Start Up San Francisco – An Economy Trip to the Capital of Tech in Silicon Valley

Yerba Buena San FranciscoAs those who know me or read Vagobond almost certainly know – I’m a serial business creator – also known as an entrepreneur. When I was around eight-years-old- my grandmother was having a day with me, my siblings, and my cousins – she asked everyone what they wanted to do when they grew up. She chewed on the answers, asked questions, and generally approved. I told her that I wanted to be a scientist and she said “No, that’s wrong. You’re an entrepreneur.” I didn’t know what that was and she told me that it was a person who made things. She was right. I am.

My projects have been many – from a failed beer delivery service in 1995 to Conchsense and Cascadia Magazines in the late 1990s to Sun Sea Adventures in the early 2000s, then to Vagobond itself along with Morocco Blogs, Reedsport Antiques, my little newspaper in Reedsport. I’ve started and run quite a few businesses. Most recently, in the past year, I’ve put together ZguideZ – which aims to automate the tour industry and Iwahai– which lets you record audio on a map. While there has been some aspect of tech in almost every business I’ve started – these two have the distinction of being the most ‘Silicon Valley’ and by extension the most scalable – which is what brings me to San Francisco.

For the past year, I’ve been neck deep in learning what it takes to conceive, build, and scale a start up tech business. I’ve taken part in Hawaii’s East Meets West Conference for two years running, I was one of twelve companies selected for the Hawaii Wefunder Workaway, and I recently graduated from Y-Combinator’s Start Up School. In addition to all of that – I’ve built two pretty amazing tech products and created two corporations from the ground up without anything that could be considered capital. I’ve filled the roles of product manager, CEO, and nearly everything else in my organizations while I have built products that work – even if only in a minimum viable product sense. And this is what brings me to San Francisco.

San Francisco is the global capital of tech finance. There is no event which represents that as well as Tech Crunch Disrupt – a conference where the ‘global elite of tech’ converge to see what the future holds, look for amazing new ventures, and meet the founders of amazing new startups that may become the next big thing – like me.

There is nothing cheap about San Francisco and there is nothing rich about my bank account or finances. The name of this website is Vagobond and that comes because I am one of the modern masters of making something out of nothing. As a quick reminder – in 2000, I became a homeless person by intent to show the world that it was possible to live a life without being beholden to corporate masters – from that point forward I traveled to more than fifty countries, moved to Hawaii, started a family, and have started multiple businesses. I’ve got to tell you though – it’s fucking exhausting making ends meet on the fly and always having to hustle to meet expenses.

So, ironically, here I am asking the masters of global capital to invest in my startups so I can scale them. I had to do it on a budget though. I paid for my flight using my Hawaiian Miles points which I’ve accumulated through paying for nearly everything with my Bank of Hawaii Mastercard. I was able to get a ticket to the 3-day conference for around $300 because I’m a startup founder (regular price is $1500+) and as for hotel – I tried to find a Couchsurfing host without luck and had to get a room but after searching for deals managed to get a room for right around $110 a night near Union Square which usually has hotel rooms for somewhere in the $300-$500 per night range. Four nights of that gave me enough to get a room using Hilton points for another night and finally, I found a room for my last night near the airport for $120.

In terms of meals, I’ve worked the system as best I could. Coffee in the hotel is free. The conference had several invite luncheon sessions where I was able to get the proverbial free lunch while listening to pitches for Taiwan or from big financial services companies. A nearby restaurant offered $10 credit to conference attendees (so lunch was $4). I skipped breakfast and enjoyed modestly priced dinners – a slice of pizza, some Indonesian fried rice, a burrito, some Japanese ramen. Grand total on food has been right around $80. I’ve got a few days left and I expect that I’ll probably spend another $100 on food. I’ve had to use Uber a few times and that has added up to about $70 total.

So, for those not keeping track – here are my totals for a week long trip from Hawaii to San Francisco to one of the most expensive tech conferences in the world.

Conference Ticket: $295

Flights: $0

Hotel: $580

Food: $180

Uber: $70

Grand Total: $1125

I will probably spend a couple hundred dollars on entertainment and tourist stuff while I’m here, but maybe not. In any event, I feel like the price was well worth it. If I’d wanted to go further into savings I could have aggressively hunted for a couch to surf, skimped further on food, and volunteered at the conference for a free ticket – but I’m almost 48 years old and just don’t have the energy to be that cheap any more.

Opportunities – well hopefully they will translate into being worth millions, but we’ll have to see.

 

Exploring San Francisco from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge

In 2013, I emigrated my family to the USA. We landed in San Francisco, a city I have loved since I first visited it in 1976 when I was 5 years old. We were unable to find a way to live in SF because of the insane cost of housing, but have gone back many times and will continue to do so. 

In all the cities that I’ve travelled, there are some that stand out as extraordinary more than others. A few come to mind right away Istanbul, Rome, Paris, New York City, Barcelona, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Honolulu, Fez, and of course, San Francisco.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco has a rich and interesting history, a vibrant culture, and for a city which is so young – an amazing amount of things to do and incredible things to eat. San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and you can find restaurants ranging from classic 1930s diners to Punjab, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Lao, Indian, Pakistani, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Bulgarian, Basque, and there’s probably even a Martian restaurant somewhere in Fremont…in short, San Francisco offers more than just something for everyone – it offers many things to everyone.

San Francisco, California

My wife is still a new immigrant to the USA and while our four years together have taught her much about my culture and people, there was still something that she seemed to not understand – the dark underbelly of America – the poverty and homelessness. When you grow up on the other side of the planet watching rich people on television and hearing everyone dream of the promised land – it’s hard to understand that America is filled with homelessness, drug problems, the mentally ill, and prostitution. Aside from places like Detroit and Philadelphia, there may be no better place to witness this than San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

 

The Tenderloin has always been a rough place, in fact, the name comes from back in the days when police officers were given a bonus for patrolling the most dangerous part of the city – a bonus which allowed them to purchase better cuts of meat for dinner from the butcher – the tenderloin cuts. Today, the Tenderloin is still a place that it’s not advisable to wander through after dark – during the daylight hours hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeless and crazy people wander the streets, sleep on the sidewalks, and openly use drugs.

San Francisco, California

This was, of course, where I decided it would be a good idea for us to stay. Before you start cursing me under your breath, I should point out that I booked us into the COVA Hotel on Ellis Street, a four star boutique hotel that offers amazing service, comfort, and value right in the heart of the city. The hotel was superb with fantastic views of the city, a free breakfast service that included fresh fruit, waffles, and more and that the staff took great care of us while we were there. Our room was quiet, cool, comfortable, and, in fact, it was hard to recognize that twenty feet to either side of the hotel we would encounter homeless drug addicts and mentally ill street people. Most guests chose to use the hotel’s free shuttles which took them directly to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, or Union Square and back. Not us though.

San Francisco, California

Our walks took us past the people of the streets – my poor wife was terrified, but I felt like it was important that she be exposed to this aspect of America. One tall black man with crazy eyes said “You look like a little nun!” – “I’m a Muslim!” she responded, clasping my arm. “Oh, well you look like a nun,” he told her. Thank you Crazy-Eyes. You can take a homeless tour of the Tenderloin on Vayable, run by a homeless man named Milton…we didn’t do that, but may in the future.

San Francisco, California

My friend Joshua points out that Palm Springs has no homeless people and offers no homeless services but San Francisco offers lots of services and so has lots of homeless. It’s a fair point. America should be ashamed of this problem. Herewith, I offer a solution.

 

The government should buy all the houses in Detroit that are selling on Ebay for $500 – maintain them, and offer them to the homeless. Offer free services, job training, food, and healthcare in Detroit and only in Detroit. Offer free transport to Detroit. Close down all the other services in all the other cities and start works programs that give people who want to stay in other cities jobs and cheap housing – no job, no housing – off to Detroit with you. We can’t make Detroit any worse and we can certainly make other cities better. My family once owned all of downtown Detroit in the 1800s. My fourth great grandfather was the Mayor of Detroit. Maybe if they move all the crazies there, I can be the Mayor of Detroit too…

But, back to San Francisco. Our walks took us out of the Tenderloin and into Little Saigon where Hanane had her first bowl of Pho. I had forgotten just how delightful Pho can be. Oh man, it is sooooo good. Little Saigon is San Francisco’s ‘newest’ neighborhood and borders the Tenderloin. From there, we walked to Union Square and marvelled at the corner where Levi Strauss, sold the first pair of Levi’s to miner forty-niners back during the Gold Rush. The first Levi’s 501 jeans were created in the 1890’s and people all over the world still wear them. That’s some classic fashion! Strauss used sailcloth from the abandoned ships in San Francisco harbor (because many ships made a one-way trip to the Gold Rush), dyed the cloth blue, and re-enforced the stress points with rivets. It was the merchants who sold to the miner’s who made the enduring fortunes.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

Union Square itself got it’s name from the pro-Union rallyies that were held there during the American Civil War. The beautiful golden statue called “Victory” that commemorates President McKinley and lost sailors was modeled on a San Francisco Beauty named Alma de Bretteville. While she was wooed by many, she went where the money was piled highest and married a sugar baron named Adolph Spreckles who was 25 years her senior – the newspaper’s at the time mocked the union, calling Spreckles her ‘Sugar Daddy’ – which is where the term originates. The couple built the largest home in Pacific Heights which today is the home of author Danielle Steele. One of my personal heroes, Jack London, used to attend parties at the Spreckles mansion. She was one of the most influential art collectors in the USA and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Fine Art’s Museum was one of her pet projects – she also brought a number of Rodin sculptures to the city which are still there. The Legion of Honor sits high on the headland’s above the Golden Gate Bridge…

And this is where I will stop for now. We’ve gone from the poorest to the richest and from the Tenderloin to the Golden Gate Bridge. More soon to come…

San Francisco, California

Ah, one last word about Alma Spreckles – she started a chain of thrift-shops to help the poor, they were eventually turned over to her favorite charitable organization – The Salvation Army – which is why the Salvation Army operates thrift stores all over the United States….including the one in the Tenderloin which also operates a shelter there…it’s astounding how everything is connected if you know where to look. Crazy-Eyes gets his meals and bed from the woman on the statue in Union Square…

Great thanks to SanFrancisco.Travel for providing so many great resources and fantastic information for our trip. More to come soon….

%d bloggers like this: