Entrepreneur, traveler, public speaker
Kevin Bracken
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The Time Adam Vaughan Pressured Me To Change a Torontoist Post

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In September of 2007, Toronto’s most interesting temporary nightclub, CiRCA, was about to open. Exiled New York City club king Peter Gatien of Party Monster fame granted me an interview about the entertainment facility; I was thrilled. The club had faced years of delays, mostly regulatory, led by an alliance between the AGCO and Adam Vaughan. Vaughan was the local councillor in the ward, and one of his raison d’êtres was putting a cap on the number of nightclubs in Toronto’s Entertainment District, something about which we frequently sparred in public forums.

I faithfully transcribed my interview with Peter Gatien in the Torontoist post and I was very happy with it. It gave a glimpse into an amazing project many people thought was going to be just another mega-club on Richmond Street, when it was so much more. Not everybody was happy with the post, though.

A day after I posted it, my phone rang. It was Adam Vaughan and he was pissed. Apoplectic even. His objection was the following line in the post, specifically the second clause:

My guess is it’s probably some special interest like real estate developers, my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area. -Peter Gatien

He yelled at me for roughly twenty minutes, saying the post was libelous. I objected, saying I had only transcribed another person’s words, and he said I knew nothing of the laws of Canada because I was a “foreigner.” He said that Torontoist could be sued, I could be sued, and I should know better than to insinuate that he took money from developers and that they were affecting his judgment on the local nightlife issue. He brought up his decades-long journalism credentials, as well as his campaign promise not to accept developer money. He was furious.

What I did next was definitely the wrong move: I changed the post without asking my editor David Topping. Adam had given 20 year-old me a good scare, and he convinced me that I was somehow guilty of libel. I removed the line that says, “my guess is their contributions to campaigns have influenced politicians who might want to help companies develop in the area,” and replaced it with a line I had edited out for brevity: “To the condo developers, this area is still pretty cheap.”

For the record, I know Adam Vaughan never accepted developer money for his campaigns. He made a point of this and published a list of his contributors; no developers were on the list.

This story is one of three times Adam and I publicly faced off; the other notable one was when he called me “a tough little 20 year-old” for challenging his infamous “mess of drugs and graffiti” video that he eventually pulled from his first campaign website.

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Politics

The UP Express is Pretty Bad

Andreas Souvaliotis had a piece on Huffington Post today called I Rode Toronto’s New Airport Express Train and It Was Awful, which reminds me: so did I, and it was also awful. I insisted to my wife that we try out this new technological wonder, as it runs by our apartment every 15 minutes, despite her protests. I bought both of our tickets (total: $44) when she reluctantly agreed.

Sure enough, I would be regretting my decision, as our estimated 20-minute ride to Bloor GO station (roughly Bloor & Dundas) ended up taking over an hour as we sat behind a random red light three minutes east of the airport for about 50 minutes, despite no other train traffic crossing our path.

Luckily I live-tweeted and recorded the whole thing with a stopwatch (64 minutes to Bloor station!) and Global News (video above) ended up doing an on-camera interview an hour after I got home. A Metrolinx spokesperson said it was a signal malfunction, and I understand these things happen. I believe that the trains are usually on time. However, my feeling is this: To charge $27 for this train is insane. If you split an Uber between two people it will always be cheaper, and almost certainly more convenient, as you can take it to any transit connection you want. UP Express should cut the fare to $6, $7 and $10, for Weston, Bloor and Union Stations respectively. Otherwise, nobody will ride this thing after the Pan Am games (and, judging by how bad the signage is at Pearson, possibly not even during) and it will become a money pit.

UP Express has offered a refund; I am supposed to be getting a cheque in the mail in “4 – 6 weeks.” Stick to Uber or the subway for now, the UP Express is not worth the premium.

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Personal

Announcing What’s Different in Canada: The Book!

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We are extremely excited to announce What’s Different in Canada – the book! Featuring expanded content, original illustrations by Marie Poliak, and bonus material, to be released in July. And best of all, if you subscribe to the newsletter, the ebook is completely freeFind out more at What’s Different In Canada.com.

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Politics

#GardinerEast Debate Foolishly Assumes Humans Will Still Drive Own Cars in 2031

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Every so often, a debate that would normally be of trivial importance in another city becomes this all-consuming monstrosity in Toronto; today’s cataclysm-du-jour is the removal of the eastern span of the Gardiner expressway. On one side is essentially every transportation expert in Canada in favour of a plan to remove 10% of the expressway to create a grand boulevard and open up the land to development. On the other side is a small cabal of the Mayor, some lobbyists and the CAA in an option disingenuously called the “hybrid” option, which actually just preserves the existing road. Proponents of the latter have argued that removing the expressway will add 3-5 minutes of commute time for a small number of drivers by 2031.

The problem? Humans won’t be driving cars in 2031.

Lest we forget: self-driving cars are already here. Teslas will get highway self-driving in the next firmware update, you don’t even need to buy a new car. Many new cars already have “active follow,” which allows hands-free gridlock movement. Mercedes has created a self-driving truck. And most notably, Google’s self-driving cars have driven millions of miles on public roads with only a single accident not caused by a human driver in six years.

Self-driving cars will eliminate gridlock and double the capacity of the highway system. One of the things that will surprise children in 2031 is that yes, just 15 short years ago, people actually drove their own cars. We will have self-driving taxis that can cheaply take us and a few others (reminiscent of UberPOOL in New York and San Francisco, but robotic) and the need to own a private vehicle for city driving will quickly evaporate.

With this in mind, provided we continue to build at least some kind of appropriate public transit in Toronto, commute times will actually decrease over time, for both the “remove” and “hybrid” options. So why would we ever spend an extra $500M to improve the commute times of people in 2031, while ruining any chance at building a beautiful waterfront east of Jarvis, when their commute times may actually be half of what they are today?

#tearitdown

 

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Politics

Why I Now Support the NDP

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I was one of those Americans who threatened to move to Canada if George W. Bush was reelected. Rewind to March 2003: I was 17 years old living in New York. Classmates were still mourning parents who’d lost their lives on 9/11. The Patriot Act, the War on Terror, and the War in Afghanistan had been in full swing for a year and a half. The president announced that our country would be conducting a campaign of “shock and awe” to oust President Saddam Hussein from Iraq. There were whispers of a possible draft, right as I was about to reach draft age. I led a walkout at my high school to protest the illegal invasion.

Right at that time, the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, announced that Canada would not be joining this senseless war of adventurism. At that moment I declared that if George W. Bush was reelected, I would move to Canada, and decided to visit Toronto for the first time.

Chrétien’s Canada circa 2003 was an amazing place for a young progressive. Beyond Canada refusing to be complicit in the war, Ontario and British Columbia had just legalized same-sex marriage as I was starting the Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school. The GDP grew by 3.1% that year. The country was on track to a sensible drug policy. The wealth gap was still small compared to the US. Many of these things could be attributed to the Liberal majority in both Ottawa and Queen’s Park, and it left a lasting impression. After I moved to Canada, my support for the Liberals continued, even as the Conservatives wrested power and have formed the government for the last 9 years.

Tomorrow morning, an e-mail from me will be sent to NDP supporters in the new University-Rosedale riding in Toronto, urging people to support and donate to the Jennifer Hollett campaign. How did this happen? Bill C-51. Bill C-51 is Canada’s version of the Patriot Act, and it has passed the House of Commons with the unanimous support of the Liberal Party. I am shocked, outraged, and feel so disappointed in the party I have supported since 2003. C-51 is an egregious violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that has been roundly criticized by experts from all ideological backgrounds, and the NDP is the only party that can repeal it. A vote for the NDP is a vote to repeal C-51, and I will be knocking on doors to tell people my story this summer.

Last weekend I went to my first NDP event, Jennifer Hollett’s campaign launch. I was surprised to be greeted by so many who knew me, and I realized, maybe the NDP has actually been the party for me all along. Ideologically, I have always been more progressive than the Liberal Party, and I see in the NDP a party committed to building a more compassionate Canada, and bringing a social democratic government to this country. I am inspired by Jennifer and her team. They said the NDP couldn’t win in Quebec; they did. They said the NDP couldn’t win in Alberta, they did. They say the NDP can’t form the government federally. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

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Entrepreneurship

Thinking of doing a startup? Try Airbnb first

They say there is no “school” for startups, and that no matter how many blog posts or Paul Graham essays you read, you can only learn how to do a startup by experience. I disagree – if you want to see if you’re well-suited to running a startup, set up a profitable Airbnb first.
 
Airbnb? Startup? What does one have to do with the other, you ask?
 
By running an Airbnb, you will learn the following skills: assessing markets, hiring people you trust, customer service, cutting costs, growing revenue, legal compliance, copywriting, contract law, and hustling hard. If you are doing an Airbnb in New York, for example, you will have to aggressively negotiate with everyone from your landlord to shady contractors to mattress wholesalers.
 
It doesn’t necessarily need to be your own apartment; in fact, it’s better if it’s not. Rent an entirely separate apartment and treat it like a business. Incorporate a legal entity (for tax purposes) and track your revenue and expenses. Hire somebody to clean it between stays or do that part yourself. Learn how to systematize guest checkin (Keycafe or a Master Lock Key Box) and how to deal with guest complaints. Rent multiple rooms or Entire Apartment rentals. You will learn a ton about business.
 
The major upside of Airbnb is that it is not nearly as hard as a startup, and won’t take much time after it’s set up. Airbnb is growing rapidly, and as long as you’ve chosen your location correctly, you will become profitable in two or three months. There is a big safety net, the tools are already built out, and you should be able to afford the startup costs with your own money or the help of a relative. If you can’t make money off Airbnb, you have no business running a startup.
 
And here’s the thing: after running a successful Airbnb, you may realize, “Hey, this is pretty sweet” and not want to run a startup. You may actually be more suited to running a lifestyle business, which is a great gig if you’re cut out for it. Quit dreaming of raising capital and read The Four Hour Work Week and subscribe to the AppSumo mailing list instead. If all you’re dreaming of is “being your own boss” and generating a recurring monthly revenue that frees you up to do the things you love, DON’T DO A STARTUP.
 
However, if you decide that yes, you will still commit yourself to quitting your job, building a product, raising money and everything else, keep the Airbnb – you’ll need it when you’re broke. If you don’t think you could go broke running a startup, you almost certainly will at some point. The Airbnb money will increase your “personal runway,” meaning even when times are really tough and you’re living off ramen and sleeping on couches because raising money has taken a lot longer than you thought it would, you will have an advantage over other startup guys in your situation. Hell, you may even be able to make a pretty normal American salary on Airbnb in just your spare time, and be able to test out a few different ideas for your startup instead of saying, “This one has to work.”
 
So before you decide to double down on a single startup idea and risk it all, see if you’re really cut out for it, and give yourself a safety net, by trying out Airbnb first.

 

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