Posts from NYC

E-Bikes

I used to ride a Vespa around NYC. I rode it to work and back for about ten years, from roughly 2003 to 2013. I stopped riding it when Bloomberg’s Traffic Enforcement people starting towing it when it was parked between cars on the street (something I had been doing since I started riding it). A few visits to the tow pound will do that to you.

Since then, I’ve been Citibiking to and from work when it is nice out and subwaying when it is not. That has worked fine.

A few weeks ago, I had breakfast with my friend Alex Ljung, who co-founded our portfolio company SoundCloud with his friend Eric Wahlforss. Alex and Eric are back at it with a new company called Dance which makes a beautiful e-bike that is sold via a subscription service, currently only in Berlin, but coming to your city sometime in the future.

I told Alex that I was nervous about riding e-bikes. He told me to get over it and get on one. So I have been doing that, using Citibike’s e-bikes, for the last few weeks.

Alex was right. I love riding e-bikes around NYC. I can see riding them out to Brooklyn and back for meetings, using the new Brooklyn Bridge bike lane.

I still like riding my traditional bike for exercise, something I do three mornings a week, and something I will do when I finish this post.

But for getting around NYC, in the awesome bike lanes that have been created all around our amazing city, I think e-bikes are the way to go. I put in an order for one this weekend.

I’m sold.

#climate crisis#NYC

Citibiking (Continued)

Yesterday I wrote about NYC’s Citibike system, which I love, and said this:

There should be financial rewards for taking a bike from a kiosk that is completely full or nearly full and returning to a kiosk that is empty or nearly empty. There should also be a financial reward for docking an E-Bike in a kiosk where there are no E-Bikes or very few.

I got a ton of feedback via email and Twitter that Citibike already offers this via a program called Bike Angels that rewards riders for doing things like this. I know about that program but there are three big problems with Bike Angels that Lyft, the owner of Citibike, needs to fix.

1/ Bike Angels is not part of the core service, available to everyone by default.

2/ The rewards are too small. They need to be increased significantly.

3/ Angels is not a cash rewards program and you cannot take cash out of the system. It needs to be like Venmo.

Basically Angels sucks, but it is directionally correct.

If Lyft fixed all of this and offered attractive cash rewards for moving bikes and E-bikes around the system, it would be a game changer. But Bike Angels is not that. It is not even close to that.

#NYC

Citibiking (Continued)

I have written about my love for NYC’s Citibike service many times. This will be one more.

Yesterday I left the USV office at the end of the day and hopped onto a Citibike E-Bike at the brand new kiosk that has been installed in the “no cars” section of Broadway between 23rd and 21st.

I rode that E-bike all the way to Central Park West and 81st Street to get to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. I was able to stay in a bike lane for that entire ride and it took me about twenty minutes.

There is no way I could have gotten from 21st and Broadway to the Delacorte Theater in less than twenty minutes any other way. Google Maps told me it would take 28 mins on the subway and I’d have to make at least one transfer. I did not check Uber, but given how Uber is working in NYC these days, it would have been at least a ten-minute wait just for the car to arrive. It would have likely taken twice as long in a car as a Citibike.

When the weather is good, like it has been in NYC the last few weeks, there is no better way to get around the city than Citibike. The subway is a close second, but there is something about being out and about, a breeze in your face, seeing the sights and sounds of NYC.

The addition of E-bikes has made longer rides, like the one I did yesterday evening, a good option. I generally take the regular bikes to commute to and from work (a roughly ten-minute ride), but the E-bike makes the 60 block trip, or a trip to Brooklyn or back, a decent option.

I do have a suggestion for Lyft, the owner of NYC’s Citibike service.

There should be financial rewards for taking a bike from a kiosk that is completely full or nearly full and returning to a kiosk that is empty or nearly empty. There should also be a financial reward for docking an E-Bike in a kiosk where there are no E-Bikes or very few.

The single biggest challenge with Citibike is the empty kiosk and the full kiosk. And the lack of E-Bikes in many kiosks is also a challenge.

If riders were rewarded financially for taking bikes and moving them to where they are most needed, the distribution of bikes would become more even. And there would be a “cottage industry” of people who ride Citibikes around the city for a living making sure that the bike distribution is optimal.

This would require the Citibike app to be like Venmo, with a wallet that builds up or down over time, and where balances can be transferred out.

That’s not very hard to build in this day and age, and would be a game-changer for the Citibike system.

#NYC

Pier 76

For as long as I can remember, Pier 76 on the west side of Manhattan has been home to the west side tow pound. Some of my worst moments as a NYC resident have been there retrieving a car or a scooter, something I’ve done more than I want to remember. It was pure misery to have to go there and I think that was intentional.

So over the last four months on my morning bike rides up the west side bike path, I have been watching the city tear down the west side tow pound and replace it with an urban park.

I believe Pier 76 opened last week and is hosting one of the outdoor locations for the Tribeca Film Festival which is going on in NYC right now.

So today on my morning ride, I took a slight detour and visited the new Pier 76.

It is so great to see the city making itself nicer. The entire west side park along the Hudson in Manhattan has been a slow but steady version of that and it just got a little bit nicer. Well done NYC.

#NYC

Early Voting

NYC has a primary next week (June 22nd) in which parties will pick their nominees for Mayor, City Council races, Borough President races, and Manhattan will pick candidates for Attorney General. Because NYC is overwhelmingly Democratic, the primary is the main event. Most of the time, Democratic candidates prevail in the General Election in November.

So this is a big election for NYC and everyone who cares about the future of NYC should make it a point to vote in this primary.

Early voting started last Saturday and I made my way to my early voting location (which is different from the regular voting location) yesterday morning and was in and out in two minutes. It was the smoothest voting experience I have had in NYC since we moved here almost 40 years ago.

If you live in NYC want to do early voting this week, go here and enter in some address info and you will be shown your early voting location.

Early voting is such an awesome addition to the election process. It makes it way easier for many people to get out and vote. And I hope you all do.

And make sure to vote for five people, not just one, as NYC is doing rank choice voting this year. Pick a slate of your favorite candidates from one to five and fill in all of the columns. Hopefully one of your top five will win.

#NYC

Funding Friday: Beach Lovers: A NYC Summer Love Story

One of the many things I love about Kickstarter is when a friend backs a project, I am alerted. My friend Kirk went on a binge yesterday and backed a half dozen photo book projects and I followed him on that binge.

I thought I’d blog about one of the projects we backed today.

NYC is many things, and one of them is a beach town. In the summer, the beaches of south Brooklyn and Queens (Rockaway) fill up with NYers of all ages and ethnicities. It is like the subway, a total melting pot.

This photo book project celebrates those beaches and the couples who fill them up in the summer months.

Email readers can see the video here.

#crowdfunding#NYC

Citibiking

Long-time readers know that I am a big Citibike fan. Citibike is the name of NYC’s bike-share program. I have been blogging about it since it launched in the spring of 2013, eight years ago now. I wrote this at the time.

Since it started getting warm in NYC about a month ago, I have been Citibiking to work, to home, to dinner, etc. And I must say that the Citibike experience in NYC has gotten a lot better in the last few years.

There are now a lot of electric bikes. I don’t use them because I prefer to get the workout, but I see a lot of people using them.

The newer bikes are really easy to ride. They keep improving the bikes and the latest lot of them are terrific.

The Citibike app has also improved. It now starts with a navigation map and you can easily see where to get your bike and where to drop it off.

And finally, NYC keeps adding bike lanes and making them better. I rode all around lower manhattan yesterday and was always in a bike lane, feeling safe and that I belonged there.

Biking is a great way to get around NYC and Citibike makes it so simple. Get a bike, ride somewhere, drop it off. It is one of the great things that has happened to NYC in the almost forty years we have lived here.

#NYC

Commercial Real Estate

With new Covid cases down 30% in the last two weeks and partially vaccinated people approaching 50%, NYC seems ready to start getting back to work.

I have been going to the office several days a week for the last two weeks and will be there again today. As my USV colleagues get fully vaccinated, they are joining me and our office is starting to fill up.

But our Flatiron neighborhood still feels empty and there is not one good restaurant open for lunch during the week.

As we head back to work, what will the new normal be?

That is a huge question looming over the commercial real estate sector in NYC and around the country.

According to this NYT piece from last week, the vacancy rate in commercial office space in NYC is almost 20% and that number is north of 15% across the largest cities in the US. And in the face of these historically high vacancy rates, more new office buildings are coming to market increasing the supply of space.

We have surveyed our portfolio companies and we understand that many will reopen their offices this summer and fall, but most will not expect their employees to be back in the office five days a week. Some will not expect their employees to be in the office at all.

I think this Jamie Dimon quote I read in the NYT piece is about right:

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest private-sector employer in New York City, wrote in a letter to shareholders this week that remote work would “significantly reduce our need for real estate.” For every 100 employees, he said, his bank “may need seats for only 60 on average.”

We used to have 10,000 square feet in our old office that we left last month. We moved into 6,000 square feet and it feels like plenty. I think many/most companies will feel that way too.

Many of our portfolio companies let their leases expire during the pandemic, as did we. And they are now thinking about what to do going forward. I have a few suggestions:

1/ Take something temporary for the next year or two. Figure out what the new normal is before entering into a long term lease. This is what USV did. We took a nine month sublet to allow us to figure things out.

2/ Shop around and be aggressive in your offers to sublet or lease space. Many landlords will not engage in your bottom fishing. But some will, particularly in the sublease market.

3/ Avoid expensive office buildouts and focus on spaces that are extremely flexible. We have invested in office and conference pods in our sublet to reduce the need for expensive office buildouts. And the Gotham Gal and I made an entire co-working space in Brooklyn with office pods.

4/ Figure out how to integrate remote workers into your office environment. We have been investing a lot more in our conference rooms/video setups. I even suggested that we put some webcams in our office so our remote colleagues could see who is in the office at any time. I am not sure we will do that. Some feel it is creepy. But I think it’s a good idea.

5/ Offer perks to encourage your employees to be in the office. We have been ordering in great food for everyone in the office the last few weeks and everyone seems to appreciate and enjoy that.

I think occupancy expense will be a smaller percentage of our portfolio companies’ P&Ls in the future and those savings can be invested in our teams instead. That feels like a great trade and one that will lead to better companies and happier employees. And that is a very good thing.

#Current Affairs#management#NYC

My New Metrocard

For years, one of my prized possessions has been my MTA EasyPayXpress Metrocard.

It’s a little worn down from a lot of use because it auto refills itself. It is a Metrocard that is connected to a “card on file” and it automatically refills itself so that it always has money on it and you never miss a train because your Metrocard has run out of funds. I’ve had one of these for something like twenty years. And yet many NYers don’t know that this product exists.

But last week, I realized that my Metrocard’s days are numbered. I walked into one of the subway stations I use the most and saw that the turnstiles now accept Google Pay and Apple Pay.

You just wave your phone and the turnstile lets you in.

This has been in the works for a while and I knew it was coming but seeing it in place and using it was great.

When we moved to NYC in the early 80s, we used metal tokens. Then we moved to Metrocards. And now we use our phones.

It is exciting to see NYC adopt technology in ways that makes life in the city a bit easier.

#NYC