My Adventures, and Misadventures, Into the Sharing Economy, Part 1: $200 Tip
I watched a TED talk recently by Bill Gross entitled, The Biggest Reason Why Startups Succeed. I apologize for the sake of spoiling the video, but it's necessary to create a bridge to my story. In Bill's opinion, timing is the true factor that determines why these startups succeed. Among those mentioned were Airbnb and Uber, two sharing economy companies of which I am extremely familiar with. Bill makes a good point. We live in a world where mobile and social connectivity is seamless which intuitively breeds new micro-economies, careers, and unconventional methods of making money. Not to mention, especially in a post-recession world, some extra cash never hurt no one.
Being the curious soul I am, I ventured into these apps, blind to the paths it would take me. Here's a few stories from those experiences.
I became an Uber driver about a 2 years after being introduced to the app. One of my best buds from college had introduced me to the relatively budding startup. He became a driver himself shortly after showing it to me. After some time, I got a new car, moving from a 2-door coupe to a 4-door sedan, moved back to the metropolitan area, and the opportunity presented itself to sign up and to begin hitting the road.
I had heard the stories -- the normal everyday people, the drunk comedians, the drunk nightmares, the emotionally unstable, the mysterious, and the straight creepy. These are all just stories until you encounter them first-hand.
I picked them up from the Fort Worth Omni Hotel, 2 couples made up of early to late 40-year-olds. They were straight from the backwoods of Arkansas, sporting an unmistakable southern drawl. They were a lively bunch who were very sociable, a tad inebriated, and just plain hilarious. They were in town for a concert at Billy Bob's down by the stockyards. Free of responsibility, they were ready to party.
They immediately started talking my ear off, exploring who I was and what I did. I'm pretty comfortable with meeting and talking to strangers plus the stockyards were only about a mile away from where we were, so I thought nothing about getting a little personal. Why not? As I was telling the front passenger's wife about my love life, he pulled out a roll of money. I'm not exactly sure how much it was, but it was full of 20's and the size of my fist. He goes "We're allowed to tip you right?", I go, "Of course!" Hilariously enough, he gives me $40 bucks right there. I thank him. We pass another road, he goes "I need to get some cigarettes. Could you pull in somewhere?", again I go, "Of course!" He slides me another $40. We finally make it to the venue. They hop out and he slides me $20. As they're about to start walking off, he bends towards my passenger window, "Hey Vu, we really like you. If you come back and get us when the show is over, I'll give you another $100." Being the profiteer I am, "Yes sir, I'll be here!"
So I pick up a couple passengers and grab some food while I wait for the party. As the clock inches closer to 2AM, I'm on the other side of downtown, rushing back to the stockyards. I get a phone call, "Hey Vu! Where ya at man?!", "I'm on my way sir! I'll be there in about 10 minutes or less!" I eventually pull up to the venue, calling and searching for the group. I park in a line of short-tempered taxis where my black Lexus sticks out like a sore thumb. One driver approaches me and says, "You can't park here. For taxis only." I slyly reply, "I'm sorry man, I'm a private driver. I'm picking up a few guests from the Omni Hotel." He backs off. 10 minutes pass by and they're still a no-show. I'm on the verge of leaving when I get a phone call from the wife, "Where ya at Boo?!", pronucing my name wrong. Apparently, they returned inside for a few more drinks while they were supposedly looking for me. I commence to leave my car running, I hop out and sprint towards the entrance to the venue in search of the group. I finally see them waddling towards my direction cheering and yelling like a brigade of drunk sailors ported. The wife and other gentleman are carrying the husband arm in arm. He stumbles, they let go. He falls and rolls down a small hill. The wife belches out a huge laugh and the group begins dying of laughter. All of a sudden, I had become the chaperone to a group of people twice my age.
We finally make it to the car. We turn up the music and make our way towards the hotel. Everyone has their windows rolled down, screaming and cheering at pedestrians. The wife leans towards me and starts giving me life lessons. Offering advice on finding my wife, buying my first house, and raising my children. We eventually make it to the hotel. The husband reaches into his wallet, pulls out the $100, and leans in to give it to me. As he is handing it over, he says, "Come up and party with us. We have a pool!" Everyone starts to cheer in agreement. I honestly considered it for a second, but respectfully refused the offer. They hop out of the car. The husband leans into my window once again and says, "I got your number. I'll let you know when we're back in town." I reply, "Yes sir! I'll see you then!"
Look out for these next parts!
Part 2: The CIA Technologist
Part 3: The Cross Dressing Exotic Dancer
Part 4: Silicon Prairie