VANCOUVER: Ride- and home-sharing startups shaking up the world are old concepts getting new life, founders of two prominent ventures told an “ideas conference” Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
“We didn’t invent anything new,” co-founder Joe Gebbia said of Airbnb during a candid presentation at the prestigious annual TED gathering in Vancouver.
“Hospitality has been around forever.”
During a separate TED talk, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick described Uber as a modern day spin on the “Jitney,” a ride-sharing trend that rocketed after being launched in California in 1914 but which was crushed under the weight of regulation in subsequent years.
“It turns out there was an Uber way before Uber,” Kalanick said during an on-stage talk.
“If it had survived, the future of transportation would probably be here already.”
The name “Jitney” came from a slang reference to a US five-cent coin, which is what a car dealer in Los Angeles who noticed crowds waiting for trollies decided to charge people to take them where they wanted to go.
Within a year the trend spread to other US cities, to the chagrin of powerful trolley operators, Kalanick said, drawing a parallel to opposition that the smartphone-based ride-sharing service has gotten from the taxi industry.
The trolley industry successfully lobbied for regulation of the Jitney, winning rules such as mandating two drivers per car; long hours behind wheels, and even back seat lighting to discourage the “pernicious” trend of couples “spooning,” Kalanick quipped.
He drew a connection between the Jitney being regulated out of existence and rocketing sales of personal automobiles that shaped modern lifestyles and by extension, bred woes such as traffic congestion and pollution from exhaust fumes.
“When we started Uber in 2010 we just want to push a button and get a ride; we didn’t have any grand ambitions,” Kalanick said.
“Well, it turned out that a lot of people wanted to just push a button and get a ride.”
San Francisco-based Uber has grown from 40 people at its start to 6,500 employees now, he noted.
“This is a world that is going to exist, and for good reason.”
He listed Apple, Google, Tesla and major auto makers among the companies working on autonomous vehicles.
A powerful appeal of the “sharing economy” is about making traditional business transactions into opportunities to share cultures, experiences and local culture as well, according to Airbnb co-founder Gebbia.