My Stay in the Bay Area

European Straits #94

Nicolas Colin

Dear all,

Yesterday I was kindly invited to spend election night with the team and Fellows at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. It was an opportunity to connect with people who are actually working on the same topics covered in my book Hedge. It was also a unique experience to discover the results of the midterms with a primarily American audience.

As you know, it now appears that Democrats have reclaimed the majority in the House of Representatives. It won’t change much, since at the same time Republicans are tightening their control of the Senate. But these midterm elections were mostly about reinforcing checks and balances against Donald Trump, not about implementing a bold Democratic agenda (which, by the way, doesn’t exist).

My stay in the Bay Area

Travelling in the Bay Area is a great experience in many respects. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with friends that are literally on the other side of the planet. It’s also the feeling of being located at ground zero for worldwide innovation. As every person will tell you, you don’t see much in Silicon Valley. But if you know your history and read about what’s happening in tech, there’s a unique vibrancy that you feel every minute walking along the streets of San Francisco or driving up and down the Santa Clara Valley.

Also, being here is the only way to get a sense of what is actually going on in people’s minds. You can read a lot in blogs and magazines. But talking with people is critical to better distinguish between hype and reality. So here is a first round of impressions that I’d like to share with you:

  • Despite everything, Silicon Valley remains a tiny fraction of the Bay Area. Sure, it concentrates wealth and attracts capital and talent. But there are many other people living here that barely have any relationship with the tech industry. Last Monday I did a talk about Hedge at West Valley College in Saratoga. It was as random as these things can get: my connection was through my friend Renee Paquier, who is the Dean of the School of Professional Studies there, and she likes to seize occasions to invite outside speakers to enlighten the college’s students. I must say it was a great experience. Members of the audience of course felt concerned with the rise of economic problems and the need for a new Safety Net. But even though they live close to the core of the tech industry, they don’t necessarily identify with it nor feel attracted to it.

  • Another observation: the old Silicon Valley is slowly disappearing, being replaced by an industry that is now concentrating itself in San Francisco. When I planned my trip, I was careful to book a room for a few nights south of the Valley to try and have what I expected to be lots of meetings in places such as Menlo Park and Palo Alto. But it now appears that two things were standing in the way. One is that yesterday was election day, and voting in the US is so time-consuming that very few people were effectively available to meet that day. The other obstacle is that there are fewer and fewer ventures operating in this part of the Valley. There are still the giant campuses of the likes of Facebook (which I visited yesterday) and Google, but the new generation of tech startups is now clustering in San Francisco—a place, as we’re reminded by this old video by AnnaLee Saxenian, that wasn’t even considered part of Silicon Valley 25 years ago!

  • Finally, Silicon Valley is imploding under the pressure of real estate. I can’t even count the number of tweets I see every day about how dirty, hostile, and unsafe San Francisco has become. The reason, of course, is the record number of people being evicted from their homes and having to live on the streets. Meanwhile, what I hear from large tech companies is that many employees are desperate to be transferred to other cities where their employer also has offices. It’s because for most of them buying a house in the Bay Area has now become impossible—and yet owning a house is a key part of economic security in the American way of life. BTW you should follow Kim-Mai Cutler on Twitter to learn more about those issues!

The next days are packed with meetings and talks, all in San Francisco and Berkeley. I look forward to meeting people such as Lambda School’s Austen Allred and economist Noah Smith and talking about Hedge with audiences at Uber, Airbnb, and Bloomberg Beta. Overall, the reception for the book is very positive. I won’t deny the difficulty that comes with promoting and distributing a book in the US from Europe. But Hedge is timely; it resonates with what’s currently worrying people in the tech industry; and it contributes to filling the big gap that exists between the world of technology and that of politics.

By the way, we’ve now crossed the threshold of 1,300 paid copies! I’m sure most of you already have one, but if you don’t please purchase it now from the relevant Amazon website depending on where you are: 🇺🇸US, 🇬🇧UK, 🇫🇷FR, 🇩🇪DE, 🇮🇹IT, 🇪🇸ES.

Recent publications

Not much from me lately as these last few days haven’t left much time for publishing. But please pay attention to a few articles by my colleagues at The Family:

  • My cofounder Alice Zagury, CEO of The Family, followed up on Emilie Maret’s article about the lack of female founders. She offers an inspiring discussion in which you’ll learn that “the more a society progresses, the more female delinquency rises” and that “what can be constructed can [indeed] be deconstructed”. What it takes, according to Alice, is less stereotypes and more diversity in our perception of women. Read her article here: Looking for “Raw Models”.

  • My colleague Elsa Cohen is in charge of launching a program, Reverse, to teach entrepreneurship to teenagers. We at The Family have been convinced from Day 1 that bored teenagers form a pool of promising entrepreneurs that could shake things up at a global scale. Elsa’s latest article is about how Reverse creates the opportunity for them to finally blossom in their creativity. You should read it: Under 23? Come learn how to create your startup!

  • Finally, my latest article in Forbes is about Britain’s Philip Hammond’s proposal of a digital tax. In it, I explain why I don’t believe one bit in Britain’s implementing such a tax all by itself. First, it’s a theatrical move and I don’t think that the British cabinet really cares about those issues. Second, it would make the US government very angry, which the UK can’t particularly afford at the moment. And third, it would have so many distortive, unintended consequences on the UK’s tax base that, if implemented, the mechanism would probably end up in flames. You can read the article here: Philip Hammond's Digital Tax Will Probably Never See The Light Of Day.

All the best (from Redwood City, California),

Nicolas