Edmonton and Uber. Each, young and confident, disruptive ideas.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE EDMONTON JOURNAL – December 17th

What a time to be an Edmontonian. Our city is enjoying what feels like an unbeatable energy; fed by our entrepreneurialism, a new confidence of identity and our ever-present community approach to building things.

Tapping into that energy, or perhaps helping feed it, this year’s E-Town Festival successfully challenged its 1,000 attendees to “think differently.” The festival is designed to “feed the mind and heart of people who get excited by innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought.”

Peter Diamandis, one of the festival’s keynote speakers, was perhaps the most challenging: presenting mind-bending examples of disruptive and exponential ideas and organizations. Diamandis founded the X-Prize, which made commercial space travel a reality and co-founded the Singularity University, a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution studying the ability of exponentially growing technologies to transform industries and solve humanity’s grand challenges.

Peter Diamandis is not a small thinker. Neither, I hope, are Edmontonians.

Diamandis talked at length about the rapidly expanding and truly disruptive nature of car-sharing services and Uber, in particular, a ride-sharing service that I have much personal experience with. In his words, “it fits the model of an exponential organization. It is democratizing travel options for users, it uses technology to dramatically improve a broken system and it is universally loved by its users and drivers.” He challenged us to imagine our place at the forefront of the “Uberification” of many things; which means, at least to me, a community of citizens using technology to share resources, helping each other, and unleashing entrepreneurial opportunity and a new economy.

But what is the greatest enemy of innovation? It is an establishment-biased fear of the unknown and an over-reaction of regulation, where regulation is not needed.

Cities around the world are fighting ride-sharing services, instead of adapting to work with them. My own discussions with some of our politicians and bureaucrats lead me to believe that Edmonton will be no different. They will argue concerns about safety and fairness, which are of course important, but they are misguided. With each of Uber’s product levels, from private citizen-driven uberX cars, to uberTAXI or the more luxurious uberBLACK car service, I have experienced a better product, at a significantly reduced price.

Like traditional taxi services, Uber drivers go through a rigorous background check. Drivers must maintain a minimum insurance coverage, supplemented by coverage from Uber’s policy. There is also a quality standard for Uber cars, which are also mandated to be newer vehicles. Conveniently, drivers and riders need not carry cash or credit cards: fares, including gratuity, are automatically paid from the phone-based application.

The advantages don’t stop with safety, quality and convenience.

Every ride is logged and GPS tracked in real time, so, if necessary, authorities can access driver and rider whereabouts. Before getting into a car, riders can review their driver’s service record and vehicle description, provided by past customers. Riders themselves are subject to similar anonymous reviews by drivers. A system that relies on both parties to maintain their reputation within the service is a system that, in my experience, provides cleaner cars, friendlier and more helpful drivers and no hassles with payment — every time.

Finally, we must consider impaired driving. Conveniently accessing taxi service, especially when needed most, as citizens pour themselves out of bars, can be impossible. Sadly, some citizens will make the irresponsible decision to drive impaired. If greater access to convenient and cost effective driving alternatives helps with this problem, we must embrace ride-sharing as one of those alternatives.
So, Edmonton, are we really ready to “embrace innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought”?

We are about to see a fierce debate play out in our city. The taxi industry will fight ride-sharing services. They naturally want to protect their monopoly. Some establishment-thinking politicians and bureaucrats will lack the courage to change our regulations and accept a product that virtually everyone wants.

Sadly, I know people who have gotten behind the wheel because getting a taxi was difficult. I need to support this service to help end that thinking. I want to support this service because of my own positive experiences with it. Join me to think differently; we can easily split the fare with these innovative apps.

“Why I am supporting Don Iveson for Mayor. Don is an idea people.”

In this city, it’s common to see uncommon success stories. Frankly, that’s why I love it here. I love big thinkers, risk takers and people who suffer from delusions of optimism, ideals, progress, and prosperity.

In this City, people can challenge the odds of convention, and still build great things. This is true of business, arts, sports & culture and social enterprise.

Bill Comrie was an awe-inspiring 19-years of age when he inherited a struggling family furniture business. With the aptly named idea for a “Midnight Madness” sale, Comrie transformed an industry and created a billion dollar business legacy, here in Edmonton.

Dr. Maurice Lewis Van Vliet A lifelong academic, with no business experience, became the visionary, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Games of 1978. Driving this idea to reality because of his passion for sport and the city. Without doubt, a defining moment in our city’s coming of age as volunteers and major event hosts.

Brian Paisley a small-time theatre director with $50,000 in public funding created the Fringe Festival, the first, and still largest of it’s kind in North America. With dozens of cities copying the model. Edmonton has seen an unbelievable return on that $50,000 investment and it was a small amount of money behind someone with a creative vision and idea.

These people did not necessarily succeed because of their experience. They succeeded with their vision and an idea, and importantly because they could tap the energy of Edmonton itself. Be it Economic or Ideal. Creative or Compassionate.

In today’s Edmonton, more than I have ever seen in my life here, we are filled with potential. Not because of one generation vs. another, but because of a confidence blessed on it from an extraordinary economy, a diversifying economy and global thinking idea people.

But the City is also poised to capitalize on that potential, not from overflowing wells of age or experience, but from the endless energy and visions of an emerging new class of leaders. We know many of these people. New immigrants, university graduates, geeky policy wonks and crazily ambitious entrepreneurs. Most of them are much younger than me.  All of them are IDEA people.

Don Iveson - Idea People

Don Iveson – Idea People

This is why I am supporting Don Iveson for Mayor. Don is an idea people

I have no concerns that his business experience is limited to smaller companies; we are not hiring a business manager, we have a City Manager. Don has proven his ability to work with council and he knows that this is the lead role of a team of governors. Don will build consensus around the best idea, even if it’s not his own.

I have zero interest in play-it-safe politicians and I am ecstatic Don has the guts to chase the bigger challenge of Mayor, even at 34. People have really missed the important narrative here. In my opinion, Don had a guaranteed six-figure career as a councilor and many thought he should have served another term. But Don had the guts to take his shot and knowingly risk job security (with a young family), for the chance at making a bigger difference, based on a bigger vision for the City.

There’s no cloth from which you can simply cut out the perfect community servant. These people can be from all walks of life, ideology and experience. The good ones are action oriented and practical, yet idealistically rooted in public service. The best ones are thoughtful, personable, humble and big visionaries. Idea people.

Don is the best combination of these things, and unwilling to let anyone underestimate the City, it’s people and potential.

I’m quite cool with that; because neither am I*.

* I am proudly the current Chair of Startup Edmonton, Co-Chair of Make Something Edmonton, investor in three Edmonton startups, and Co-Founder / Co-CEO of Yardstick Software, one of Edmonton’s fastest growing knowledge-economy companies.

Make Something Edmonton

It’s amazing. This City, that I love. We have an identity, what we think of ourselves, that is proud, self-deprecating, humble, yet helpful. We mock ourselves, we curse the snow… yet we stay here, build things and help each other thrive. It’s both part of our anthropological DNA and our current economic reality. Our image, which might be described as what others think of us, has always been a challenge. This gap… between what we know we are, and what others think we are.. is worth filling. It will deliver new citizens and workers to our city, it will draw visitors, and probably above all else, it will keep perpetuating the social and economic growth of our city.

So when the Mayor decided to take a stand, and finally find a way to tell our story, he had the guts to try something different. Council supported his leadership, and myself and Amy Shostack were asked to create a citizen-led initiative that could help improve our image. The typical process, hiring an agency and focus-grouping a vanilla brand, well that wasn’t for us.

So.. we landed on a story we already knew was true about this place. Local storyteller, Todd Babiak, had already started researching and writing about our identity. When he pushed past the river-valley platitudes… he found the answer to why we were here. We come here, or we stay here, because it’s easy to build something from nothing. It’s easy to connect with someone in the community and find volunteers, mentors and facilitators to activate your idea. I can’t list them all.. but the examples are endless. The Heritage Classic, the Commonwealth Games, the Fringe Festival, PCL, Bioware.. even my company, Yardstick. All born of an idea from a few citizens… and then made significant with help from others.

There is no aristocracy here. We help each other succeed. And then… if it was grown here.. we take ownership of it. Which leads me back to the Make Something Edmonton initiative. This is OUR identity and it’s true. Which is why when we challenge Edmontonians to just MAKE SOMETHING, we get a positive feedback and response of action.

But it’s not just fluff… it’s a practical path to image building. Because we won’t spend the typical Millions in creating a tagline and bumper stickers, distilled by advertising agencies into vanilla meaninglessness; we will spend less to get something that is true. Since we have started the Make Something Edmonton idea, we have already levered nearly 1500 volunteer hours. And we have only just begun. Over the next few months, our call to action will inspire and recognize people who are doing things. Major things like raising millions from the citizenry to artistically light the high-level bridge, to tiny things, like a cul-de-sac just finding a way to get outside and get to know each other.

This is our identity.. and although that will never end, an image and brand will emerge. But I am not worried about that right now. We will learn that.. it will emerge. And it will be authentic, because we value that more than we value anything else.

If you want to learn more about Make Something Edmonton, please visit the website of projects underway. If you want to start a project, and want to raise awareness, money or find collaborators, get started.

If you want to further understand what I am talking about, enjoy this video about the initiative, and an example of a great made in Edmonton project:

A Make Something Edmonton project… a beautiful and simple way to connect the community. CommuniTEA.

CommuniTEA

Whyte Ave – Jasper Ave – Churchill Sq. Trolley

Edmonton Streetcar

Edmonton Streetcar

I was driving around downtown today and admit was thinking about the great things we have done, and some of the even greater things we have on tap for Edmonton’s downtown. Then I drove over the High Level Bridge and marveled at the people out in Garneau, and finally along Whyte Avenue. It came to me how much of a shame it was that these all vibrant locations were not really that easy to visit together without getting into your car and driving from one to the other. Sure an active person could easily do them all on a bicycle, but that’s much less likely to happen when it comes to tourists and regular fat guys like me.

So I started to dream a little about the possibility of extending the High Level Streetcar into a year-round transportation link between the three. Like San Fransisco’s trolley system, I wonder aloud if we could spend some money and create a nostalgic yet functional extension of the existing system. Imagine with me for a second what it might mean for our city if we had the following:

–  An expanded station behind the Stathcona Farmers Market where at least a 2-car system could function and turn-around.

–  A station at the base of the High-Level bridge in Garneau, where passengers could disembark for the Garneau area

–  A stop at the existing station behind 109th street near the Legislature

–  Extend the track from 109th street running along the centre of Jasper Avenue

–  Add a stop at 104th street and Jasper

–  Extend the track east along Jasper to 99th street with a turn northbound on 99th Street (close the street north to Churchill)

–  A station at Churchill and 99th street with a “turnaround” on the east border of Churchill in front of the AGA

    I know it seems like a big investment, and maybe it’s simply too difficult to pull off. But maybe not, and perhaps it would add a significant local and tourist amenity that would compliment several great existing Edmonton landmarks, like Whyte Avenue (Market), Garneau, The Legislature, Capital Blvd, 104th street, and Churchill Sq.

    Why not dream?

    Here is a VERY amateur plan I created in 5 minutes using my screen capture software.

    The Edmonton Connector

    The Edmonton Connector

    Edmonton – Murder Capital of Canada

    Spending as much time as I do trying to promote our City, particularly the economic development of our knowledge economy and next gen community, I am very concerned with the latest title bestowed on us. Murder Capital of Canada.

    Like many Edmontonians, I was a bit aloof to the severity of the problem. But this weekend’s shooting at a north-side Earls has opened my eyes to how bold our violent crime problem has become. Edmonton has seen 22 murders YTD vs an equally alarming 2 for Calgary. The reasons are surely complicated, but it’s not good enough to list them as excuses. Recession, transient workers, long-winter, reduced mental health services, etc. etc. What’s worse, when you look at a map of the homicides, there is a noticeable chasm in this City, and we had better do something about it. If you draw a line North of the River, roughly cutting the City in half, and you will see that the Murder rate is almost double what’s being advertised.

    We won’t be revitalizing our downtown when the statistical likelihood of getting murdered there is as high as any place in the country.

    I know that this is a complicated situation, and it’s not entirely a policing issue; but we own this record. The list of solutions will be as long as the list of causes behind these murders. But it’s time for a task-force of diverse community members and experts to shine a light on this issue.

    I am normally no fan of committees; generally preferring a clear runway for our bureaucrats to make decisions and get things done, but this issue demands a transparent and unencumbered review by a trusted panel of citizens and experts.

    Hopefully our Mayor and our Premier, can see that this is a major problem; and will do something together to address the issues. These kinds of things tend to snowball and soon the only people who will tolerate living in North Edmonton will be those who have little other choice. Edmonton is better than this.

    See a map of Edmonton’s homicides here (and click the LINK below to access timeline and information detail).

    Map of 22 YTD Homicides in Edmonton

    Map of 22 YTD Homicides in Edmonton