A Boston Tech PR Pro Bro’s Reaction to San Francisco
My family jokes that our ancestors came to America on the Mayflower, arrived in New England and never left.* Thirty years into my life and 9 years into my time in Boston, I was set to continue that legacy.
But if you’re in technology, you may be like me. You watch San Francisco from afar, marvel at the culture, the landmarks, the California climate… and the VC money and tech titans that are literally towering over the city. “It’s all happening here,” they told me. They were right – perhaps too right.
Fortunately for me, PAN offered the opportunity to spend three months in SF and see what all the fuss was about. My mission was to focus on recruiting, networking and training, all in the spirit of positive vibes across PAN’s three offices. It was a chance of a lifetime!
Leaving my New England roots behind, I loaded up my wagon and headed west with my trusty PR tools, four plaid shirts and The Essential Dr. Dre on Spotify – the most “Cali” things I could think of. I also packed two California classics to help me get the lay of the land: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and a historical account of the California gold rush.
I read both books for a historical perspective in my new temporary home. But as I finish my time here, I see clear parallels between old and new. This isn’t a literary critique by any stretch, but it helped frame a perspective of a city that I knew I would love – but need more time to truly understand.
First and foremost, there’s a second “gold rush” taking place in 2017. San Francisco is a total tech-fueled boomtown, and it’s something that you need to see to believe. It indeed is all happening here, as I pass by companies I’ve admired for years on every block. You feel a presence of people coming together from all over the world to innovate and become the next tech tycoon. It’s energizing, exciting, motivating. I love it.
But just like the mid-1800s Gold Rush, not everyone is striking it rich. And the people selling the “picks and shovels” – the apartments, groceries, sushiritto’s, etc. – are taking plenty of liberties profiting off the tech industry. Sometimes it feels like the streets are paved with gold, but there doesn’t seem to be enough gold to create a reliable lifestyle for a critical mass of people. People with six-figure incomes struggle to buy homes. There are hundreds of Goldendoodles, few children. That is financial growth, but it’s not widespread prosperity.
The other aspect of the gold rush that became clear to me – the emphasis on style and the importance of perception. As the gold rush continued, it became less about the gold, more about the world-class region that arose from the promise of gold.
The same thing happens today: There’s a promise of exit strategies, but it’s more about the journey and vision toward prosperity, not the evidence of actual prosperity. You don’t need to go further than next door from PAN’s downtown office to see that vision on display: fresh cold brew, a plant wall, nap room, yoga studio and unlimited craft beer taps… those are just table stakes in the business world necessary to attract talent. They’re paid for by VC funding, not necessarily in profits.
To attract the funding needed to attract that talent, you need to exude a vision and promise of prosperity. While locals emphasize casual dress and a more relaxed approach to work, vision and perception actually matter here. A lot.
While brings me to Kerouac’s On the Road, historically acclaimed for the aura it exudes through its characters and dialogue – not for its actual plotline. For driving cross-country several times, not a ton happens… but you leave with a feeling of what it means to be young and free in the Beatnik era.
I now have developed a small yet related experience of youth and freedom in the tech era. But where is the substance behind the vision? As some of the industry’s leaders struggle with stock prices and profit margins on the publicly-traded market, that remains to be seen. I wonder when the emphasis on vision will cause the industry to overextend. Hopefully never – because the daily free lunch next door sounds amazing.
I return to old-school, austere New England energized, owner of dozens of restaurant recommendations, several pounds heavier as a result, and most importantly, grateful. The experience is what makes San Francisco so special, but it’s also what makes it so volatile. My multi-generational New England roots need more time to understand it – but what an exciting ride!
It is happening here – and I hope it continues to happen here for a long time. We at PAN are fortunate to be here in 2017, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of PAN’s journey into grabbing our piece of the gold rush.
* This is not 100 percent accurate, but I don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story/blog post.