Bradley Tusk has long been known in political circles, including for managing the third campaign of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. He went on to make his mark in Silicon Valley by answering a call six years ago from former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who recognized he’d have regulatory battles to wage and enlisted Tusk as Uber’s first outside consultant to aid in navigating them.
Fast forward and Tusk, who’d accepted his Uber pay in equity and today oversees both a political strategy firm as well as a venture fund, tells us that he’s cashing out his shares as part of the new investment being made by a SoftBank-led consortium of investors who are buying both primary and secondary shares.
It’s time, he says. “We’ll see where it lands, but I’ve been in this thing forever, and it’s hard to see Uber [go public] for more than 1.5 x at where this lands. It would be an historic IPO, but you’re looking at two-years, plus a [standard] six-month lock-up [post IPO]. Can I do better than 1.5x in my other [investments]? Probably so.”
While Tusk hasn’t worked with Uber in some time, he’s still involved in plenty of regulatory clashes on behalf of other clients. We chatted with him last week to find out which battles he expects to be fighting in 2018.
Some of the issues he envisions getting involved in include:
Dockless bike sharing. “I think it’ll blow up,” says Tusk, and he isn’t using the word to suggest explosive growth, either. “Where the streets are crowded and you already have significant homeless populations, piling up bikes on the ground isn’t going to work. I do think you’ll see regulations enforced against it. It’s hard to see how it becomes ‘natural’ in really dense cities in the U.S.” (Worth noting: Tusk is an investor in Bird, a Santa Monica, Ca.-based scooter-share company whose CEO, Travis VanderZanden, worked previously as Uber’s vice president of driver growth.)
E-sports betting. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing Christie et al vs NCAA et al, the crux of which is whether the state of New Jersey can legalize sports betting in its state, despite a 1992 federal law that banned sports betting everywhere in the U.S. except Nevada. As Yahoo Finance reported recently, no matter the outcome, the gaming industry is optimistic that change is coming soon to America’s stringent gambling laws, including because President Trump is a former casino owner.
A win would “set off an insane frenzy in state governments across the country,” says Tusk. “For every e-sports company, it would all of a sudden be a battle royale with every state with casinos and Native American tribes,” some of which operate casinos on tribal land to provide employment and revenue for their government and their tribe members. “Assuming the Republican tax bill passes and [many] state and local deductions are eliminated, all blue states will need new forms of revenue, which is further incentive for [figuring out] sports betting.”
The legalization of cannabis [including on a federal level]. Tusk’s venture firm is an advisor to, and an investor in, the on-demand marijuana delivery startup Eaze. Cannabis will be “legalized in more places, and that’s good for [related] startups,” says Tusk, so it’s no surprise he is pushing on this one. “Though Congressional Republicans say they hate drugs,” he says, “if they take away revenue from people in California and New Jersey, these states have to make up the revenue somehow and they aren’t going to raise taxes, so I do think cannabis will [be legalized] a lot faster than otherwise.”
Worker classification. Yes, this is still a huge issue that, with no clear definition of what is and isn’t an independent contractor, despite that this affects employers’ obligation to pay overtime, withhold and pay taxes, and provide employee benefits. Tusk, like a lot of people, would like to see states grow far clearer in their language, though he says that labor unions “don’t want a clearer economy. Sharing economy companies are saying, ‘Just give us the rules. We’ll either live by them or we won’t, but it’s kind of undemocratic not to tell us.'”
Though the tax bill could potentially increase workers’ status as contractors, Tusk has meanwhile been putting more thought into portable benefits pools that would travel with a worker no matter how he or she earns money. The benefits wouldn’t be quite as expansive as for full-time employees, but in the scenario he imagines, “each company puts in a little bit, the drivers put in a little bit, and they can use it for heath care or their pension or whatever they want.”
It won’t happen overnight — if at all. Complains Tusk, “Labor unions should be pro contract workers getting benefits, but if everyone can have the flexibility of being an independent contractor while also enjoying benefits, why would anyone have jobs?”
Autonomous mobility. On this front, things are going well for cars but not so well for self-driving trucks, notes Tusk, whose team will be working in part to address this.
He points to the bipartisan support for the so-called “SELF DRIVE” Act, which quickly cleared the House with unanimous support in September but hasn’t been cleared yet by the Senate.
It right now looks positioned to become the first national law for self-driving cars in the United States. Alas, both the House and Senate bill exempt self-driving trucks in the wake of pressure from labor unions that are worried about both truckers’ job security as well as their safety. (The Senate bill also limits companies to making autonomous-only cars so long as they sell less than a certain number of units in a given year, capping the number at 15,000 vehicles in the first year, 80,000 in three years, and allowing an unlimited number of cars in the fourth year.)
Because of that exception for big rigs — “a win for the teamsters,” Tusk calls it — expect a huge, ongoing fight at every level of government, he says. “It’s so clear and easy to envision, before cars, a big battle between the Ubers and Waymos and Teslas of the world, and the teamsters. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. All the teamsters can do is use politics to slow things down.”
Mobile voting. Mobile voting has been near and dear to Tusk’s heart for some time and he has recently been promoting one company as a potential solution to the challenge of the lack of participation, particularly when it comes to local elections where turnout is often in the range of 10 to 15 percent. That company is Voatz, a four-year-old, blockchain startup that passed through the TechStars accelerator program this year and is dedicated to the way we conduct elections here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. One imagines that Tusk would work with anyone who he thinks can finally solve this issue, however.