn’t believe what he says

Tonight I listened to Trump address congress.

It was incredibly disheartening and–if I’m honest–infuriatingly scary. Scary because he not only isn’t saying anything new, but he doesn’t even believe the cliche statements that we all believe to be importantly true. It is easy to tell he doesn’t believe what he says because he is inconsistent and he gets caught up in the web of lies he is spinning. 
Tonight, this became clear when he found himself in an impromptu moment, wherein he had to add lib. His improvisation was contradictory. He’s so bad at lying that his contradictory statement contradicts his immediately previous statement. Not six or statements prior, but the previous statement. For example, his acknowledging of a fallen soldier who should never be forgotten, presumably because every human life is valuable; not just a brave one who fights for a good cause. Then, in the next statement, he paints a picture wherein the fallen soldier is smiling from heaven because congress just “se a record” for the longest applause ever recorded in congress. Surely, he isn’t claiming that the soldier wouldn’t trade a hundred years of applause to have even a fraction of that time back alive on earth. Surely he isn’t suggesting that applause even comes close to bringing back the father’s son. Life is about much more than being recognized. It is there to be protected so that it can be enjoyed. To me it is clear that he doesn’t genuinely appreciate the lives hat have been lost. For him, these lost lives are simply tools to be used as propaganda to support his anti-immigration policy.
Another example is when he cited how we value NATO for having fought fascism and communism. I almost fell out my chair when I heard this. His behavior to date is more dictator like than any president this country has had. Telling the EPA what it can report on and what it cannot! Stepping outside the bounds of our judiciary system. The list goes on and on. 
My only hope is that the people who voted for him, start to see the light; and regret their decision.