Malcolm Gladwell and venture capitalist Bill Gurley had a spirited discussion on stage at the 2015 SXSW conference
. They covered a plethora of topics including missed investment opportunities, the state of healthcare in America and more.
They spent much of their hour-long slot discussing Uber, the fast-growing ride sharing company that has been prominent in the news recently. Benchmark, Gurley's investment firm, put money into the service when it was just getting started. Gurley said that Uber offers many benefits to not only people looking for a clean, affordable ride but for society as a whole. He told the audience that Uber creates thousands of jobs, reduces the amount of drunk driving, illuminates the need to construct big parking lots and reduces the waste of fuel from driving around looking for an open spot to park. In addition, he said the elderly and young children will start to see many benefits from Uber, saying the company is making strides in creating more access for these two groups.
Gladwell agreed with Gurley's assessment of Uber's positive impact on drunk-driving rates. He said that there have been more fatalities from drunken driving than the total number of people killed in war since the days of Vietnam. However, Gladwell diverged from Gurley when it came to their opinions on the fast-developing technology of the self-driving car. Gladwell opined that the self-driving car will negatively affect the number of jobs created by Uber. Gurley disagreed, saying that he felt the public will not accept accidents caused by driverless cars. He stated that it will cause the public to mistrust the technology, effectively ending their use. Gladwell countered that once the public realizes the overall number of traffic fatalities will be severely reduced, they will be more accepting of driverless cars.
They finished off their lively exchange by discussing the current tech bubble reflected by the incredible amount of cash going into startups from the investment community. Gurley has shared his concerns in the past about new companies being offered hundreds of millions of dollars in investment before they have shown any ability in scaling startups. Gladwell said he would be happy to take some of that money. Gurley indicated that investors in Silicon Valley have no fear at the moment, yet may be headed for a hard fall. His prediction was that there would be several "dead unicorns" appearing as overly confident investors began to see an increasing number of failed investments.