A month ago, I uprooted my family and moved to San Francisco.
I suspect some people in my personal and professional circles thought this was recklessly impulsive and spontaneous. The truth is I’ve been planning on making this move from day one of starting Clarity.
We work with technology companies — typically young, VC-backed technology companies. There are more companies that fit our typical client profile here in the Bay Area than anywhere on earth, by an order of magnitude.
So purely from a market opportunity perspective, and purely through the lens of being Clarity’s CEO, it was always crucial that we had a presence here.
Beyond my role with Clarity, I’m also increasingly interested in angel investing, and I’m fascinated by the potential of the burgeoning cannabis industry. These two interests are also better-served here than almost anywhere else.
Prior to moving here, I lived in New York where I spent nearly three years getting our office there up-and-running. By the time I left, it was stable and growing under strong local leadership.
In the best possible sense, I realised I was no longer needed in New York. The time came to move-on so I could offer maximum value to the company.
After a month of living and working in the Bay Area these are my initial observations:
1. Network is everything
I’ve never worked anywhere where your value and your opportunities are so closely tied to who you know, not what you know.
In the the most high-tech place on earth, it strikes me as strangely paradoxical that there’s so much emphasis on decidedly antiquated and low-tech ways of doing business. People seem to spend a huge amount of time meeting for coffees, lunches and beers.
2. It’s generous
Happily, given I arrived in San Francisco knowing virtually no-one, I found without exception that people are happy to meet total strangers (like me) and are incredibly generous in opening their own networks.
It seems that every new person I meet introduces me to another three interesting and relevant people. You can build a network fast in this city.
Several people have explained that this generosity comes from a deep-rooted sense of camaraderie and karma in the local tech community. Everyone helps everyone, and ‘what goes around, comes around’. It seems to be a key driver of the technology industry’s success here.
3. There’s so much going on
On a conscious level I knew to expect plenty of activity in the Bay Area’s technology sector. Silicon Valley is world-renowned as the global epicentre of innovation.
But nothing prepared me for quite how pervasive the tech industry and entrepreneurship is here. In the same way that everyone in Los Angeles has written a screenplay, everyone here is working on a startup.
I’ve already met two Uber drivers who pitched me their startups — one a high-end restaurant delivery service, another a directory for artisan wedding suppliers. They both were utterly convinced that I was one of their final Uber customers before the VC money started pouring in.
4. Things move fast
It might just be beginner’s luck, but I’ve already created three very exciting new business opportunities for Clarity. Generally people seem motivated to try stuff and make things happen. There’s a lot of talk, but it’s backed-up with a lot of action.
5. It’s curiously insular
Given this area has spawned pretty much all the major global technology giants of our time, I don’t sense a huge amount of curiosity about the world at large.
Certainly amongst the earlier stage startups I’ve met, most people seem myopically focussed on building a product for the local market and raising awareness of their brands within the Bay Area exclusively.
The attitude seems to be that this is where all the best tech talent is, and where the most VC money sits. If you can get traction with this crowd, you can get traction anywhere.
It makes total sense, but it does exacerbate the feeling of living and working in a bubble. And naturally I happen to think there’s a huge amount to learn from other markets in the US, and further afield. As globalisation continues to gather pace, I wonder whether Silicon Valley will be forced to be more outward-looking.
6. I’m loving it (so far)
I love new environments, and love meeting new people so it’s little wonder that I feel so positive about being here. I realise that I’m in a honeymoon period, however, and my perceptions will become more nuanced and balanced over time.
But the early signs are really encouraging: there’s so much opportunity here, the Californian attitude is extremely refreshing and Napa is just an hour north of where I live.