When I visited New Orleans a couple years ago — fresh out of college and living in NYC at the time — one thing that struck me about the people I met in Nola is that none of them seemed to have a "real job." The people my age all worked for non-profits, education, the arts, and other fun stuff. They just did what they were passionate about doing.
I was not passionate about what I was doing. I was a “management consultant” helping a laundry detergent company manage their supply chain. I don’t care about laundry detergent or supply chains, and don’t get me started on traveling to places like Salt Lake City every week.
So I moved to San Francisco where, everyone assured me, things would be dandy.
And yes, things are dandy in SF.
A month ago today I was working for a web (e-commerce) company in SF.
Most days I woke up around 7 AM, rode my bike through the Marin Headlands for a couple hours, got home, threw on a shirt-jeans-sneaker combination, and went to work. My coworkers brought in cupcakes and cookies a lot, the company was rapidly growing, and everyone was happy, so I was happy.
But one thing I did not love about that job was doing a lot of manual pulling and drilling into data for colleagues. Someone would get curious about the number of people clicking on ottomans in Vermont in July versus February, or the relationship between product image zooming and purchase activity, and they would ask me. I was good at it, and most of the questions were important ones, but there were more questions than my team or I could answer, which led to a backlog of requests.
I looked around for months for a solution — how do you get (“big”) data into the hands of curious minds who don't know how to code or write SQL. The existing solutions were not only lacking, but they were moving in the wrong direction and focused on clunky desktop software or expensive implementations. I convinced the team to start building a web tool internally.
Then we saw a demo from a company called Looker. In Looker I saw the most elegant solution to the precise problem we were having. I had an MLK moment. "I dreamt this!"
I met the team and was blown away by how smart these people were. Lloyd, who founded Looker, used to be the software engineer who people like me would ask to build a web tool internally. Every product decision Lloyd and team made was even better and more thought out than what I would have done.
So I asked if I could join them.
But they were a newer, stealthy startup, and I had never been to Santa Cruz, where I would spend most of my time if I joined.
Doing my diligence, I spoke to one of Looker’s early customers, Head of Data Science at another SF tech company. He told me he would quit his job if they took Looker away from him. He was serious.
Santa Cruz seems kind of like New Orleans — a lot of students, musicians, and artists doing what they are passionate about. The kind of people who call themselves “healers and feelers” in Craigslist ads and almost universally like to surf. I will try to adjust.
Not a lot of successful software startups come out of Santa Cruz, but that is about to change. Maybe the tech bloggers will call it "Silicon Surf."