Josh Kerr— It’s not about being appreciated vs not. It’s about frustration at a lack of people who can actually demonstrate real leadership about driving Austin’s tech community and reputation forward. Most ATX techies, with rare exceptions such as Joe Liemandt and Josh Baer, don’t even seem to understand that situations like this require leadership and not people offering condescending lectures about how Uber and Lyft didn’t know their audience or ran a bad campaign or overplayed their hands like bullies.
When Airbnb acted like knuckleheads during the vote about them in SF, everyone knew they were being tone-deaf. But the tech leaders, in the face of a lot of opposition, stood up and led and got out the vote and made it happen. They affected the outcome and put SF on the right side of history on that vote, and admonished the Airbnb guys after the fact for overplaying their hand. Airbnb got the message and has behaved better.
In the aftermath of Prop 1 in Austin, regardless of how you voted, I am just astonished at how clueless and powerless some of Austin’s tech leaders look. They think they are being clever by blogging and tweeting and writing lengthy Facebook posts about the nuances of how the TNCs “misunderstood their audience” or “didn’t understand that Austin is different” or need a “lesson in marketing.” You have to be kidding me. Do you know how small-minded and weak this sounds to other people? Many don’t even notice because they let their concerns about a “bullying” campaign from Uber and Lyft and a bunch of abstract theories about self-regulation supersede the fact that your City Government is damaging your position as a tech hub. Many of the folks on the City Council feel emboldened by what’s happened since last December, rather than worried about the consequences to the town’s reputation.
If I were Ellen Troxclair (one of the sane members of the Austin City Council), I would be very careful about sticking my neck out for Austin tech because from a political perspective, the message you all send is totally incoherent. And I would also wonder if you all even know how to make a case for why anyone else in Austin should even CARE about tech. The so-called tech “leaders” get caught up in holier-than-thou lectures about the political tactics of prop 1, while they do nothing to help the larger community understand the value of tech in Austin in the first place.
If you asked the average non-tech Austinite, “why is it good that we have tech in this City?”, I bet most would have no answer. If anything, they would probably consider tech to be a bad thing because it increases traffic, drives up prices, and increases wealth inequality. While tech “leaders” are lecturing Uber and Lyft about their bad campaign, they are misunderstanding the bigger point: they can’t even market themselves to their own fellow citizens. How ironic is that? They seem like people who care more about looking smart in a trivial debate rather than driving a positive agenda forward on the issues that really matter.
I can tell you this...Austin’s brand as a tech-forward town is getting killed right now. You don’t even have to listen to me about this; it’s bigger than what I think, by a longshot: Ask Paul Graham of Y Combinator. Ask Naval Ravikant of AngelList. Ask Marc Andreessen. Ask Forbes and Fortune magazines and the National Review. And don’t forget that there are a lot of others who are also shaking their heads but not entering the fray because they think it would be pointless. And even if you would listen, who cares? You have NO POWER.
Leadership is not about just sounding clever in a debate: It is about moving people in a new and better direction. I would love to see more people in Austin tech actually show some leadership when it comes to engaging with these types of issues. People seem more intent to sound off on the pain of having to recycle flyers in their mailboxes or listening to TV ads than they are in pushing an actual tech agenda that would make Austin stand out for techies and non-techies alike.
Sorry for the long-winded reply, Josh — This is meant to be just a quick comment response, so I should stop here. Realizing I probably should have just sent this to you as an e-mail, but what the heck?