San Francisco economy
I have just returned from a very interesting trip to Northern California, taking in San Francisco, Cupertino and Palo Alto. My daughter is on an long-term assignment there and during my visit she showed me the sites and helped me understand this amazing economy. San Francisco is encountering a second gold rush. At every turn you see a new building housing the HQ of a famous web-based business – Linked In, Yahoo, Twitter are all with half a mile of each other in down town San Francisco. In Palo Alto, Google and Facebook lead the pack and Cupertino belongs to Apple, where its campus based headquarters is on a road called ‘Infinite Loop’; its new HQ is literally an infinite loop, it consists of a massive doughnut shaped building a short drive away.
Visiting Apple was fun; the gift store at the HQ has merchandise that can only be purchased there, making it a top tourist stop! But I was more interested in the smaller businesses that use tech and web based platforms but whose businesses are devoted to other things.
The truth about Northern California is that talented, creative and energetic people are all gathered in one place. They seem comfortable talking the language of tech and are applying it to business – the most exciting conversations are not about the latest gadget but about the way the technology is changing business decision-making. A new language and approach has eased out old thinking.
For example, while the debate over Uber v traditional taxis is in the courts elsewhere in the world, the taxi sector in San Francisco has moved on; a new kid is on the block ‘Lyft’, this app based business invites users to rate drivers and drivers to rate users before money is exchanged. It is taking on Uber in the battle for the best drivers and when I tried it is was very effective. Other new thinking includes things like the way equality has entered the business DNA of new economy firms. When Amazon published its worker compensation data (March 23 16) it revealed that the gender pay gap at the firm is a tiny 0.1%. Facebook has been re-engineering its website and app to try an improve the experience for people with disabilities.
With my Partner, I also visited a novel tech business in the pet sector. Whistle.com is a great business. It has expanded from start up to 65 staff in only a few years and offers pet owners technology tools to monitor their pets’ activity. Its Pet Tracker combines the best on-collar GPS tracking device with a simple mobile app, Sales are storming ahead, it is a simple an innovative use of existing technology but it is a ‘real world’ growing business with users across the USA. Its co-founder and CEO is a personable, well-educated, millennial with great passion for animals (there were pet dogs in the office too!) He had a feel for his customer that overrides the flashy tech that he is deploying. Investment funds are used well and the business is moving into the same building as Twitter!
I didn’t just observe businesses but social enterprises too. Helping create a dynamic enterprising economy elsewhere in the USA is the motivation behind Kiva. It is a non-profit organisation with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. I tried it and lent $25 to the new owner of a small newspaper in America’s mid-west. He had raised thousands this way. I won’t earn any interest, but I would have felt great if my cash was been lent in this way to a new small business in the North East. Kiva made micro-philanthropy easy. Even better as a way of giving me confidence the guy’s friends on social media had lent to him too – he is not likely to rip his mates of so there is a good chance I’ll get my money back. If not, well it was a good cause. Here is more info: https://www.kiva.org/about
After my visit to San Francisco I can certainly agree that ‘travel broadens the mind’, I have come back full of enthusiasm about the possibilities for North East entrepreneurs to make a decent job of growing our economy.