Austin Mayor Steven Adler on What Makes an ‘Entrepreneurial’ City

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Austin Mayor Steven Adler
Image courtesy of the city of Austin

On this episode of Office Hours, Austin Texas Mayor Steven Adler talks about why its ‘weirdness’ is key to the city of Austin’s success. He also talked about how governance differs from running a business, and where he sees potential pitfalls ahead.

Office Hours host Spencer Rascoff interviewed Mayor Adler at the Milken Institute Global Conference on May 2, 2022. Adler is the 58th mayor of Austin, Texas—a city that, along with L.A., has grown into a thriving hub of tech startups over the past two decades.

Adler said he’s witnessed the growth first hand over the past 10 years, as it became the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country. Beyond being a friendly city, he said Austin has always been an entrepreneurial and innovative place.

“Most cities in the world, you try something, you fail; it's hard to have access to the capital the second time," said Adler. "In Austin, the civic folk heroes are the people that tried something and it didn't quite work out and they worked on it until it did.”

That propensity for taking risks has been a part of the city’s maverick identity and the underlying meaning of its motto: “Keep Austin Weird.”

As the business community grows and housing costs go up, Adler said it’s crucial that the city continues to bring in new people and ideas without losing the artists who helped make it an innovative place.

“That's our existential challenge right now,” he said. “We want to be a city that continues to create art everywhere. And when we look at other cities that [were] earlier on the path that we're on right now, they evolved into cities that consumed massive quantities of art, but stopped creating art.”

Like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Austin faces a growing homelessness problem. Adler said he’s asked the leaders of other cities struggling with the issue what they would have done earlier–had they known what was coming. At the moment, he said, his city has been grappling with whether to invest in long-term, permanent housing or short-term triage solutions. The answer, he said, is to do both.

“I think it's really clear from watching cities that unless you do both, unless you do the entire spectrum, then it is going to fail, you actually need the system. And that's what we're setting up in Austin right now.”

Want to hear more episodes? Subscribe to Office Hours on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
PLUS Capital​’s Amanda Groves.
Courtesy of Amanda Groves.

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Courtesy of Rivian.

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