Living and working in startup town…for a week

One might think the Knowledge Bird had flown the coop. Not so much. But, I did fly Stateside to spend last week in the office with my Zendesk homies.

I figured, why not take advantage of Mr Knowledge Bird’s trip to Startup Town (aka San Francisco) and go meet-and-greet the people I’d been working with remotely these past few months?

My San Francisco desk.

San Francisco has been billed as a city not at all representative of the rest of the U.S. And Zendesk is not at all like the normal corporate environment. Though, as a well-known startup going through an über-growth phase, what else DO you expect? Truth be told, I was reminded a little of the early parts of my career working in tech support at One.Tel—a telco startup, of sorts—back when it was just a massively risky thing to do and not at all cool. The only things different in the modern environment are the free food and drinks, the social events and a building full of empowered 20-somethings. So, really, I guess the only things in common with 16 years ago is the open plan and long tables.

For a remote worker, like me, the time in the office is extremely valuable. With meetings, lunch, meetings, breakfast, meetings, and then more meetings, one can get a greater sense of what needs to be done in a shorter space of time. And having finally been able to interact in person with many of whom I’d only ever Skyped or emailed with, the boundless enthusiasm of the whole team is obvious, and being around a group of such skilled and capable people every day was intense. (We’ve come home to the cat and the kids. They have a lot to live up to. I’m also certain the 9 year old must learn how to touch-type as a precursor to building his first app.)

The city itself is a lot to take in, too. In only a couple of blocks, from the office to Union Square, you can witness everything from homelessness to Macy’s. But so strong is the calling, to tech entrepreneurs from all over, that they’ll throw a few clothes and a laptop in a backpack and commit three months or more to working hard on their startup, scheduling meeting after meeting, and sleeping in their cheap Tenderloin hotel with a shared bathroom. Then wake up the next day to hit the keys again, chasing the dream and looking for the next VC opportunity.

When you walk through the city, the signs of “tech boom” are everywhere. Digital Zynga billboards, a huge Mailchimp painted on the side of a building, and I could swear I passed a guy on Third street with a pair of Google Glass(es) on his head.

It’s insane that so many ideas, so much opportunity, and so much success could be incubating in one city when the same technology these startups are building on is what makes our communities and our knowledge work have global reach. But it all comes down to the face-to-face and the feel of a handshake. And for a startup, San Francisco is the only place you can possibly plan to be.


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