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A Plea to MTC to Move Past the Zero-Sum Game


A plea to the St. Louis MTC

Do the hard thing and continue to compete on innovation and competition rather than on regulation.

We’re a capitalist society. We believe in competition and the marketplace. We believe that these forces help drive innovation up and drive costs down, and we attribute the great successes of our country’s short history in relation to the rest of the world to it. It’s interesting, though; history shows that once someone reaches the top, they no longer are interested in competition, and instead, they begin to try to change the rules to protect their position. You don’t have to look any further than the gerrymandering of political electoral boundaries, corporate lobbyists or even our own MTC here in Saint Louis to see this in action.

And to some extent, this is just human nature. Everyone wants to stay at the top and fight the inevitability of what a capitalist society brings: constant innovation, constant competition, constant pressure. It can be exhausting to stay up top even if everything were on a level playing field. So, it’s seemingly inevitable that we have those in power trying to make sure it’s not a level playing field. Such is the case with the MTC. They are standing behind a safety issue when the public is pretty aware that it is just a territorial play to keep competition down. We know that just as much as we know UberX is not here to just give free rides and donate money to MADD. We are the largest market they are not in, so we represent a great revenue potential for them.

So I don’t blame the MTC for doing this; it’s not anything I haven’t already seen done in any other industry or any other city. This is (unfortunately) common procedure. But I do have a request (or rather, plea) for them:

Do the hard thing and buck the very human nature of protecting your small turf.

I was privileged enough to sit at a table in Holton Capital a few years back when something very pivotal happened for our city. A vast representation of the region’s venture money sat at that table, and it was decided (in no explicit terms) that they wouldn’t “let any entrepreneurs leave this city due to lack of funding.” Further, it was agreed, “Stop saying, ‘That’s not me.’ If you can’t help, send them to someone here in Saint Louis who can. We need to look beyond our boundaries and collectively keep these entrepreneurs here.”

This was before Capital Innovators, before Arch Grants, before Cultivation Capital, before SixThirty, before @4240 popped up on the Cortex campus, before T-REX. I could go on. The point here is that even though that meeting didn’t directly contribute to the formation of all of these great support programs, investors, mentors and so on, it signaled a shift in Saint Louis politics to look out for the greater good of the city. And the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Saint Louis has greatly profited from that shift in tone and culture. The list at the beginning of this paragraph is just a small snapshot of all the great things that have given rise to this great momentum in our region over the last two years.

I truly hope that MTC and other controlling/governing boards throughout the region are able to move past the initial gut feeling of “protecting the pie” to the more uncomfortable position of seeing the pie expand — even if that means letting other people in on making the pie. The MTC has touted its technology, and with some additional changes to the current system, there should be enough business for everyone. The last time I went to New York, there was no shortage of yellow cabs buzzing through the city streets — even with all of the UberX cars mixed in there. I see the same thing happening here. More options will just mean more people will take advantage.

And moving from a reputation of being the largest city to keep UberX out because the city is behind the times to being a welcoming party for new technology that goes along with that great entrepreneurial reputation we are building will go a long way in attracting more people to our region. And those people are more likely to need a lift. Be it cab or ride-share.

Please, MTC, see the pie expand. It will be better for us (and for you) in the long run.

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