He thought he could outsmart the gig economy. He was wrong


The job didn’t come naturally – “You’re driven to treat people like products,” he says – but it was a job he could do without a college degree. His mother, who divided her time between Beijing and San Francisco, began buying houses to invest. She tried to help Fang do business by having him process one of his loans. She also urged him to borrow for his own accommodation. Fang was 22 and only earned $ 40,000 after premiums, but that was 2004. He got a variable rate mortgage for a $ 638,000 cookie-cutter house in a popular neighborhood. His parents participated in the down payment.

Four years later, scraping the bottom of employee performance targets, he left the bank before being fired. Now 26, he returned to City College, this time diligently. He immersed himself in philosophy, was part of the waltz team and was elected to the highest student board, student advisor, hoping to apply for a transfer to his dream schools, Stanford and Berkeley. Fang was on the way up, haranguing the community college board to strengthen its leadership, pressuring the California legislature in the costume of Mao made for his graduation party, presiding over the graduation ceremony on the same scene that Nancy Pelosi. The guy who gets things done.

In 2010, with only a part-time job at a pet store, he was also the guy who often missed his monthly payment of $ 2,500 for his house. His house was not worth what he owed him, and in 2013 he was pushed into the ranks of the 10 million Americans whose homes were foreclosed during the Great Recession. He was lucky once again: his parents let him move into one of their investment houses, rent free. Yet the drudgery – his money problems, college politics, high school work – started to bring his grades down. A familiar shame set in: “Forget your dream, you won’t make it.” So, he said, “I left”.

During a trip to Beijing in 2013, Fang encountered a more welcome complication. His parents, he says, wanted him to continue his life – their youngest son was married, while Fang had “X number of failed relationships and nothing to show,” he says. They invited a young physiotherapist to dinner. He was struck by her gentleness and college education. They kept in touch and over the months, via texts and calls, he fell “super in love”. They started talking about marriage. He told her he was broke, his credit, and that he had no job. She said they would be okay with it. “I was like, ‘This is her.'”

Fang withdrew more than half of the money from his 401 (k) to buy a ticket to China for the wedding in April 2014. The plan was for his wife to eventually join him in San Francisco. But to make sure immigrants don’t become public burdens, U.S. citizens need assets to sponsor visa applications. Fang figured it would take months, if not more than a year, to raise enough money to bring his new wife to California. Shortly after his return to San Francisco, married but alone, he learns that his wife is pregnant. Now, with two people to sponsor and her empty bank account, the process was going to take longer. He needed a job where he could save money and also take time to visit Beijing for a few months a year. What profession would allow this?

One day, as Fang was walking through Union Square, a car covered with a Day-Glo mustache passed. He Googled “pink mustache”. As Fang became engrossed in City College politics, his adopted town had grown into a booming town after the recession. Since Uber’s creation in 2008, venture capital has infiltrated the so-called on-demand economy. Using freelancers to meet fluctuating customer demand, apps promised groceries delivered, Ikea cabinets assembled, dogs walked. Business talk to drivers: in a city in turmoil, they could also be entrepreneurs.

Fang just needed the money. He rode in his father’s 2002 Acura TL and opened the pink app. After a few hours of driving, he had earned $ 71. “I got acquainted with this job very quickly,” says Fang, “and I got good fast enough. In hindsight, that was precisely the problem.


At first, Fang was the driving force behind Lyft’s marketing fantasies. He happily took almost every ride for eight to ten hours a day. Customers have given him five-star reviews: “Great guy. Very smart. “He would wait half an hour, unpaid, for a couple to finish spitting on the sidewalk before either of them got inside. He handed out free bottles of water. chatted amicably, played at the classic resort, and dressed up as Batman for Halloween.

After a few months, Fang became more strategic. He divided the day to surf the morning and evening rushes, when the surge pushed up prices. From Thursday to Saturday, he drove the bar crowd home until just before dawn. Fang imposed a tight budget, ranging from the $ 3 Safeway burrito bowl or the $ 1.50 hot dog and soda at Costco. He brought home $ 1,200 a week before expenses – enough, because he lived without rent, to put money aside and send it to Beijing, where his wife had moved into her parents’ house. He would visit her, usually for about two months at the start of the year and again for a month in the fall. The app, the passengers and its strict frugality lined up in a virtuous circle. I help people. I earn money. It will work out.

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