Office Hours: I'm the global head of cities and transportation policy at Uber.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy for cities and transportation at Uber. I’m also on the board of SPUR and ioby and the founder of Make Public.

My work has always focused on urban design and policy. Previously, I was a commissioner at the Public Design Commission of the City of New York. I taught urban design at Columbia, was executive director at Gehl Institute, and a climate change director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ask me anything about leadership, policy, being on boards, civic engagement, non-profits vs tech start-ups, and more!

Thanks so much for joining us @ShinpeiTsay!Elphas – please ask @ShinpeiTsay your questions before Friday, September 3rd. @ShinpeiTsay may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites πŸ”₯πŸ‘πŸΎβž•
So good to see you here and thanks as always, for sharing your experience and mentoring others! πŸ’™
Thanks for reading! :-)
Hi & thx for doing OH. My question is how did you go from city to city to get so many licenses put in place when you were first starting out? As a Startup Founder I am doing the same with consumer brands, but wondered if there was a secret to scaling up more quickly vs. going to one at a time, etc. Thx!
I'm not an original Uber, so can't speak to those OG days. But if there's anything to know about the company it's that it didn't necessarily seek out licenses, it often launched where it saw an opportunity and dealt with the consequences afterwards. (Depending on the market) One could say that the company is still evolving and dealing with those consequences and there's a different company that's being grown at the moment. A good book about how the company originally got the flywheel going is Superpumped.
Awsm - will get on that book. Thx!
Hi Shin-pei, thank you for this!As an urban planner (employed by a large municipality) hoping to make a change and join a start up in the urban/smart cities sphere, I'm really curious to hear which tools/qualities you think someone from the governmental/policy side can bring to tech, and what a career shift like this might look like. Would appreciate any tip or insight. Thank you!
Thanks for the question! Your hands-on understanding of about the inner workings of a city and public agencies is already a very positive asset. Corporate policy for tech could include everything from understanding policy structures and processes so as to better understand how to fit the technology within the city's physical and organizational infrastructure, being able to conduct risk assessments against the real-world and community contexts (not only end-user or software security, as contrast), and even design campaigns or strategies to get policy to change. As an urban planner, you would know how those things happen, what gaps any city might have, how a city would interact with a given piece of technology. Think about ways you can apply that to any roles you might be eyeing. In terms of a shift from public sector to private and specifically tech, there are some big differences! I've really enjoyed it though. One to be aware of is that companies have a profit motive even if they have a public benefit, all activities have to have a business impact. Second is that the pace is much faster, there's much less time to ruminate and much greater emphasis on action. Both of those things can make work really fun though.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response!
Hi @ShinpeiTsay you have such an amazing career trajectory! A fellow urban planner and a middle-manager at a non-profit here, I wonder if you have any advice on how do you break into senior roles? What qualities and skills to emphasize? If you were hiring an associate director, what top skills you would be looking for? Thank you!
Thank you! I think this transition can often be such a black box, especially if there aren't mentors or others around you to model the behavior. It ultimately depends on the kind of job function but a few common qualities come to mind: the ability to think beyond your role and about the big picture; to be able to prioritize strategy or decisions in ways that impact the entire organization, not just your specific team. But not at the expense of your team either. I don't think it has to do with being louder or more assertive, there are so many kinds of leaders! But I do think being able to contextualize and contribute to decisions at a higher level - and do it in a way that feels comfortable to you! - can help start to hone those executive functions that can push you towards more senior roles. It's not just managing multiple things at once, it's more about honing on what's most important and being able to persuade people to see your POV.
@isabelleji thought this QandA might be helpful for you!
Hey, ShinpeiTsay, welcome! And thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I am curious about your preferred ways to motivate your team, especially those people who either coast or see their job as a place to clock in and clock out. I'm struggling, as a team leader, to engage some people meaningfully, and I don't think firing everyone when they display such behaviour is the β€œgo-to” answer. I believe in their potential, but it's hard to get them to deliver outside their designated box. Thanks!
I often think showing people how their work is part of a larger context or has more impact can be a good motivator. Sometimes there isn't an obvious vision from the place you work or your leaders, so as a leader, you have to define that mission/purpose for your team. It can even be a small impact, it so long as the impact resonates with your team. An example is the pop-ups we launched this past year to support Black-owned restaurants. The first project in Harlem had a LOT of contracts, many partners, and the structure of the partnerships, which were community-based, was somewhat new to some colleagues that we needed to bring into the project. More importantly, the project was not necessarily part of their day to day job responsibility. But demonstrating how merchants would benefit and sharing the goal of including the larger restaurant community and neighborhood converted people into champions of the project. That project continues to provide benefits to the neighborhood and people feel proud for having been a part of it.
I also meant to say that all managers and leaders have been there! Hang in there.
Also, one more question, if you will have time to answer: how can one get themselves as a board adviser, even without any financial benefits?
Thanks for your interest to serve on Boards! I should clarify that I have served on non-profit boards, not corporate boards. There's no compensation for serving on non-profit boards -- and often you will be asked to contribute financially to the organization - but the strategic guidance, good governance, and oversight roles are common between the two. For non-profit Boards, I suggest getting involved with organizations that resonate with you and even volunteering your services if you feel that there's something you can do for them. Get to know the staff and leaders, or even other Board members, as they're often looking for new Board members since many Board roles are term limited. Ask if someone would be open to a (virtual) coffee break. Don't worry so much about whether or not what you do is a "good fit" for what they do; there are often many types of roles that Board members can provide in service of an organization and it's healthy for organizations to have diverse perspectives to inform their work as they evolve.
Dear Shinpei,Thank you so much for your willingness to take questions here! I am interested in urban design and the needs of women, specifically around transportation. Are women's needs taken into account in urban design currently? If so, in what ways? Do you have any recommended resources for further study?Thank you again,Emily
Hi Emily, thanks for the question. Women's needs aren't taken into account in urban design, our built environment is more often designed for the "average" - which often means an able-bodied white male. They overlook the needs of women, children, the elderly, and people who need assistance with walking. Urban planning and design as a profession itself is still a very male-dominated profession with women in the minority. A good book to better understand just how much the environments around us are biased against women is Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez. It's on my reading list!And a city that has been pioneering more gender-inclusive city design is Vienna. Here's an interesting article that highlights some of the initiatives they have, which detail the ways small design interventions can make a huge difference in making places more women-friendly: