There are few things I hate more than having to eat my words. And I came damn close to having to do so on Sunday.
In my StreetFight Magazine column, I wrote about how Dallas’ startup environment was starting to rival the “coastal” markets like San Francisco and New York. The piece was well received, getting a more than usual share of “attaboy” reposts. Then, on Sunday, Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Morning News broke the news that a bunch of regulations designed specifically to remove Uber from the Dallas market had been pushed onto a last-minute consent agenda for this week’s City Council meeting. No debate; no discussion. Even worse, this wasn’t a full-frontal, honest “get out of our town” law, but silly rules that would largely serve to make customer experience worse after the offending innovator had theoretically left town:
Per a late addition to Wednesday’s meeting agenda, the Dallas City Council is scheduled to vote on a substantial city code rewrite that will redefine everything from who can dispatch a car to who can drive a limo to the cost of a limousine’s off-the-lot sticker price (has to be more than $45,000). And the city doesn’t want you to be able to order up a limo whenever you want: The rewrite, says the addendum, will “require limousine service to be prearranged at least 30 minutes before the service is provided” and establish “minimum limousine fares.”
Anyone care to venture a guess as to how many non-Uber limos would get put off the road because they cost less than $45k?
I can appreciate the government protecting me by establishing maximum rates especially in an anti-competitive marketplace like that of our cab companies, but a minimum price?
And forcing drivers to be slower than thirty minutes? In what world does that make sense?
Now I don’t really have a stake in Uber’s fate per se. I’ve used the service a couple times and found it a welcome, pleasant substitute for the uncertainty of trying to get a cab in this town. And I’ve long been a fan of the idea of paying for a ride via your phone, but Taxi Magic, the main player in that market has the cooperation of our cab companies, but not their drivers. In my experience, the driver won’t believe you paid on the phone and will accuse you of ripping him off even after you’ve shown a digital receipt.
What killed me about this move though, was the message it sent to startups and businesses who want to innovate in our market: If our existing, antiquated players make enough noise and pay enough people off, we’ll regulate you out of business, and do it without so much as a hearing.
Dallas is making some huge strides right now in attracting tech startups. The Dallas Entrepreneur Center (where I’m a mentor) is already making huge strides. And whether you like or loathe Uber, they’re a high profile company popular with that set.
So this will be the story if these regulations were to pass: Dallas didn’t like the way Über did business, so it created a bunch of arcane rules that don’t serve the consumer to legislate Uber out of biz.
So I’m an entrepreneur with an innovative solution to a local commerce problem. Say I’m from New York. Or Des Moines. Or Plano.
Do you think I’ll consider Dallas a good place to do biz? Even worse, it’s clear to anyone who’s done even cursory research that every time anyone has tried to legislate Uber out of business, they’ve failed and at great legal expense. As Uber Dallas GM Leandre Johns put it, “This is like forcing Expedia to get a license from the FAA and be regulated as an airline.” So, Dallas wants to be like its suburban cousins in Farmers Branch, tilting at legal windmills on the taxpayer nickel. More attractive by the minute. …
All this had me good and annoyed. Given the business Speakeasy’s in, I went to the most ready tools in my arsenal: Social media networks. I posted on Facebook and Twitter and started the hashtag #DallasNeedsUber.
The sentiment fostered a quick adoption, to the tune of thousands of Tweets, and according to Hashtracking, reached 3.5 million people in just the last couple days. It’s been trending since yesterday. Yeah, there was a bit of strategy in who I talked to and tagged in the first few hours and ensuring that the hashtag was consistent. After all, that’s what we do. But it’s certainly taken on a life of its own.
And, it’s worked. IF this ill-conceived batch of regulations get passed, it’ll happen in the sunshine. But they won’t pass. Because the great thing is that Dallas has spoken loudly on social media and the Council won’t have enough votes to go against this many influential people.
The story has changed. Now the narrative goes like this: Some city staffers tried to pass some silly protectionist rules, but that kind of stuff doesn’t happen in Dallas. The startup community and social media mavens rallied, self organized and shut it down before it could happen…. Dallas has a vibrant community of digitally savvy people who make things happen.
That’s a story I don’t know we’ve been able to tell before. But we can now. I’ve gone from peeved to proud. I suspect that this will be looked upon as a turning point in Dallas.
Are a bunch of Tweets as important as all the smarts and sweat going into making our city a startup hub? No. They’re correlative, not causative. We have a serious digital startup community in Dallas. Mess with it at your peril.