“Go disr*pt yourself” is what I have to say to founders of startups like ReservationHop and Parking Monkey.
They’re emblematic of a compassionless new wave of self-serving startups that exploit small businesses and public infrastructure to make a buck and aid the wealthy. Let’s call these parasites #JerkTech. It’s one thing to outcompete a big, stagnant company with new technology. It’s another to screw over the little guys just because you can sell what’s usually free.
So what do these tools do? ReservationHop places phony reservations at the hottest San Francisco restaurants, and then sells them for $5 or $10 apiece on its site. That makes it harder for the common man to get a reservation, since if they call the restaurant directly, they’ll find all the spots taken.
And if ReservationHop doesn’t sell the spots it stole? Tough luck for the restaurant, which just had a table go empty or wasted a half hour because the fake Dick Jerkson that ReservationHop put as the name on the res never showed up.
And then there’s Monkey Parking. It lets drivers who are parked in public street parking spots auction off their space to another apesh*tter who’s the highest bidder when they leave. And Monkey Parking takes a cut. Yes, it might reduce circling for parking that causes pollution. But it’s essentially co-opting city infrastructure and profiting by reserving it for people with smartphones. Got a flip phone? Your problem, not the monkey’s. Plus it dangerously promotes cell phone use while driving.
Sweetch is another parking scalping app where you pay $5 to take over a spot from another user, and get $4 back for selling it off when you leave. Sweetch keeps the difference. Thankfully the city of San Francisco is fighting Sweetch and Monkey Parking with cease-and-desist orders.
All of these apps are essentially tools for scalping a public good or open resource. They don’t deserve to take something that’s supposed to be free and first-come-first-serve so they can sell it.
Don’t concert ticket re-sale sites like StubHub encourage and take a cut from scalping? Yes, and I’m not a big fan of them for that reason. If the demand for a band’s ticket is high, they’re the ones that should be making the mark-up, not some sleazy guy with 20 computers who bought 40 tickets the second they went on sale to turn around and flip them. But at least that guy has to bet his own money that he can resell a private commodity he bought.
There are ways to disrupt with building JerkTech. Take Uber. I don’t always agree with with its aggressive execution, but the taxi industry had been content giving the people a crummy service for too long. With unreliable scheduled pick-ups, run-down cars, and road-ragey drivers talking on the phone the whole time, they were inviting someone to change things. Uber is far from perfect, but it’s giving people a better experience by updating an (albeit regulated) private industry.
If you weren’t aware, San Francisco’s tech scene already has some serious problems. Between techies belittling the homeless and women, being sexist and discriminatory in the work place, or comparing criticism of the 1% to Crystalnacht before bragging “I could buy a six-pack of Rolexes”, the rest of the country and world is building up a decent argument for hating us.
I don’t want to go all Uncle Ben on you but wielding disruptive tech does come with great responsibility. Build scalable businesses, but not by pillaging the local community. Get it straight, it’s not about “changing the world”, it’s about “making the world a better place”. Or at the very least “earning money without making the world a worse place”. That doesn’t start by prioritizing your JerkTech startup, wealth, and fame over common decency.