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He Thought He Could Outfox the Gig Economy. He Was Wrong

New York Times
International School of Beijing
Bank of America
City College
UC San Diego
Truth or Dare
JP Morgan Chase Institute
Fang to Cruise’s
Uber Eats
Whole Foods
Uber and Lyft
Uber, Lyft
ABC7 News
Condé Nast
Affiliate Partnerships

Jeffrey Fang
DoorDash Dad
Jason Bourne
Amazon Flex and
Jean-Luc Picard
Nancy Pelosi
Jose Vivanco
Bianca Santori
Fallon Brooks-Magnus
Christian Perea
Kris Rohr
Darth Vader
Scrooge McDuck
Jeff Fang
Tony Xu
hooked.”Jeffrey Fang


Fisherman’s Wharf
Silicon Valley
the Bay Area

Billionaires’ Row
Jackson Street
Union Square
Lake Tahoe
Golden Gate Park
California Privacy Rights.

San Francisco’s
Washington, DC
Palm Springs
Laurel Heights
New York City
Oklahoma City

the Great Recession
New Year’s

Positivity     47.00%   
   Negativity   53.00%
The New York Times
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But each stride is taking him farther from his unlocked Honda Odyssey minivan, parked illegally, engine humming, in a driveway where he was making a delivery, with precious cargo in the back seat.His kids.Earlier that day, Fang’s wife said she needed quiet in the house in order to tutor their 6-year-old son, because their kids are sure as hell not going to be gig workers. Fang starts yelling, “Give me back my phone!” and pushes the door wide with his right foot in hopes of smacking a parked car. He jumps out, panting, and then runs and speed-walks the two blocks back to his parking spot.The van is gone.Fang’s Honda Odyssey was carjacked, with his kids in the back, on February 6.Twelve years after the birth of Uber, the country—the world—is still reckoning with how the on-demand economy has upended the market­place and people’s lives. They speak of the flexible and temporary nature of gig work, how most people do it part-time or to get back on their feet—points repeated before federal judges and in Facebook ads and New York Times op-eds.Jeffrey Fang represents something else: the long tail of the economy that Uber built.Fang has worked in the gig economy full-time for seven years. He’s ready to explain.“The rideshare years were, in some ways, a tragedy of my own making,” Fang says. A familiar shame set in: “Forget your dream, you’re not going to make it.” So, he says, “I left.”During a trip to Beijing in 2013, Fang encountered a more welcome complication. His parents, he says, wanted him to get on with his life—their younger son was married, while Fang had “X number of failed relationships and nothing to show for it,” he says. What job would allow that?“I got good at it pretty quickly,” says Fang of driving. The companies’ pitch to drivers: In a city of hustling disruption, they too could be entrepreneurs.Fang just needed the money. “I got comfortable with this job really quickly,” Fang says, “and I got good at it pretty quickly.” Looking back, this was precisely the problem.In the beginning, Fang was the driver of Lyft’s marketing fantasies. This is gonna work out.On a walkie-talkie app called Voxer, Fang heard about a Lyft driver hangout in a shopping plaza in a nice part of town. Kris Rohr, a gamer from Palm Springs, who was the only driver in the group who could out-earn Fang.The group traded tips and barbs in their own channel on Voxer, like long-haul truckers on a CB radio. The group cued a recording of Rohr screaming, “There’s Prime Tiiime!” Or Fang would say, “Good luck. (Settlements came years later: Fang got $7,400 from Lyft and $3,800 from Uber but remained a contractor.) The companies retorted that they dealt in software, not driver services, and that labor laws were hopelessly out of date.While the Voxer group knew that Lyft was benefiting from the business model, most of them decided their real war was with Uber. “But I wasn’t happy about it,” he says.No one’s allegiance to Lyft was deeper than Fang’s, who credited the app with rescuing him from failure. “Jeffrey is the oldest young guy you’ll ever meet,” Brooks-Magnus says.When the Voxer group met during slow hours at 24-hour diners, Fang would order soup and gobble everyone’s leftover fries and burgers, spurring Scrooge McDuck jokes. “Imagine every time you got a TikTok notification, it gave you 10 or 15 bucks.”At one point, Brooks-Magnus, Vivanco, and Perea convinced Fang to teach them The Way, a tongue-in-cheek name for his sensei-like ability to rack up $2,500 a week while driving “clean”—no cheating shenanigans, just shrewd surge-surfing and grit. Nor did they know exactly why he’d disappear to China for weekslong stretches.Fang met his clique in a Laurel Heights parking lot where drivers hung out.In 2015 the friends pressured Fang to join them for a July trip to a cabin near Lake Tahoe, nearly four hours east of the city. On New Year’s, he accepted one last ride on his way home at 3 am, then, fatigued, rear-ended a parked SUV.The Acura needed more repairs than it was worth, so Fang decided it was time to get his dream car. Honda Odyssey.Rohr drove Fang out to the suburbs to pick it up.By the time Fang sailed out of the car dealership with his Honda Odyssey in January 2016, the long-running feud between Uber and Lyft had turned into a full-on price war. “Uber was the devil that you know,” Fang says. Even Fang had secretly tried some Uber rides.Around this time, the Voxer group gathered in Vivanco and Santori’s apartment in the Castro to launch a podcast. Like the GPS unit or something.” In the spring of 2016, she moved back to Oklahoma.Fang never took to Lyft telemarketing. After a couple of months, they were promoted to contractor jobs in the marketing department, inside Lyft’s headquarters.If Fang couldn’t make money playing by the rules, then no one could.In the summer of 2016, when Fang returned from a long trip to China, he was fixated on how the fare cuts had sliced into his earning potential. “The Way,” Perea says, “became the Way to Cheat.”The Voxer squad was now just Fang, Perea, and Rohr. “Everything was fair game,” Fang says. By 2017, rideshare drivers were making 47 percent of what they had in 2013, according to a JP Morgan Chase Institute survey, though they might have been working fewer hours; one think tank estimated that Uber drivers nationally were making $9.21 an hour after all expenses.For Fang the cheating became something of a crutch. “In Asia,” Fang’s mom, Annie, says, “everyone wants their children to be a doctor, lawyer, CPA, and an engineer in Silicon Valley.” But over the years, as she realized that Jeffrey’s driving wasn’t just some temporary gig, she made her peace. His cousin offered to refer him for a nontechnical role at the tech company he worked for, starting salary $60,000; Fang thought he could still make better money on the road. “The more you change your life to do this job, it’s easy to dig deeper and not want to give up on the idea that this is going to pay out.” One day, behind the wheel, Fang braced as he recognized his next fare. Wait—but you’re driving now?Yeah.Oh … how IS that?In China, Fang’s wife had stopped working to raise the kids; the money he sent was enough for her to make ends meet while living in his parents’ home. “It was like Catch Me If You Can,” he says.Bianca Santori and Jose Vivanco bootstrapped up from drivers to corporate jobs.In October 2018, back in San Francisco, the WhatsApp group huddled in a burger joint and sketched out a drivers’ association, a way to organize against the apps. Vivanco offered to refer his friend to his new bosses, but Fang wasn’t sure test-driving would be any better than ride-hail. “I see the growth you’ve had,” Fang told him, “and I wonder if I’ve missed the boat.”Fang could make just enough to keep adding a bit to his savings, but he was too drained to look for something better. Fang started plotting a course into another wing of the sharing economy: He’d renovate one of his mother’s investment homes to rent on Airbnb.In the fall of 2019, Vivanco and Santori married in an elegant ceremony in San Francisco’s Presidio, paid for with their respective six-figure salaries. Zero traffic, endless parking, no tickets—nothing but orders upon orders of takeout and end-times tippers, a gold-rush glory he hadn’t felt since the earliest driving days.“Does it make me a bad person to hope the pandemic doesn’t get better anytime soon?” Fang said into Rohr’s earpiece.“It just makes us greedy,” Rohr would say back. “I was trying to be a better husband to share the load,” he says, “even though I’m not successful, or you know, with a high-power earning job.” Though his bachelor working days were over, with the pandemic frenzy, Fang cleared $12,000 in May 2020.It couldn’t last, of course. They adapted again, drifting to DoorDash, scrutinizing incoming orders for profitability like diamond appraisers.During the pandemic summer, Fang started to pass billboards of smiling ride-hail workers in ads for a state referendum called Proposition 22. The move made a billionaire of CEO Tony Xu, the 36-year-old cofounder.Through the fall, to pad their plummeting delivery money, Fang and Rohr worked as census takers. A friend of his family’s in Beijing, who now lives in the States, texted Fang’s wife: “Did you know he was a driver?”“I still feel the pull,” says Fang about being behind the wheel. Fang still wants what the industry claims it offers: “I’ve gotten a taste of what it is like to be my own boss, and I want to be my own boss.” Fang finally finished the renovation of his mother’s investment house this spring and hopes to get it on Airbnb soon.

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