There and Back Again, a San Francisco Tale

Tech Leaders Fled San Francisco During the Pandemic. Now, They’re Coming Back.
Founders and investors who moved to Miami and elsewhere are returning to a boom in artificial intelligence and an abundance of tech talent.

San Francisco is back! In 3 to 5 years it will be over again. And then back again. Anyone who has been around long enough has seen this story go round and round at least two or three or four times at this point. It's perhaps the most clear example of the "build them up to knock them down" idea in reporting,1 because unlike companies or people, San Francisco never actually dies or fades away.

Here's my (rather boring and very obvious) take on this: San Francisco will never stop being the key tech hub. Certainly not in the lifetime of anyone reading this.2 Instead, there will be a natural diffusion of the centralized power of the region over time. And not because of San Francisco falling, but because of other areas rising with spreading diasporas of people from successful companies as tech continues to permeate every and all industry.3

But the Bay Area will remain the main wellspring for what's next and what's new, as we're now seeing with AI. That's largely because of legacy but also because of sheer proximity. People who haven't lived there forget, but San Francisco is tiny. Famously, 7 miles by 7 miles. That's both a weakness (for development and diversification) but also a massive strength (for land value and clustering).4 There's a level of serendipity of chance encounters that happens in San Francisco (and the Bay Area in general) that's unlike anywhere else. Again, this is largely by design. Mother Nature's design.

Much is said (and written) about the importance of Stanford (and Cal) and all the VCs being in one place. But again, this is all related to the above. The Bay Area is tech's natural hothouse.

At the same time, the monoculture that's the byproduct of all of this is a problem. New technology can help dissipate such issues, but it's only temporary. And this is also getting worse with time, in my view. And tangential but related to this is the always rising backlash against that culture from various factions outside of it.

All of this plays into the ebbing and flowing of the region, which is real but also overplayed by the media (shocker). The pandemic was the latest and most extreme catalyst of all this, but it will not be the last.5

I write all this as someone who, yes, left San Francisco. After a dozen years living in the city (my wife even longer), it just felt like it was time. Yes, some of the very real problems (see: above) fueled some of the decision.6 At the same time, now almost a year removed, I think I'm gaining the perspective to say that it remains a magical place, in many ways (see: above).

I don't expect I shall return. In fact I mean not to.7 But others will.

1 That is, the notion that after you build something up with enough stories, it's far more interesting to then write about its downfall. Which then also becomes boring, and so the stories of resurrection begin!

2 Even an inevitable earthquake will likely only rally support for the region after years of being dragged in the press (see: above).

3 Some of this diaspora, by the way, is caused by taxes. That is, California's very high tax rate naturally leads some successful people to leave and settle elsewhere. Like the wind spreading seeds from a plant in bloom.

4 The political situation in the city seems untenable and needs to be fixed. But I have to believe will be, at some point.

5 Again, just wait until there's another literal earthquake.

6 Yes, crime and safety were a factor as well. This is where the angry pitchforks come out yelling about how much of that narrative is made up and to look at the data! All I can tell you is how we felt living on the ground there over all those years, especially in the latter years with small children: there was a growing unease and sense that things were getting worse, not better. Hopefully that changes as well.

7 Which is the quote from the movie, but not the actual quote from the book.