Meet Startup @TW

San Franciscan moves to Taipei to develop his mobility business after working for Lyft


Editor’s note: Produced by Meet, this is one of a series of articles about foreign entrepreneurs who hold the Taiwan Employment Gold Card and the stories behind their relocation to Taiwan.

California native Alex Garcia moved to Taipei last year to live in a city he had enjoyed during his short stay as a visiting student at National Taiwan University. He told Business Next that he knew he wanted to come back, so after working for ridesharing company Lyft for two years, he boarded a plane that crosses the Pacific ocean and soon found himself re-exploring the Taiwanese capital by bicycle -- an integral part of the city’s public transport system.

Garcia praised Taipei for its developed infrastructure: subway and bus services are reliable and affordable, and “you can get anywhere in Taipei safely on a bike,” he said. “I want to live in a city where I can bike everywhere.”

Since 2009, the city of Taipei has been working with local manufacturer Giant to offer a public bicycle rental service called Youbike. So far, there are 13,000+ public bicycles served by 400+ docking stations, many of which are outside subway stations.

Bike share network in Taipei
Google Maps, YouBike App

He believes it makes the city an international hub for talent. “If people want to live here, it’s so easy to just come here,” he said. In Taipei, one can rely on public transport without investing in a car or bike.

As a person who enjoys walking, he also likes the walkability of the city. “Convenience stores and restaurants are within walking distance,” he said. “I don’t need to leave my area to go to the gym, doctor, pharmacy, [and so on.]” By contrast, in typical American cities, residents tend to spend some hours every day on travelling to and from different places, and there’s no way to reduce the amount of time spent on these trips unless they move to the downtown.

Working in the mobility sector, Garcia said he has been interested in “expanding transportation options that are sustainable and affordable.” During his two years at Lyft, he helped launch the bicycle sharing system in the San Francisco Bay Area and build 400+ bike stations. Now in Taipei, he told Business Next that he hopes to help other cities develop a transportation system of the same quality. “I want to live in a place that lives the values that I'm trying to help other cities have,” he explained.

As a gold card holder

Launched two years ago, the Taiwan Employment Gold Card is part of a government initiative to attract highly-skilled foreign talent to Taiwan. The government has identified several key areas, under which qualified foreigners can apply for the Gold Card, like Science & Technology, Economy, Finance, among others. They will be assessed under a set of specific requirements defined by the corresponding government agencies (such as the Ministry of Science & Technology and Ministry of Economic Affairs).

The card, valid for up to three years, puts together four crucial documents for foreigners to live and work in Taiwan: resident visa, Alien Resident Certificate (ARC; the card which proves the holder’s right to legally reside in Taiwan), multiple entry permit, and open work permit (it allows the holder to work for any employer(s) in Taiwan).

Garcia applied under the category of Economy and has just recently received his gold card. He said it’s the simplest option as all he needed to do is to verify that his income was above a certain threshold last year, though he hopes submitting the W-2 form that comes out once a year isn’t the only way to do so.

The card ensures him a stable home and health insurance in Taiwan for three years, and he doesn’t need to be sponsored for a regular employment visa by working for a local company. The open work permit gives him full flexibility to work on his project or for a Taiwanese company and any transition will be seamless.

Describing his mindset as “Asian,” he applauded that the gold card allows him to develop his business at a slower pace. “I can create company [in Taiwan] when I’m confident enough, when there’s enough clients, [and] when I can give someone a stable job,” he explained. In his hometown California, most companies, like Uber, don’t make a single cent for years, and “everyone thinks that's ok.” However, he believes only revenue pushes his business forward.

In Taiwan, Garcia founded Taipei Urbanism, a transportation consulting firm, where he helps mobility companies from the US and Europe complete their proposal for transportation projects to be submitted to the government. “I submit the work in a way that’s easy to look at for them to make a decision or get to the next step of the project,” he explained.

Meanwhile, he now works as a volunteer in the city government of Taipei; this allows him to learn from the local community and later apply the lessons to his work. Also, due to the nature of the industry he works in, it’s valuable for him to be close to the government.

In the future, he plans to create a Taiwanese branch for his company, which should make it easier for him to compete for government grants, for example, on energy transition and smart mobility. He’s also open to working with Taiwanese companies -- that are developing mobility solutions or manufacturing hardware products -- and helping them go global.

“There’s so much potential for Taiwan to be a big player in electric trams, buses, and batteries,” he said. For example, the southern city of Kaohsiung boasts the world’s first wire-free light rail system in which trams charge their batteries for around ten seconds at each stop to make it to the next. Electric buses are also becoming more and more common on the streets of Taiwan.

Taipei Metro

With 24 years of experience of managing metro systems, he said, Taiwan should be able to help developing countries in Southeast Asia build and maintain a reliable and efficient system, too.