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03 June 2016 - 03 June 2016

Tech & Policy in a Globally Connected Era, a Conversation with Betsy Masiello

  • Rhodes House
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In our connected age, a new technology can affect tens of millions of people faster than at any previous period in human history. The people and companies who build those products quickly learn that doing so sustainably requires more than a new technological solution. Think of Google indexing the world's information, Facebook making the world more open and connected, Uber making transportation as easy as touching a button, or AirBnB making it easy to belong anywhere. All grand missions but ones that require negotiation with policymakers and users around the world. Join us to hear about Betsy's experience managing these issues at Uber today, and to learn about potential careers in tech policy.

Betsy Masiello is the Director of Economics and Public Policy at Uber. Prior to joining Uber, Betsy spent seven years at Google where she led public policy on issues including privacy, child safety, tax, security and controversial content. Before Google, Betsy was a consultant at McKinsey & Company and advised global telecommunications companies on new business strategies for emerging technologies. Betsy holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in economics from Oxford where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and a master’s degree from MIT’s technology & policy program.

Only minutes had passed when the porters closed the John McCall McBain room after Betsy’s talk, or so I thought. At the same incredible speed at which Uber is expanding, Betsy walked us through what it means to do public policy for the tech juggernaut.

Betsy views Uber as a company of the second phase of the internet, i.e. one that benefits from the online world but has a heavy offline component to its business model. While companies like Google, where she worked before, can reach the global community without leaving their headquarters, every new city that Uber launches in requires people on the ground. Therefore, adding a new location to the portfolio often means making a political statement.

The combination of rapid expansion powered by the internet with the requirement of having a local presence is what makes public policy work at Uber both interesting and stimulating, says Betsy. In each country the company launches in, the regulatory system was built for the taxi industry, not an online-based business. Therefore, Uber spends a significant amount of time on educating and working with local administrations to shape the legal framework they operate under. The core challenges in Betsy’s work include ensuring consistent communication throughout the company, managing a globally spread out team, and dealing with the organizational challenge of standardizing internal reporting for culturally different offices.

According to Betsy, Uber has a vastly different culture in every location they operate in, which is part of what makes her work exciting. When asked why Uber doesn’t strive to implement a consistent culture across all sites, Betsy says that the company’s diverse culture is one of the key success factors for the transportation business. While the US offices are operated as American businesses, the Chinese locations work like Chinese businesses. This makes it easier to adapt to local legislation and market trends.

Marvelling at the pace of both Betsy and her employer as we walk home, it becomes obvious to us that there are market dynamics Uber still hasn’t cracked. The service has yet to be launched in Oxford.

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