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Living and working in the Bay Area is not for everyone. I lived in San Francisco for a year and a half and worked in book publishing, an old-school industry in an area of the country that values newness above all else. It was an unsexy job in a sexy environment: while my peers headed south on their company buses to free gyms and fully comped breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I was excited if I got a spare muffin left in a breakroom. It was stressful, mostly because I was getting paid about 1/10th of what everyone else was making.
There are things I love about the Bay Area, namely the hiking, views, and food (and having a great ass from those cursed hills). But one thing I don’t miss is being surrounded by tech bros. The vests...good god, the vests. So this newsletter is all about hot mess startups, the pervasive frat-boy culture of the Bay Area, and the cheesiness of hustle culture—plus one really good burrito.
📚 Read: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
There’s so much content about Elizabeth Holmes, everyone’s favorite Silicon Valley grifter, and her company, Theranos, but Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is where you should start. Carreyrou is the Wall Street Journal reporter who first uncovered the blood-testing fraud and the saga has produced a podcast, an HBO documentary, and rumor has it, a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes. The second most insane aspect of this story is how Holmes and her partners in crime managed to fool so many high-ranking people in major organizations. The first is the fact that Holmes made her voice deeper (read: more masculine) to be “taken seriously” by her male peers.
📚 Read: Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Lured in by a high salary and workplace perks, Anna Wiener left her frumpy NYC job in publishing to work in tech in the Bay Area. Her memoir chronicles the moral implications of collecting user data, the billions of dollars regularly thrown about by tech companies, and the sexism inherent in a male-dominated industry. Part of Wiener’s struggle is acknowledging the soul-sucking nature of her job while also being reluctant to give up the perks that help trap so many in positions that require unhealthy work-life balance and hyper-capitalistic loyalty to one organization. Sounds fun!
Bonus: Billion Dollar Loser by Reeves Wiedeman A lot of this insane story about WeWork actually takes place in NYC but I included it because a distinct Silicon Valley mindset—rapid growth at all costs—is what ultimately leads to WeWork’s collapse and Adam Neumann’s exit. I normally don’t read business books but this one is like reading a thriller—there’s Saudi money, tons of drugs, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
🎥 Watch: Silicon Valley
Mike Judge, the co-creator of Silicon Valley, based the show partly on his experience as an engineer in Silicon Valley in the late ‘80s. Thomas Middleditch plays Richard Hendricks, the founder of a company called Pied Piper, who runs his company along with a band of socially inept, man-babies, and throughout the course of the show struggles to fend off competitors and navigate the hazy world of buy-outs, venture capital, and “innovation.” It’s a perfect parody of startup culture.
Bonus: Soylent Green The plot of Soylent Green might be a bit off-theme but I had to include it because of the name. The 1973 movie starring Charleton Heston is about a dystopian world where natural food and animals are extinct and humans subsist on a substance called Soylent, a portmanteau of “soy” and “lentil.” No spoilers, but in the movie Soylent is made of something extremely disgusting and shocking. So it’s really interesting that there’s a meal replacement drink very popular among tech bros also called Soylent that’s marketed as “everything the body needs to survive.” Somebody didn’t Google the name. (Or did they?)
🌯Make: Mission Burrito
San Francisco has some amazing Mexican food so, to pair with a Silicon Valley marathon, use this recipe from the James Beard-recognized La Taqueria to make the famously large Mission Burrito (it was named America’s best burrito by FiveThirtyEight). Also, not sure why, but when I picture tech bros I always imagine them eating the same take-out burrito every day from the same restaurant. Wrap it up in aluminum foil for an authentic touch.
File under shocking but not surprising. Emily Chang, author of Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, writes about the misogyny playing out in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. In this excerpt from her book published in Vanity Fair, she chronicles drug-fueled sex parties thrown by rich VCs and entrepreneurs that create a toxic party scene—one that gasp! benefits men but stigmatizes women (there’s a term for women who supposedly try to trap startup CEOs in marriage: “founder hounders”). Another great point she makes is that many men who find success in San Francisco are emotionally underdeveloped, often nerdy loners in high school and college playing catch-up well into their 30s.
“It hearkens back to those popular 1980s teen movies which tell the “heartwarming” story of a glasses-wearing nerd who is transformed into the cool, funny kid who gets all the hot chicks. But we’re not living a teenage dream. Great companies don’t spring magically to life when a nerd gets laid three times in a row. Great companies are built in the office, with hard work put in by a team. The problem is that weekend views of women as sex pawns and founder hounders can’t help but affect weekday views of women as colleagues, entrepreneurs, and peers.”
Side note: I could talk all day about why San Francisco is the worst place to move for young women, especially women fresh out of college and even if you don’t work in tech. This is a great example of why:
“For many women who describe it, however, it’s a new immaturity—sexist behavior dressed up with a lot of highfalutin talk—that reinforces traditional power structures, demeans women, and boosts some of the biggest male egos in history: just another manifestation of Brotopia.”
😐 Cringe: Recipeasly & Bodega
One thing that really bothers me about Silicon Valley culture is the need to unnecessarily “disrupt” everything. Some things just don’t need to be fixed, not because they work perfectly, but because it's unimportant, a waste of time, or in many cases, the “fix” exploits workers or threatens to make them obsolete.
Exhibit A: Recipeasly, a site that strips “life stories and ads” from online recipes and food blogs. To avoid scrolling for an additional 20 seconds, the creator decided to jeopardize the income stream for thousands of food bloggers, who, as many commenters pointed out, are usually women and POC. About two hours after tweeting about it, the site was removed.
Exhibit B: The first line of this TechCrunch article is so brutal: “Stockwell AI entered the world with a bang but it is leaving with a whimper.” The startup Bodega basically wanted to replace mom-and-pop corner shops—literal bodegas—with robot-powered sidewalk pantry, or a vending machine. Also, the caucacity of calling the startup Bodega when the result would be effectively putting bodegas out of business. This situation also calls to mind when Lyft invented city buses.
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