San Francisco Bubble

The other week I spent some time visiting friends in San Francisco.  I’ve been going to SF on and off every year for about ten years now.  However on this journey, the weirdness of the city appeared to be at a whole new level.  I believe that San Francisco is in a financial and social bubble separate from the real world.

  1. Everything is too expensive.  I’m from New York, I expect the fine things in life to be expensive.  But EVERYTHING in SF is expensive.  Museums are $35, crappy local IPAs are 15$, tiny “artisanal” salads are 16$, etc..  Rent is the highest in the country.  How is any of this sustainable?
  2. There are thousands of dumb startups.  My friend let me work a little in his cowork space.  This office had at least a dozen startups in it.  As I walked to get coffee with another friend (YES I HAVE TWO FRIENDS) ten blocks away, I passed by dozens of these cowork spaces each with dozens of dumb startups.  A company to “disrupt the banana hammock ordering process” cannot possibly do well yet someone invested  money into it and it is paying employees.  Sure, some startups solve legitimate problems and have a lot of talent and chance for success, but a majority of them are silly.
  3. People are spoiled.  A friend of mine takes an uber to and from work every day, and apparently that is fairly common.  New apartment buildings have features like bringing your groceries up to your apartment for you.  Every food item has to be locally sourced and organic, which seems more important than taste and quality.  Engineers are particularly spoiled.  They can take an arbitrary sabbatical from work, they cannot be told no or reprimanded, and they make so much money that they can just take random breaks from employment to chill.
  4. There cannot be these many quality engineers.  I know SF has a lot of quality engineers and attracts a lot of talent.  But with the number of startups and dumb startups there must be a lot of not-so-great engineers filling these roles.  This reminds me of the first dot com bubble where people with degrees from devry were joining companies and making big salaries (sounds very similar to boot camps).  I’m sure some people from these programs become quality engineers.  However, that requires great mentorship and at the job learning.  I feel that the majority of them do not receive this.  You learn very different things working for a startup with 50 occasional users vs a startup at scale.

It feels to me that VCs and angel investors are pumping money into SF.  This money helps fund many tiny crappy startups.  The many startups pay large wages to engineers of widely varying talent.  They get spoiled and do / buy stupid shit.  This leads to SF being expensive and just weird.  I’m not saying I would never move there, just stating my observations.

Good Luck,
-Larry

24 thoughts on “San Francisco Bubble

  1. Most of these dumb startups are just “provide service to rich kids of silicon valley” and they will fail as soon as the bubble pops.

    Recently heard of a service refueling your car while it’s parked… How spoiled is something like this?😀

    1. On the contrary, on my last visit to SF I found many places sell local beers as cheap as $3 and we’re talking about Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and Stone IPA – both fine beers. $5 IPAs are easy to come by. I think you’re visiting the wrong happy hours!

      1. Who the fuck actually likes IPAs still? Who the fuck actually liked them in the first place and wasn’t just following the dumb fad? Disgusting beer, those IPAs. The lot of em.

    1. Exactly. When I chose to move out here from Brooklyn I went straight to Oakland, didn’t even consider SF. It’s been slowly turning into a terrible version of Manhattan for 20 years. It doesn’t have the infrastructure to support all these folks moving in and whatever fun quirky vibe SF had is being killed by people who are here for the tech gold rush.

  2. Bootcamps are not the same as Devry. A bootcamp is just an alternative trade education, not a degree mill. They are solving multiple problems including rapid training of a quickly growing occupation, and subvert the awful situation of institutionalized education.

    1. As a person who has interviewed a lot of people from various bootcamps, I would 100% disagree. They are *absolutely* degree mills. Sure, they give some basic knowledge, but the quality/depth of the education is highly questionable. There is a gold rush happening right now, and bootcamps are popping up all over the place to capitalize on the opportunity. They all make the same promises, and it’s flooding the market with over-confident and under-qualified “engineers”. The idea that someone can become a good developer in 10-weeks, 16-weeks, or even 24-weeks is just total bullshit. Sure, some people perform very well post-bootcamp. But generally speaking, they’re the minority, and I would assert that the reason they perform well is because they have a stronger innate ability to understand logic/code.

  3. I think comparing bootcamps to Devry is a bit harsh. I’m a self taught developer that started learning pre dot-com era. There wasn’t anything like bootcamps back then but if there were I think it would have been very beneficial for me. I’ve worked with several developers that have graduated from bootcamps and they are some of the best people i’ve had the pleasure to work with.

  4. I’m pleased somebody else has made this observation so concisely.

    I visited last summer; my first visit. I noticed the crap posters advertising mediocre startup businesses: “we are the Uber of x” or “the Facebook of y”. The whole thing seemed somewhat delusional and I heard from people many times that my business “had” to be here if it was to be a success.

    The one thing I could see was that there was a willingness to tolerate a lot of nonsense, which perhaps does make it a fertile ground for this sort of thing.

    “Fail fast” was quoted to me often, but this seemed to be used as an excuse to continue to push on in silly directions. Granted some good stuff has come out of the region, but to an outsider like me the city appeared to operating in its own little bubble with hyper-inflated cost of goods and perceived importance. Just how much of this money actually exists?

  5. Great observations! This is part of the reason why I left. I can’t stand the culture. Born and raised in the bay. Worked and lived there for over a decade after college. Killed it while I was there, but the life I was living wasn’t fulfilling. Traffic and the lack of any good transit system coupled with a toxic culture centered around possessions signaled that it was time to leave.

  6. Hi Larry, Am a reporter at CNN, would love to chat with you about this. What’s the best way to get in touch?

    1. rinse wash repeat since the gold-rush. booooom-then-bust=SF. No big deal. there remain a few natives and artists who will revive the place like spring once you hear POP goes the bubble.

  7. You’re from New York and are talking about SF being different??? Wtf… NYC is the weirdest damn place I’ve ever been in. Everything is overpriced to hell… So glad I don’t live here

  8. Have you ever actually *tried* to order a banana hammock? The process is terrible, and ripe for disruption.

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