A Silicon Valley Prescription for Boston and Other Startup Hubs: Throw More Parties
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even the lowliest employee is encouraged to lob questions at Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt. And apparently this is not a new idea. A couple of weeks ago, at Y Combinator’s Startup School event at Stanford (which was followed, of course, by a huge after-party), renowned angel investor Ron Conway talked about the early days at Altos Computer Systems, the San Jose, CA-based maker of multi-user computer systems that he co-founded in 1979. “We might have been one of the companies that invented TGI Fridays,” Conway said. “But we did it every day. Our chief financial officer, at 5:00 p.m., would wheel a cart with wine and beer to every desk. We’d all drink and fraternize for an hour, and then everyone went back to work. That set the culture…We all worked hard and played hard.” (Altos got acquired by Acer in 1990, which allowed Conway to start playing around a bit as an angel.)
I think the nub of the issue is that in SoMa, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and the Bay Area’s other startup ghettoes, there’s almost an expectation that the work day will include some semi-recreational socializing—and there’s no better disinhibitor for this purpose than a drink or two. What might appear, at first glance, to be a randomly nattering 6:30 p.m. crowd at San Francisco’s Zero Zero or The 21st Amendment or Gordon Biersch would, under an ethnographic lens, turn out to an exquisitely choreographed dance, with everyone striving to collect the latest industry gossip, get advice on a business or technical problem, pitch a product or startup idea, or quiz a potential employee or investor. In fact, I’d bet that more Silicon Valley deals are spawned in the two hours between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. than in the eight hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Here at Xconomy San Francisco, we’re doing our best to tap into this tradition. One Friday afternoon about a month after I arrived in San Francisco, my Seattle colleague Luke Timmerman and I threw an informal open house here at my Potrero Hill loft/office. About a week beforehand, we sent out a few tweets and personalized e-mail invitations, and we put a story on the blog with a picture of some wine and cheese. Seventy-five people showed up. Back in Boston, it would have taken me a month of pleading to round up that many guests.
Laura Fitton reports that ever since she got back from San Francisco, she’s been “on a tear about how we need to drink more together. And it’s working. But yeah, we can do it much more.” She says Oneforty plans to start having small, informal open houses more frequently. As do I. As more startups should. Bottoms up, Boston!