nathan heller

nathan heller bw

[new york]

intro’d to Nathan via this article.. that took up my whole day to read/take-in..

Nikhil sent this to me in the am.. it’s now 2pm. so much in this one post..

i met Laura and Leila and Johnny and the sub and…  and got some reaffirmation on … the thing i/we can’t not do.

[interesting.. why does it say oct 14. today is the 8th]

san fran via nathan heller


tons from the article:

San Francisco’s young entrepreneurs appear less concerned about flaunting their earnings than about showing that they can act imaginatively, with conspicuously noble ethics.
I didn’t understand how people like Hwin appeared to float above the exigencies of career.
The future of tech influence is not suburban, as it has been for half a century. It’s the city.
“It’s much more a campaign-based model, where you’re going to crush it for a few years and then be absent for a while,” Bahat said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called a C.E.O., and it’s like, ‘I’m at a meditation retreat!’ or ‘I’m tied up for the next three months!’ ” The meditation lacuna is as much a mark of success as the chockablock schedule, since stepping away is something that only high-achieving people can do. Once, when Bahat reported on LinkedIn that he was leaving a job by changing his status to “Doing Nothing,” his New York friends fretted, and promised to let him know if they heard of any openings. His Bay Area friends, meanwhile, congratulated him on his exit.
At some point, in other words, tech stopped being an industry and turned into the substrate of most things changing in urban culture. That broadening has had other effects. Like many observers, I’ve been dimly aware of a shift in the country’s aspirational character over the past few years. It showed up in what people—mostly ambitious middle-class city people—wanted from life, and how they reached for it. Many did good works or started companies that did them. Many who’d been racing up ladders in New York or Los Angeles or Washington dropped everything and moved out to the Bay Area to work. You could enter any coffeehouse in certain neighborhoods there and hear kids talking eagerly about creative plans, a rarity in most cities thought to have inventive youth cultures.
Investment now stays private and low to the ground: by the time a startup goes public, much of the tech community has put its money in and reaped its benefits. This has enabled San Francisco entrepreneurship to operate by its own rules.
The same systems that make outsourcing of small tasks more efficient have driven down the cost of launching a company. 
All this scaling down, Ravikant thinks, has encouraged new, more rewarding life styles. “I have this guy who’s driven me around in Sidecar a bunch of times,” he said. “He lives in Tiburon. He golfs every day at noon in Palo Alto. On his route from Tiburon to Palo Alto, he stops in San Francisco. He hits a button, turns on his Sidecar, picks his rides, does five or six, rejects two, meets new people, chats them up, and then he continues driving to Palo Alto, having picked up his golfing money for the day.” Ravikant envisages a future in which everybody is a private contractor, snatching jobs out of the ether, working for one another as they please—a future much like today’s San Francisco.
A couple of days before the feature launched, Ravikant saw a panel interview with Fred Wilson, one of the country’s leading venture capitalists. Wilson laid out a nearly identical scheme to explain how the industry might look twenty-five years from now. Ravikant e-mailed him at once. “I’m like, ‘Fred, we’re doing exactly this,’ ” he told me.

He’s concerned about young entrepreneurs. “Because it’s so much easier to start companies, I worry about entrepreneurship getting trivialized,” he said. “People maybe don’t think big enough.”

And, along with the freewheeling schedule, it may help explain why much about the growing startup culture has a dreamy, arty, idealistic bent: this is the whimsy of youth carried to a place where youth and whimsy have not often thrived. 

In 1966, Hendrik Hertzberg, then a young Newsweek reporter in the Bay Area, wrote about San Francisco’s “new bohemianism”:

The hippies, much more numerous than the Beats ever were, accentuate the positive. . . . Like the Beats, they are dropouts from the conventional “status games,” but, unlike them, have created their own happy lifestyles to drop into. “In a way,” says Jerry Garcia, twenty-four, lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead and one of the cultural heroes of Haight-Ashbury, “we’re searching for respectability—not Ford or GM respectability, but the respectability of a community supporting itself financially and spiritually.” 

The youth, the upward dreams, the emphasis on life style over other status markers, the disdain for industrial hierarchy, the social benefits of good deeds and warm thoughts—only proper nouns distinguish this description from a portrait of the startup culture in the Bay Area today. It is startling to realize that urban tech life is the closest heir to the spirit of the sixties, and its creative efflorescence, that the country has so far produced.

Still, there’s a crucial difference. If a big impulse behind the hippie movement was metropolitan communitarianism, what’s going on now drifts markedly toward privatization.

In June, I met with Kyle Kirchhoff, who had recently co-founded a transportation startup called Leap Transit. San Francisco’s public-transportation system, known as Muni, is a notorious mess, and Leap has tried to take some of the burden off: it launched a private shuttle, with a six-dollar fare (the Muni fare is two), to cover the same route as the overcrowded 30X Marina Express. Leap buses have leather seats and Wi-Fi. Riders use their phones to pay and track the vehicles’ progress.

..What was missing, he thought, was imagination and a free spirit. Too much of American working culture was about the profit. 

Take buses. “The ones that are made over in Europe, or Japan, they were just, like, awesome. They’re inspired.” American-made models, less so. “They didn’t start with ‘Hey, how can we make a really great bus?’ They started with ‘Hey, how can we make some money?’

Kirchhoff saw things differently. Part of the reason the Muni bus was bad, he said, was that there was no market competition to make it better. “I think choice is a wonderful thing, and I think that competition is a good thing, too,” he told me. “Not competition in the sense like ‘Hey, we’re trying to put you out of business’ but ‘Hey, we’re bringing something else to the table, and we’ve got some different ideas about how things work.’ ”

If the old activism focussed on public infrastructure, the new model takes privatization as its premise.

notice the big difference competition-thinking makes…


find/follow Nathan:

link twitter

twitter bio:

New Yorker staff writer, Vogue film & TV critic, semi-pro eavesdropper, overcaffeinated earth child.