VC Bill Gurley and Malcom Gladwell talk Auto Innovation at SXSW

By Amanda Lewan on March 15th, 2015 / Comments

At a keynote chat today VC Bill Gurley and award winning journalist Malcom Gladwell shared insights into the world of auto innovation, with lessons for us back in Michigan.

Gurley is an investor in Uber, Snapchat, Twitter, Yelp and more through his company Benchmark Capital. Today’s chat offered some great insights for entrepreneurs back home interested in this industry.  In the mobility world Uber has grown tremendously since their launch in 2009.  Gurley and Gladwell shared with us why ride sharing companies like Uber are the next step in auto transportation.

Ride sharing services like Uber can be safer. Gladwell pointed out there are 10,000 deaths a month from drunk drivers, and both remarked how Uber offers a safer alternative. People are using it when they go out on weekends instead of driving home. Gurley cited other examples such as moms who feel safe telling their child to use Uber in an emergency, or to send off an elderly relative in a car.

Uber is creating jobs very, very quickly. While in Detroit we have been recovering from the loss of auto manufacturing jobs, Uber is adding jobs at a rate of 50,000 a month globally. Gurley sited this as transformational for the economy, and cited Uber as of the fastest growing Silicon Valley companies based on job creation. “Traffic has dropped in the valley. We grossly underestimated the demand for transportation services,” he said.

Cars aren’t a product in demand for millennials. When asked about the auto industry in the Midwest, the conversation turned to a reflection of new product and service-based interests. Both Malcom and Gurley cited that millennials want to be able to share utilities, and don’t necessarily think of cars the same way as previous generations had.  Do you think this is true?

The millennial doesn’t care about the car,” said Gurley. “They view cars as a utility not a social status. This was way different than my generation.”

Sharing is the next step for innovation, not driverless cars yet. So what happens when driverless cars hit the market? Will this change Uber and the big three automakers? Gurley believes we are still a long way from driverless cars. This he suggested is due to the rate of errors that must be eliminated. Humans will have much less tolerant for errors made by a driverless cars, he said during the talk.

A major question for us in Michigan came up: What will the impact be for auto makers in the Midwest with a company like Uber? Is it too soon to tell?

Both Uber and Lyft are available in Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor and a couple other Michigan cities. The big auto makers here are focusing on new ways to increase technology building the connected car. But the rapid growth of a startup like Uber has to leave us guessing: are we missing out on other forms of transportation with ride sharing?

We’ll to wait and see.


About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.