Posts from NYC

Veniam

I’ve been talking a lot and writing a lot about mesh networking. I think it has the potential to wrest control of the last mile of the wired and wireless internet from the carriers who mostly control it around the world. Peter Kafka noticed yesterday that we had finally put those words to work with a mesh networking investment:

We made this investment, in a neat company called Veniam that comes out of Porto Portugal, some time earlier this year but they finally got around to announcing it yesterday.

My partner Brad talked about it in a short post on usv.com yesterday. And our partner in the investment Om Malik talked about it here.

I had breakfast with Om in NYC earlier this year and told him about Veniam. Those breakfasts do pay dividends eventually. This is how Om describes that breakfast and what came of it:

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson introduced me to João after a long, spirited discussion about network neutrality, new models of networks, and policies that will influence the future of the internet. As we walked back to our office (aka my favorite cafe), he said, “You should talk to this guy in Portugal that my partner Brad [Burnham] has been in touch with. He has some interesting ideas.” An email introduction with João followed, and we were soon talking to each other via Skype. He quickly came to San Francisco, and we met for coffee on the weekend and then again the next day. João likes to talk: It is his super power. And here we are.

So enough about all of that. What does Veniam do? They make a “stack” of wireless technology that lets moving objects (think buses, garbage trucks, cars, vans, etc) carry a wifi access point/router and mesh with each other and anyone else who wants to join the network. With enough density, buses driving around your city can provision a wireless mesh that anyone can use on their smartphone when they are out and about. It’s a big vision and will take a lot of work (and luck) to realize, but this or something like it is eventually going to work and we are going to have a better way to access the internet on our phones than we have today.

Here’s a video of Veniam’s technology in action in Porto. I suspect you will want this in your city too. I certainly do.

The Cost Of Loyalty

In the local transportation market, we now have lots of options in addition to mass transit. Here in NYC, we have taxis, Lyft, and Uber. In SF and LA, we have taxis, Sidecar (our portfolio company), Lyft, and Uber. Around the country and world, there are various options including our portfolio company Hailo.

I’ve always wished there was an aggregation app that pulled all the prices and availability in real-time across all the available services and got you the best fare at the time. Or allowed you to make the choice between price and ETA (the way sidecar’s app does). It turns out there is a lot of price variability in the market and there is not one choice you can make all the time that will work out well for you. Being loyal to one app costs you.

Then this morning, a blog post popped up in my inbox courtesy of my friend Boris. In this post, they calculated the “cost of loyalty” to one just one app.

cost of loyalty

I mostly use taxis in manhattan when Citibike and subway won’t do and that’s because they are the cheapest and most available option. Uber and Lyft are for times you can’t get a cab and you’ll pay through the nose when you take that option as they are almost always surging at those times.

Another interesting thing about these charts is how taxis are the most expensive service to be loyal to in SF and LA. That is crazy. They are going to go out of business in those markets with that pricing.

But mostly I am proud that our portfolio company Sidecar is the least costly service to be loyal to. That is because they don’t use surge pricing and instead allow drivers adjust pricing in their marketplace model as they desire. Sidecar is committed to using a true marketplace and things like shared rides to deliver the lowest cost rides in the market. It is also true that Sidecar ETAs are a bit longer as this chart of SF shows:

ETAs

Going back to the opening thought, which is that someone should build an aggregation app on top of all of these services so we can replace the app on our home screen that we are most loyal to with an app that works across all services. The authors of this blog post did just that and you can use What’s The Fare to tell you who has the best price in the market. It looks like right now its just a web/mobile web app and all it does it give you the fares. If they or someone else went further, made it into a mobile app, and used the services APIs to actually book rides (if the APIs were available to do that), then we’d really have something.

That’s the way this market should work long term. I hope we can get there soon. Google Maps and Apple Maps are the ideal interfaces to make it happen. Let’s go!

The Robotic Taxi Driver

Yesterday morning I made the mistake of leaving my apartment without my Citibike key. When I got to the Citibike station, I realized it and hailed a taxi instead. I got in the taxi and told the driver where I was going which was 6th Avenue and 13th Street. He started to enter the destination into the GPS on his phone which was mounted above the dash to the left of the steering wheel. I told him that wasn’t necessary as all he had to do was go a few blocks down Washington to 10th, make a left on 10th, then across 10th to 6th, then a left on 6th. So he took off down Washington and the preceded to blow right past 10th. At which point, I told him that he had missed 10th and he should make the next left onto Christopher, which he then drove right past. After a couple more missed turns, I told him to stop and got out of the taxi and told him that he should learn a bit about getting around the city before getting behind the wheel of a taxi cab. Then I tweeted this out.

If you click on that tweet and look at all of the replies, you will find an interesting discussion of the current state of the taxis and ride sharing services in NYC, Chicago, London, and a bunch more cities. It seems that my experience of getting into a car and the driver having no idea where they are and where they are going is not unique. It’s happening to lots of people in lots of places.

Now you might say, “well you should have let the driver use the GPS” and you would be right about that. But in that tweet reply stream there are plenty of stories about drivers using GPS and still getting terribly lost. When you have no idea where you are and no idea where you are going, the GPS isn’t as useful as it would seem. And then there are the issues of road work, closed streets, traffic, and other sorts of things that requires experience and local knowledge to navigate. There is a huge difference between an experienced driver who knows their way around a city and a driver just off the plane from somewhere else driving around NYC using a GPS in lieu of that local knowledge.

What has happened in NYC and apparently in many other places is the arrival of ride sharing services has increased the demand for drivers and the best drivers are moving from taxis to the higher end services and new drivers are being recruited to drive the cabs and the lower end ride sharing services. These new drivers have no training and have no idea where they are going without the GPS. And they are totally and completely reliant on the GPS. It makes me feel like the autonomous car has arrived in the form of the robotic taxi driver.

I told this story to my friend Jeremy last night and he observed that the right answer is to use the higher end ride sharing services where all the experienced drivers are now working. He said “price and quality are lining up as you would expect in a market economy.” Of course the other option is to not forget my citibike key or walk or take the subway. Which is looking like a better option more and more these days.

A Great Job At CSNYC

As many of you know, CSNYC is  a non-profit I helped start a few years ago along with some colleagues. We are attempting to bring computer science education to the 1.1 million children in the NYC Public School system.

The organization is still quite small but has been growing slowly and steadily since we formed it. There are five or six people working at CSNYC depending on if you count people working on it part time.

We are doing a lot with a small crew and this year there will be over 100 public schools in NYC (high school, middle school, and even a few elementary schools) with CSNYC funded classes in them. We do this by partnering with the very best computer science programs around the country and funding them to come to NYC and train teachers and get their curriculum into classrooms.

We also do a bunch of other things and possibly the most impactful of all the things we do is community development. We run meetups and other events to bring NYC public school teachers (and other teachers too) together to talk about how they are using computer science and programming in their classrooms.

Our largest meetup, the CSNYC Education Meetup, has almost 600 teachers in it and has quadrupled in size in the past year. My great hope is it will quadruple in size again this year. Each monthly meetup has a theme, such as Careers in Computing, CS Across Disciplines, Showcase of teacher resources and student work, etc. There is a meetup today actually. It is a meetup today about Teaching the Next Generation of Tech, a symposium led by panelists from ScriptEd, TEALS, AFSE and Flatiron School. Anyone who is interested in learning more about CSNYC, the programs we fund, our teacher meeetups, or teaching computer science to K-12 students is welcome to attend.

So that is a long lead-in to this job opportunity. We have opened another job at CSNYC and this role will be dedicated to running and coordinating all of our meetups, our events, and our communications efforts, including our website and social media efforts. The job posting is here.

This is a great opportunity for the right person. You will get to meet and work with hundreds of teachers who are embracing computer science and bringing it into their schools and classrooms. The right person will enjoy meeting new people, and will be organized, web savvy, and passionate about the CSNYC mission. If you are all of that, and more, please send an email to [email protected].

And if you know someone who would be great at this job, please send an email to [email protected].

This is an important effort that is doing great work and I’m proud to have been part of making it happen. If you would like to support it financially, you can do so here.

Graffiti

I love Graffiti. I realize that at some level, graffiti is vandalism and represents disrespect of property rights. And it doesn’t feel great when our building gets tagged.

But there’s something about sitting outside eating on the street staring at street art. This was our view on Monday night.

street art

Graffiti is creativity expressed in public, for all to see. It’s rebellious. It’s leaving your mark on the world.

I feel most at home in cities and neighborhoods that are filled with Graffiti.

I think there’s a linkage between creativity, innovation, and rebellion. And graffiti sits right in the middle of all of that.

The Kickstarter Film Festival

The fourth annual Kickstarter Film Festival is upon us. Tomorrow night in Fort Greene Park in the fine city of Brooklyn NY from 7-11pm, Kickstarter will be showing films, and featuring musicians and local food purveyors. The festival will be replayed in Los Angeles on Sept 12th, and also in London later this fall.

Here’s a short trailer for the festival:

Here’s the website for the festival. It lists all the films that will be featured. Attendance is free.

And here’s a blog post that talks about how they selected all the films that will be featured. 

It’s going to be a beautiful night in NYC tomorrow night. If you are considering your weekend plans, think hard about spending friday night in Fort Greene Park watching the amazing things that emerging filmmakers are doing right now.

Video Of The Week: The High Road With Mario Batali

A month or so ago, I taped an episode of The High Road With Mario Batali. We went to the Frick Museum, we bowled in the basement of the Frick, we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, and we rode around on the upper level of a double decker bus. Mario asked me a bunch of questions along the way. It’s about ten minutes long and it came out well. I apologize in advance for the ads at the start and in the middle.

This Is What Happens When You Let A Monopoly Own The Last Mile

From Business Insider:

Verizon won’t be able to hit its deadline to bring its FiOS fiber internet service to all residences in New York’s five boroughs by the end of June 2014.

and

In 2008, Verizon made an agreement to bring FiOS to any New York resident who requests it within six months.

I’ve been asking Verizon to bring FIOS to the condo apartment building the Gotham Gal and I built since 2007. They keep promising and they keep breaking those promises. That’s what monopolies do.

I hope the folks to run the FCC, the Federal Government, and local governments realize that Verizon are not to be trusted and neither are their lobbyists. They are the worst. I can’t believe we allow them and their brethren to continue to control the last mile access to the Internet here in the US.

Dream It And Code It

A few months ago, I posted about a student coding contest called Dream It Code It Win It. I attended the awards contest last night at The Great Hall at Cooper Union. I love that space. You feel the history when you walk into the room.

The majority of the event was a panel event which in my opinion was a waste of time. I wanted to see the students present their projects. Which sadly did not happen. But the students were invited up onto the stage to collect their awards.

In the high school category, almost half of the participants were women. That is a fantastic stat and hopefully a sign of things to come with women and coding.

I was super excited to see a team from The Academy For Software Engineering win one of the awards. That is a great accomplishment for a school that hasn’t yet completed its second year. Here is the team from AFSE getting its award.

afse students

 

It was also really fantastic that The Young Women’s Leadership Academy (an all girls high school in NYC) fielded a winning team. I’ve heard great things about that school.

Not surprisingly Stuyvesant High School had three winning teams. The Stuyvesant CS program has been around for almost twenty years and its leader Mike Zamansky is one of the unsung heroes of the NYC tech scene.

Mike sent me videos last night after the event for the three winning teams from Stuy. One of them is so good, I think it would easily get funded on AngelList. It’s called Cartwheels (great name) and here’s the video.

These kids eat at food carts every day, they dreamed of a better way, they built it, and they won it. That’s awesome.

Consider The Alternatives

There has been a lot of hullabaloo about Airbnb here in NYC over the past few weeks. The NY Post had a field day using Airbnb as a punching bag for a week or so. It made for good tabloid media but lacked a honest discussion of the pros and cons of Airbnb and all that comes with it.

I’ve lived in NYC for over thirty years. It’s a very dense urban living environment. As the Gotham Gal likes to say, “we live on top of each other.” And clearly having your neighbors renting out their apartment to folks visiting NYC for days or weeks at a time is problematic. I think Airbnb has a lot of work to do here in NYC to educate folks about what the service is actually all about, who most of the 40,000 hosts here in NYC are, and how the service works to protect people.

Let’s take two relatively unknown aspects of Airbnb.

– identity checks – many hosts will not rent to people on Airbnb who do not have their identity checked and verified. Airbnb provides this identity check service to the hosts and a large percentage of guests on Airbnb are identity checked before they show up and rent a place.

– smoke and carbon monoxide alarms – Airbnb requires hosts to have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their homes. if a host does not have one, Airbnb provides it to them.

Now let’s compare that to the alternatives. Do hotels verify the identity of their guests? Do hotels provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in every room? Do apartments rented out on Craigslist verify the identity of their guests? Do apartments rented out on Craigslist provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms?

My point is this. You can attack Airbnb for all sorts of things. But consider the alternatives. Do we want hosts putting their apartments on Craigslist instead of Airbnb? Do we want tourists who only have $150/night to spend on housing in NYC to rent a room in a flophouse or the apartment of a photographer who is away for a few weeks on a photo shoot?

I think the better approach would be to have a conversation with Airbnb’s executives about how to make the service work better for New Yorkers. By making Airbnb work better here, we get the best of both worlds. A safer alternative than Craigslist and a more affordable alternative than high priced hotels. My hope is that cooler heads prevail and we find a happy medium that works for everyone.