Tech startups are known for their aversion to government regulation. And the ridesharing industry is one area where that reputation has been well-earned.
Whether it's airport pickups, driver fingerprinting, or just being allowed to operate at all in some cities, Lyft and Uber have faced their fair share of battles to persuade state and local governments not to implement rules that would hamper their businesses.
But Lyft vice president of government relations Joe Okpaku doesn't view his company's relationship with regulators in contentious terms. He instead describes the role of regulation in Lyft's business as something of benefit. If you're facing confusion or skepticism about your business model--regardless of the field you operate in--his perspective could serve as a useful guide.
"I think of our team as being educators first. You can't ask somebody to enact appropriate legislation and laws for an industry that they don't understand," he says.
Okpaku says Lyft's approach is to show how its industry is unique and not merely another version of what's already out there. That helps combat the initial reaction to set regulations that shouldn't really apply.
"For ridesharing, it kind of seems like a taxi. Why don't we just apply taxi rules and be done with it?" he says. "And we knew that that would not work, but we had to take our time to explain to legislators and regulators why that wouldn't work."
When Okpaku joined Lyft's government relations team in 2013, no U.S. states had regulations specifically addressing ridesharing. Now 35 states do, he says. Legal controversies surrounding the industry are sure to continue, and cases where government agencies seek to enact laws that may not sit well with the ridesharing companies continue to crop up.
Still, Okpaku describes his general disposition toward implementing regulations as positive.
"When it comes to a new industry like this, I believe that regulations that are appropriate, that are specifically tailored for this industry, legitimize the industry," he says.