Sunday, December 11, 2011

What force moves people?

I have been reading War and Peace by Tolstoy. He is just amazing. He sees through every human action and exposes each frailty, ego, fear, irrationality, hubris. No one escapes. The action of the novel takes place between 1805 and 1820 – the Napoleonic wars. Wikipedia cites the death toll at 1.8 million people. You should look at the big version of a very famous map of the army, which shows how many people set out (beige) and how many dribbled back (black).

As I've been reading, I keep thinking about current wars, and non-wars (climate change and Durban), and returning to Tolstoy’s key question that we – entrepreneurs, marketers, politicians – seek to understand:

What force moves peoples?

In Chapter 1 of the Epilogue Tolstoy goes on a rant. There were so many delicious bits, I had to pick them out for you. But read the whole book. Absolutely wonderful.

….the goal of the good of all human civilization, usually understood as the people occupying the small northwest corner of a large continent….

..the historian knows the goal towards which mankind is being led (for one this goal is the greatness of the Roman, Spanish, or French state; for another it is freedom, equality, a certain kind of civilization in a small corner of the world known as Europe.)

...During this twenty-year period of time an enormous number of fields go unplowed; houses are burned; trade changes direction; millions of people become poor, become rich, migrate; and millions of Christians, who profess the law of love of their neighbor, kill each other.

…At the end of the eighteenth century, some two dozen men got together in Paris and started talking about all men being equal and free. That led people all over France to start slaughtering and drowning each other.”

….At the same time there was in France a man of genius – Napolean. He defeated everybody everywhere – that is, he killed a lot of people – because he was a great genius. And he went off for some reason to kill Africans, and he killed them so well, and was so cunning and clever, that, on coming back to France, he ordered everybody to obey him. And everbody obeyed him. Having become emperor, he again went to kill people in Italy, Austria, And Prussia. And there he killed a lot….

Read more!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

3 Benefits of Autolib You Aren't Expecting

The funny thing about sharing, is that there are usually a whole bunch of unexpected and unanticipated benefits that people don’t expect and don’t anticipate.

For Zipcar, sharing rather than owning your own car meant that:
-- You can choose the car that fits the needs of each specific trip.
-- You have instant access to a “personal fleet” of 6000 cars parked across North America and England.
-- You never have to maintain or repair it

Try doing that with your car!

So what will AutoLib bring that is a surprise? By writing this down, I’m anticipating, which kinds of ruins my argument. But, here goes:Unanticipated Benefits of AutoLib

-- Electric cars will be demystified. Everyone will have seen them going around everywhere, experienced their commonness, and lots and lots of people will have driven them. Today, the arguments and fears about electric cars are by people who have no first-hand experience. Now, this discussion around electric cars will stem from a first-hand experience. Much better!

-- We’ll automatically choose our mode of travel based on the trip, rather than mindlessly and routinely getting into our own cars. This will be a sea change for many people. What an idea! Should I walk, bike, metro, taxi, Buzzcar or AutoLib to get where I need to go in the city? And this new way of thinking will just be second nature, like checking the weather when you wake up in the morning before you choosing your clothes for the day.

-- We will travel comfortably and routinely between different modes of transport. The whole frightening and ugly-named concept -- “multi-modal”-- will be a natural reality that includes the car in those mode choices. Very few people will be mono-modal: only public transit or only by car. It should bring these two groups together, less divisiveness between the camps. It will make negotiating for rights of way between alocation of public space have more consensus.

Read more!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Autolib Beta Phase

After years of discussion and planning, and less than one year since the contract was awarded, Autolib went live today, October 2. It will have about 38 cars are the road, being driven by an invited set of users, and then go live to the public on December 1 with 250 cars. Over the next year, it is supposed to build out to 3000 cars.

Autolib: 3000 electric cars, paid for in 1/2 hour increments, on demand, for use in greater Paris. Comes with parking! I think of them as taxis you drive yourself, with taxi-like prices: 5-7 euros the first half hour (after you've paid a gating fee) and even more the second and third half hours.

My first kneejerk reaction is the shock at the branding. I was thinking that at those prices, it was going to be heavily used by businessmen and well-to-do women to get around Paris. Now that I see them, I think they've lost this primary market.

Here is a picture of the station, which comes at a cost to each city town of 50,000€. For Paris, this will add up to 25 million euros.

The point of the station? It is a video camera connection with customer service who will help you scan your license and then see your face, and thus decide to sell you a membership to AutoLib.

Here is what I find really shocking: this enormous cost is all because the French do not have electronic driving records that can be checked in real time. This is a pain that I've been feeling with Buzzcar. We get around it by also asking for a photo of the individual's identity card as well as a proof of residence at an address (a bill less than 3 months old). I've advised the French government that they really need to bring their driving records into the computer age. It hadn't occurred to me the size of this cost, in Paris alone, until I did the math on the Autolib stations.

So I don't sound crotchedy. Here is a picture of me being given a test drive in an Autolib by a smart, bright, well informed young man who is an "Autolib Ambassador."

Oh, to give you the link to Autolib:

not .COM (library management software, whatever that is)
not .FR (taken by a carsharing service in Lyon)
not .ORG (Lyon group has that as well)

but autolib.EU


Read more!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Velib Celebrates 100 million trips

Translating from a City of Paris press release:

In Paris, where we celebrated the 100 millionth Velib trip since July 2007, the popularity of the service hasn't diminished. There are 170 thousand subscribers and almost 100 thousand rentals a day at the 1700 stations that cover the capital. According to JC Decaux, the service has seen "a massive increase in recent months" thanks to a cloudless spring.

The city and its concessionaire share other satisfactions: a net reduction in vandalism. Shortly after the launch of the service, stupified users deplored the impressive number of bikes with flats, twitsted, stolen or broken. According to JC Decaux, the vandalism was reduced by 2/3 between 2009 and 2010. Is the anti-Velib violence no longer in fashion? "Shared bikes have arrived as part of the urban landscape" says M. Asseraf. Mme Lepetit prefers to see the change as the result of "public ad campaigns emphasizing civic spirit and responsibility."

All the stations haven't benefited from this enlightenment, as the residents of Barbes (18th arrondissement) or in proximity of the beltway can attest, but the city refuses to release the vandalism statistics by neighborhood "because this will stigmatize" explains the mayor.

Read more!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peak Car Use: It is Happening

I first heard the term "peak cars" about two weeks ago. And then "peak car use" showed up again in this research report

This trend is happening not only in the US, but is consistent with research of driving data in 7 other countries.

As possible causes of ‘Peak Car Use’, the paper offers up the following six factors:

1. Hitting the Marchetti Wall
2. The Growth of Public Transport
3. The Reversal of Urban Sprawl
4. The Aging of Cities
5. The Growth of a Culture of Urbanism
6. The Rise in Fuel Prices

Go read the article. Then figure out if you too are driving your car less. At it is, most people use their car's only 5% of the time. The other 95%?

put it up for rent to your friends and neighbors with

(if you live in France). Or maybe just sell it altogether and use someone else's.

Carsharing is more and more becoming the obvious choice for car mobility.

Read more!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Testifying before Congress: I Can't get a Word in Edgewise

Looking for the written transcript of my testimony (March 9, 2011), I stumbled across this video clip, as prepared by the Republican-controlled House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce website

It was billed on their page as:

"Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) questioned a supporter of the rules about how well the Internet works without government regulation, noting: “You set up a very successful company using the Internet as it was, basically the status quo Internet, and you did that without a whole lot of trouble: is that right?”

Count how many words I get to say (5?) compared to the torrent of her words. If memory serves me, what happens after this clip is she moves on to "question" the person next to me allowing them the same "response time." Yet on the Republican website about the testimony, all the quotes are from the Republican congressmen making their statements, with zero quotes from those experts who were testifying.

I realize this is politics, but the spin is pretty scandalous. The fact is, that the rules I got to play by in 2000, are not the rules start-ups today live under. In 2005, the FCC was stripped of its right to ensure fair play on the Internet, and immediately thereafter ensued lots of bad behavior on the part of the big telecommunications companies. The FCC Order, the one was testifying for, and that the House overturned, and that is now before the Senate, was to reinstate the FCC's right protect the openness of the Internet.

Associated blog entries: I wrote up immediately after testifying. and OpEd in Politico

Read more!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Net Neutrality protects Innovation & Jobs

Here is my OpEd published in Politico, days before vote in House on whether to overturn FCC ruling that protects net neutrality.

You can read my testimony before Congress and my reactions to that experience in previous blog.

Read more!

My mom's got muscles

Check it out. 85 years old and can do 10 chin ups. Here she is with trainer she has been working with. Will you look at that bicep? Don't want to meet her in an alley.

Read more!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Testifying before Congress: Net Neutrality

I testified this week to the House Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet.

Here is my written testimony and here is my oral testimony and here the video version.
In general, the Republicans who wished to repeal the FCC order tried to:

• Confuse regulating access to the Internet (telecommunications providers: i.e. Verizon and ATT for the vast bulk of Americans) which is the subject of the FCC order, and regulating services (Google, Amazon, Facebook) which aren’t under the FCC’s jurisdiction.

• Confuse controlling Internet Openness (which everyone agrees is a good thing) with controlling Access to -- and Who Defines -- that Internet: 1) an industry that tends toward monopoly power or 2) the government who should serve the American public’s interests.

• Confuse innovation, jobs, and investment in the economy created by entrepreneurs and small businesses (75% of all jobs over the last 10 years and what percent of the economy?) with the “innovation,” jobs, and investment of two telecommunications giants (ATT invested $19b last year in infrastructure).

Congressmen who had done some work in preparation for my testimony raised the following points against my personal testimony:

• Asked by two members (a talking point?): When the search term “carsharing” is entered into Google, Zipcar has an ad that runs above the first search result. How does Zipcar’s ability to buy a paid ad sync with my testimony that startups can’t afford to pay for premium services?

The first time this was asked, I said that it wasn’t relevant. What was a better comparison was to think of newspapers, where big companies could take out full pages ads, and little companies only tiny classifieds, and that the internet had changed that access into one of a meritocracy. The second time I was asked, I said “This isn’t the question at hand” to which the Congressman replied that indeed, it was his question (true). A thoughtful short response should have been: The fact that an eleven-year old company can afford to buy a Google ad has no bearing on whether a startup could afford to pay a premium for access to the Internet, nor whether other structural hurdles could be established by the duopoly gatekeepers to the Internet.

Several times, Republicans raised the idea that if the unregulated Internet worked for me to start up Zipcar before, why did I think it wouldn’t work in the future? One Congressman even repeated to me two times how easy it must have been for me to start Zipcar (I didn’t let her get away with that). The response I tried to make, and I don’t know if I did, was that the Internet was a baby industry back then, the telcos power was much less, and in fact, the industry was regulated and under the jurisdiction of the FCC (which was later taken away in 2005).

• My favorite question: It appears that Zipcar gets free parking that taxpayers have paid for, depriving these taxpayers of on-street parking dedicated to a for-profit company, as well as received other government grants to succeed….not clear to me how this has any bearing at all.

To which I replied that during my three-year tenure as CEO I had paid for municipal parking won through RFPs and had received no federal grant money at all. Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge later reminded me that the carriers have received rights of way, spectrum rights, and millions (billions?) of dollars of subsidies from government.

• Two ill-formed, grand-standing, and not quite completed questions were trying to relate to my sensibilities as a business woman. They seemed to be aiming at this point: Wasn’t the only way to respond to market demand to build out more infrastructure? And shouldn’t a company be able to set prices any way it wanted to without government interference?

One of the questioners cut me off after a sentence reply saying that his allotted time was up. And I think I didn’t answer well or clearly to the first time this question was asked. The answer which I managed to squeeze in later in answer to another Congressman’s question was a better one, although admittedly not as nicely said as written below:

Capitalism works when markets respond to demand and competition. The Internet gatekeepers are at best an oligopoly and for most consumers a monopoly. These companies don’t need to respond to demand (they can create scarcity to raise prices) and they also don’t have to respond efficiently or cleverly because they have no competition.

Read more!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Net neutrality imperative to Protect Innovation

Here is OpEd I wrote last week for Bloomberg Government, and the interview I did for Bloomberg TV.

Read more!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting a Velib Annual Membership. Part 2

You will recall that my husband and I received our Navigo cards and were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our annual Velib memberships. This would allow each of us tie our Navigo card to our Velib account and use the Navigo card to unlock the Velib directly. As easy as a visit to the local pub, "put it on my tab," I'd be saying electronically. [for the record, this is literary metaphor, I’ve been to a pub about twice in my entire life.] No more lengthy interactions with the Velib kiosk. No more having to remember the number of the Velib locking post that has the bicycle I have so carefully selected as problem-free. Did I mention that some of the Velib stations are so big that half of the bicycles are on the other side of the street or around the corner?

Imagine my excitement when my letter from Velib arrived. The day had finally come! I opened the letter to find that my application had been denied.
The Velib annual application requested a €29.00 fee, to be paid with a check. Thinking that a postal money order would suffice, my husband had purchased one from the local post office and included it with my application. Velib returned the postal money order explaining that they do not accept cash.

Now I have a €29.00 postal money order made out to Velib. I can't get my money refunded from the post office because we had thrown out the receipt (1. why would I want to keep the receipt? 2. why can't the Post Office give me money back without a receipt when the postal order is from me and I'm standing right in front of them with a passport?)

So we request a checkbook from our bank. An online request of course. In order to expedite the checkbook, we selected "pickup at our branch". 3 weeks and 3 trips to the branch later we finally receive our checkbook. So we resubmit our applications with the €29.00 checks enclosed.

A week later we are again denied. Now we learn the significance of the RIB. The "Relevé d'Identité Bancaire" is a piece of paper with 4 numbers on it. The bank ID number, the branch number, the account number, and a 2 digit RIB key, essentially a checksum calculated from the other 3 numbers. There is some other redundant information on the piece of paper like the name of the bank and their telephone number, but the essential data is contained in these 4 numbers. We entered all of these numbers in the specified fields on the Velib application form, the one which we printed out and submitted. So when the application instructions asked to include the RIB, my husband thought he had done it. But no, for some inexplicable reason it is necessary to include the special piece of paper the bank gives you copies of with the same 4 numbers on it.

All of this wasn't entirely obvious to our French friends either. We asked them to look at the letter and see if they could tell what we were doing wrong. Only upon patient cross-examination did they discover that my husband had not sent in the RIB bank slip of paper in addition to filling out the required filled.

"Of course! How could you be so stupid? Of course you must send in the RIB!"

"But it contains the same information that I entered on the form," my husband protested.

"But you must include it!"

OK, so we send in the applications again. This time with the pre-printed form, the €29.00 personal check, and the the all important RIB piece of paper.

Finally our annual memberships arrive. Two separate accounts, one for each of us. The letter tell us that we must now activate our membership by going online within 45 days. I picture someone at Velib headquarters who has been specifically designated to wait the 45 days for my account to expire. He's just sitting in a room with a clock and a calendar counting down. He's going to press a big red button which has been directly wired to my account if I don't stop him.

I sign in with my special ID number I've been assigned and my secret PIN, which must be entered twice into two separate boxes. I'm not sure why one isn't enough.

Et voila! I am signed in to my account. Velib thinks my name is Chase Robin, not Robin Chase, which will cause a moment's confusion the next time I try and sign in because in order to sign in I must enter my assigned number, my secret PIN (only once now) and my last name, which Velib thinks is "Robin". I'm not sure why they think this, since they got my husband's name right.

RIght away I try to use my Navigo to get a Velib, but it doesn't work. Velib kiosk reports that it is not associated with any account. Has all our work been in vain? I go back and log into my Velib account and find that there is no Navigo card number associated with my account, even though giving my Navigo card number was an important step I had completed back in November. So I enter one in the field for Navigo card number.

Now it works!! And it is really much easier than dealing with the kiosk. Now I think nothing of swiping my card and hopping on a Velib to ride just a few blocks. My travel time is cut in half getting to the train station. I check my account a few days later and am amused to see a long list of trips, every one of them under the 30 minute free limit.

But wait! After 4 months of effort and an almost innumerable number of steps, my husband is not so lucky. Even though we applied in parallel, attended to each step in parallel, made all the same mistakes and missteps in parallel, when he enters his Navigo card into his Velib account he is told that “the staff will take it under consideration.”

Now, if we can just figure out this one last thing...

Read more!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What does it really cost to get around in the US today? By get around, I mean car, subway, bus and not planes or hotel expenses. Data from 4 million users tell us that it is cheaper in cities and more expensive in states where you have to drive long distances.

I've been interested in aggregate data from for a while now: 4 million users across the US, real data, from their credit cards and bank accounts, not remembered data. And of course, my statistical self has to recognize that there is sampling bias of some kind with mint users. And it doesn’t take your cash expenditures into account either. If I had to guess, because these numbers are low, they don't include the cost of insurance (around $1100/yr), and obviously not depreciation (around $1500+/year). Regardless, the comparative data is interesting.

But we can assume that for your car related purchases – i.e. the car, the maintenance, the fuel, the tires – most people do most of them with credit cards and primarily at stores that are actually vehicle-only retailers, so the data must be relatively clean.

I broke Mint's system (or rather it timed out) when I tried to get Mint to give me the aggregate data for the whole US. This isn't one of their queries. I edited the URL in search of it. But Mind does let you query state by state, and for specific cities.

So here it is: comparative “Auto & Transport” data of average monthly (yearly) expenditure – as eyeballed because the graphs don’t give precise tick marks.

NYC: $250/mo ($3000/yr)

Boston: $250 ($3000/yr)

San Francisco: $340 ($4080/yr)

NYstate: $310 ($3720/yr)

Texas state: $390 ($4680/yr)

Massachusetts state: $300 ($4000/yr)

California state: $410 ($4920/yr)

If anyone manages to get the US data set to load, I'd love to see what those numbers are. Or if you can get this data in Mint's piechart format, that shows you what fraction of household budgets are spent on what, I really want to see that.

Read more!