I moved to San Francisco at the beginning of 2014, and I’m naturally fascinated by this new town I live in. It has its own character and a rather unique set of advantages and disadvantages - good and bad points. Those are interesting to the residents, but they’re also interesting because of the ways that they might shape the kinds of companies that get created here.
Most obviously, there are a class of companies that are created to solve problems that are particularly bad in San Francisco, but where the solution turns out to be generalisable. You probably wouldn’t have thought of Uber in London or New York, because the taxi system works pretty well there, whereas in San Francisco the taxis were apparently terrible and outside the town they were just impractical. But once you’ve created the solution, it turns out that it can leapfrog not just the bad systems but also many of the good ones. A solution to a San Francisco problem turns out to have global applications.
One could also look at home delivery in this light - ‘Manhattan as a service’, for a tight concentration of young, single, technically adept people living away from home, that again turns out to be applicable more broadly.
It’s also worth considering the other side of this. If you grew up in a small town, and went to Stanford, and then got a job in tech in the South Bay, then you could reach your 30s and be running a large company or part of one, and never in your life have walked past a shop selling something wonderful that you never knew existed. Even in San Francisco that would be pretty easy. That is, living here after living in London, it’s easier to see physical retail as the inefficient end-point to a logistics system, and harder to see it as a curation, discovery and demand generation system. I sometimes wonder how much that difference shapes ecommerce in the Bay Area versus New York and London.
One can also look at Amazon in this light - like Sears Roebuck before it, Amazon lets anyone anywhere buy things that you could previously only get in a big city. But that is not at all the same as letting people shop the way you do in a big city. Buying is not shopping. The challenge is that most of America doesn't live in New York - so how can one take shopping, rather than buying, to the Bay Area?