Posts from Blogging On The Road

Mobile Ticketing

The Gotham Gal and I walked into the Musee de l’Orangerie yesterday and found a line of about 20 people waiting to purchase tickets to enter. The Gotham Gal whipped out her phone, went to the Orangerie website, and bought two tickets that were sent to her phone. It took her less than a minute to do it and we walked in. As we were leaving we noticed the ticket line had almost doubled. We shook our heads and made our way to our next stop.

The mobile phone we all have in our pocket or purse can do so many things but one of its superpowers is a point of sale terminal. Increasingly there is no reason to wait in line for tickets to anything. You can just get them on your phone.

I really like just in time ticketing with the phone. I have the NYC East River Ferry app on my phone and whenever I want to take a boat to Brooklyn or Queens, or back, I open up the app, provision a ticket or two if I’m round tripping it, and I’m good to go. I am seeing more and more mass transit systems adopt this approach.

And then there is the NYC subway system which has started to roll out new turnstiles which you can tap and pay at:

I remember the days of carrying metal tokens in my pocket. It wasn’t that long ago!

The smartphone is twelve years old at the end of the month. It is remarkable to step back and think about how much it has changed how we live and work.

Low (No) Barriers To Entry

There are a dozen electric scooter companies operating in Paris right now. There are so many that the Mayor just announced that she will reduce that number to three with new rules for electric scooters in Paris.

But before we get into the new rules, I want to stare at that first sentence for a bit.

In less than a year, twelve companies have started operating electric scooter services in Paris.

Paris is the largest electric scooter market in the western world right now.

To enter this business, you need capital to purchase the scooters from China, you need a mobile app on iOS and Android to allow users to locate, unlock, and pay for the use of one, and you need a small team to handle the local logistics.

Apparently those are not significant barriers because a dozen different companies have been able to do it in less than a year.

There are many things that are attractive about the electric scooter business. It has taken off as a transportation option for consumers and is the fastest growing new transportation technology in terms of revenues in history.

Electric scooters also are a much cleaner way to travel than cars or other gas powered technologies.

So there is a lot to like about this business.

But if anyone can open up shop and compete with you with little to no differentiation and your only defensibility is the time it takes to download a new mobile app and put in your credit card, well then one has to ask if this is or will be a good business.

And that is where the Mayor of Paris comes into the picture. She wants to limit the number of scooter providers to three, by requiring licenses and issuing only three of them.

That will sufficiently lower the competition in Paris, lead to a triopoly which may stabilize pricing and margins, and possibly reduce the number of scooters littered all over Paris.

Winning a license will be a political process and there are many issues with that. And the three companies that win a license will become acquisition targets for the big players which are increasingly the ride share companies (who themselves have very low barriers to entry but now have public currencies to buy with).

There are many who have wondered whether ride share will ever be a good business. The public market caps of Uber and Lyft suggest that it will be or that there are plenty of people who currently think it will be.

Scooters are ride share on steroids. Even easier to get into the game with possibly a larger market opportunity.

It will be quite interesting to see how this plays out and how much regulation will be needed to tame this market.

Fly Like A Bird

We arrived in Paris this morning and, after dropping off our bags, we walked to our favorite cafe for breakfast and on the way we passed a Bird scooter waiting patiently for a rider.

We don’t yet have Bird scooters in NYC, at least to my knowledge, but apparently they are available in Paris.

It is impressive how quickly Bird has built out its international footprint. In the winter of 2018, I started seeing them in our neighborhood in Venice Beach Los Angeles.

And now less than 18 months later they are in Paris (and likely many other cities in Europe).

I have no idea how good of a business electric scooters is. There is no shortage of competition and, as I’ve written about here before, the dockless system can be a nuisance leading to inevitable regulation.

But Bird is not waiting to figure all of that out before building out a global footprint. It is impressive. I hope it works. The benefits from an environmental perspective are significant.

Getting Out Of Town

The Gotham Gal and I are going on vacation for a couple weeks.

I will turn on my out of office responder and stop responding to most emails.

I plan to continue to write here daily but the timing of the posts will change. They will probably happen much earlier in the day on US time.

I am hoping for a bit of distance and reflection from the world of tech and startups and maybe that will result in some good writing. Who knows? One can hope.

Gone Skiing

We arrived in paradise (as this photo shows) last night and we will be here with our family and friends for the next ten days.

I plan to write daily but maybe not about tech and startups as much as I usually do.

It has been an eventful year and next one is shaping up to be a doozy. So I am looking forward to some time to relax and reflect and recover before things get crazy again.

Navigating Blogging Across Time Zones

I like this blog to come out in the morning east coast time. 

I am a big fan of a routine, a ritual, a cadence.

That is partly why I blog every day, and that is why I like the blog to come out at roughly the same time every day.

It is also true that I have the most free time right after I wake up and then things get busy. So if I don’t blog right away, it is possible that I won’t find time to write that day.

When we go west for the winter, I do the same thing, writing as soon as I wake up, but 5am PT is 8am ET so readers will notice, and have noticed, that AVC comes out later in the winter months.

Traveling poses a bigger challenge. The last two Octobers, we have spent considerable parts of the month in Asia, twelve to fourteen hours ahead of NYC and even further ahead of the west coast of the US.

If I wrote my daily posts when I woke up in Asia, as I was tempted to do, they would have posted the night before in the US. And I didn’t want that.

So I waited until late afternoon, in the lull before heading out to dinner, and wrote then. That resulted in them posting early morning east coast time and the middle of the night on the west coast.

Honestly, that was not ideal for me. I found writing late in the day much harder with a full day of activity in my head. It was very challenging for me and I think the blogging suffered from that.

I’m back in the US now and yesterday’s post, which got a lot of pickup, was my first back in my regular ritual. 

I am glad to be back and I think this blog is too.

Bird Scooters

Everywhere I look on the west side of Los Angeles, I see Bird Scooters.

These are electric scooters you can rent from your mobile phone.

They look like this:

I finally got around to taking a ride on a Bird today.

After you download the app on your phone, you snap a picture of your credit card and your drivers license and sign a waiver, all on your phone, and you are good to go.

Then the app shows you where there are available Birds near you. That looks like this.

When you click the Ride button, the app asks you to scan the Bird’s QR code, which looks like this:

And then off you go.

My friend David snapped these photos of me arriving for our meeting.

It was a lot of fun.

I plan to ride them a bunch more while we are in LA this month.

Driving Yourself vs Being Driven

Living in LA has always meant owning a car. I remember when the Gotham Gal was a senior in college and got a semester long internship in LA. Her first comment to me back then was “now I have to get a car.” She got one. It was a little Datsun two door. I can’t remember the make and model but she drove it back and forth to work and then sold it before coming back to the east coast to finish college.

I’m writing this in an Uber going from the west side of LA to downtown LA to see the Jasper Johns show at The Broad.

Last night we went out all over LA and took Ubers everywhere. The cars stayed home and we went out.

Ride-sharing has changed LA a lot. We have friends our age who live here, in Hollywood, and don’t own a car.

We went to dinner last night with friends who have a son who is a senior in high school and doesn’t drive and has no real interest in learning how. This young man grew up in LA!

We did the math and his parents save money because the cost of ride-sharing when he can’t take the bus to school is a lot less than the cost to lease and insure a car for him.

Right now, in LA, this is a fringe lifestyle. Most everyone out here owns a car and drives themselves.

But I can see and feel that things are changing. To start we take ride-sharing when we don’t want to drive or it’s more convenient to not drive. But over time, we are choosing to drive ourselves less and have someone drive us more.

The auto industry is right to be concerned about this. Change is afoot and it is going to impact our car purchasing behavior at some point.

A Better Way To Do Bike Share

I’m a big Citibike user in NYC. I take it to and from work sometimes. I take it to and from the ferries a lot. And I use it to get twenty or thirty blocks in 5-10 mins when I don’t have the time to walk it.

But one thing I don’t like about Citibike is the anxiety around having an empty docking spot at your preferred destination kiosk. If there are no empty docks, you have to go to the nearest one in search of an empty dock. I’ve sometimes had to try three or four kiosks which is very frustrating.

Here in Shanghai, they do things a bit differently, and I think a bit better.

The bike share bikes are everywhere that we’ve been in Shangahi but they don’t dock in kiosks. They just lock up when you end your ride and the next person unlocks them with an app on their phone.

Here are what the bikes look like when they are waiting for someone to take them out.

Sometimes they are lined up almost like a Citibike kiosk.

And sometimes they are just dropped off a bit more randomly.

And here is the QR code you read into an app on your phone to get the code to unlock the bike.

I sure hope that the NYC Citibike system moves to this approach as soon as practical. It would make the system a lot better.

Southeast Asia

We spent the last nine days in Southeast Asia, in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. If you want the play by play version of our trip, head on over to the Gotham Gal’s blog where she does that and has has done for every trip we’ve taken over the last fifteen years.

As an aside, if you ever want travel tips to many destinations around the world just Google for the city and add gothamgal.com to the end of the search query and there’s a good chance you will find a host of blog posts that she has written about that location.

But I digress.

Throughout our trip in Southeast Asia over the last nine days, I was struck by the palpable feeling of economic growth and entrepreneurship. It felt like a region that is pulling itself out out of poverty by it’s bootstraps.

There is a long way to go for sure. Annual per capita GDP in Vietnam is roughly $7000US, that number is roughly $6000US in Laos, and roughly $4000US in Cambodia.

But there is a vitality everywhere you go. People are on the go. Construction projects abound. Commerce is everywhere. People have phones and motor scooters.

Most of all you see children and young adults. This is a region that lost much of my generation to war and genocide. But they are regenerating their families and societies. In Vietnam, 50% of the population is under 30. In Cambodia, 70% are under 22.

The people are nice. They welcome the tourists and understand the economic support it brings to their cities and country.

So I’m very optimistic about these countries. They are on the move. It was exciting to see that.