Tag Archives: san francisco

No, Carl Nolte, booming San Francisco has lost its soul and wallet

I have it on good authority that San Francisco once was a sleepy town, spoiled by copious amounts of cheap, demoic-free Dungeness crab, lots of low rent apartments, and minimal street traffic. I hear it all the time from people who came to this city some 40,50, 60+ years ago. “When we came here, we purchased a home for 50K and we paid a fixed 3% mortgage,” say my parents, both immigrants. “It’s the most expensive city I’ve ever lived in,” say the transplants. “And I’m only here for work and will eventually leave.”

Now many cities are experiencing what San Francisco has undergone, only San Francisco finds itself in a peculiar situation given its proximity to Silicon Valley. The city is booming but its boom attracts only the most skilled of the job market. The city experiences hellacious traffic and average rent is through the roof. In order to qualify for these high-tech jobs, you’ve got to have the right skills. Want to code for a living?  Or be a Broadcaster Partner Marketing Manager? Or a SEO Content Strategist? Or a Clinical Science Research Specialist? Or a Hardware Engineer? See Carl Nolte, the Silicon Valley explosion has put the pinch on San Francisco, making it impossible for those who make less than 100K in salary a year to live comfortably in the city. And who are the people earning less than 100K a year? Teachers, social workers, artists, receptionists, administrative assistants, marketing coordinators, baristas, service workers, etc…Some of them are still able to live in San Francisco, because living with three or four other roommates makes for an idyllic stay. NOT.

At least you admitted that you conducted an “unscientific study.” You walked the streets, rode some Muni buses, talked to a select group of San Franciscans to get their assessment of Baghdad By The Bay. Well, I did the same thing. I spoke to some of my fellow workers and a few strangers to boot. And what was their conclusion?

“I find the cost of living in San Francisco to be so oppressive that my days are numbered living here,” said Frank Lesalle, an administrative assistant. “It’s a city that works best for those who fit the tech economy.”

It all began to dawn on me back in the mid 1980s. I was out of high school then but I noticed something different about the city. It’s like, coming out of the “no rush 70’s” it seemed like San Francisco had indeed skipped a beat. Suddenly, there was more traffic, the cost of living spiked upwards, and the cost of Dungeness crab and seafood down at Fisherman’s Wharf climbed into “rip off” territory.

Oh yeah, I grew up near Forest Hills in San Francisco. Where did my family go out to dinner back in the 1970s?  Family-style restaurants were once plentiful in neighborhoods like North Beach. Yes, there were fewer restaurants in the 1970s but there were also few foodies.

So what do we have today in Potrero Hill? Let’s see, we have expensive restaurants like Serpentine, Piccino, mediocre French food at Chez Papa, expensive Sushi at Umi, and OK, reasonably priced sandwiches at Hazels on 16th street. Yes, we still have Farley’s, but we also have Plow, the most outrageously expensive breakfast joint on Potrero Hill patronized by foodies from every neighborhood in San Francisco and beyond.

You see, it is a yin and yang thing but it’s the pace of that yin and yang. Back in the 70s, you didn’t have restaurants opening and closing every 3 months. Take Radish, Grub, Market & Rye, Artis Coffee Roasters, Saha, April Calf, Saha, The New Spot (one of the more affordable delicious restaurants near Potrero Hill), Mazza Luna, La Rondalla, Pig & Pie, and so, so many more have all closed this year alone.

I don’t know of ANYONE who takes the array of food choices in San Francisco for granted. How could they? The only ones supporting these uber expensive restaurants are the ones working at Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter, etc…These are the ones who are getting paid near or above the 100K salaries, or it’s those who are mooching off of those who can afford to eat out more than 5 nights a week. Back in the 70’s, I didn’t hear people complain about the lack of food choices in San Francisco. I saw people go out to eat and afford what they could eat. Small, “hole in the wall” Chinese restaurants were popular. Food tasted good and it was cheap! Gentrification was not a buzz word because the destruction wrought by Silicon Valley remained somewhere far off into the future and people seemed to appreciate the slowness of San Francisco, and the ability to live in a single one bed room apartment on a salary of 40k.

Today’s San Francisco soul is mired in glitz and glamour. That’s what Silicon Valley has done to our fair city. Yes, I’m grateful for developments like the San Francisco Jazz Center, the renovated DeYoung and Modern Art museums, the full flowering of the Yerba Buena Gardens, the Asian Art Museum, etc…But the biggest news made today is how Mayor Lee coddles to the high-tech industry, giving tax breaks to lure these companies into staying in San Francisco and thus exacerbating the city’s gentrification. It’s about the new fancy restaurants, charging preposterous pricing that caters to the well-paid high-tech crowd. And that is due in no large part to just how expensive it is to do business in San Francisco, hurting those who simply can no longer afford to live here.

Do you know why so many of the shopping crowds are more Asian than ever? Because it’s the very wealthy Asians who have moved to California, in particular, the SF/Bay Area and they can afford to and are spending lavishly. But guess what? Chinatown was still Chinatown back in the 70s and earlier. And were wealthy Asians filling downtown Union Square back in the 70’s? It was once a mixed city. No more. Asians constitute nearly 40% of San Francisco; the largest subgroup is of Chinese descent.

San Francisco is a city that caters to the glitz, the foodies, the 100K+ salary wage earners, and is a reflection of our country’s extreme concentrated wealth, all of which the high-tech revolution spurs in its demand for a whole new skill set that is now filled in no small measure by Asians, Indians, and others from outside the United States.

I’d like to give one shout out, if I may, to a place that does give one a reminder of long-time gone bohemian San Francisco.  It is the Red Poppy. It features artists and musicians from different walks of life and from around the globe to locals eager for something different. I encourage you to drop by for an event and get a dose of old San Francisco.

I spoke with Freddie the freeloader, forever searching for the fountain of mindful peace.

“I came here in the 1980s with nothing but a guitar and my knapsack. I came because I heard through the grapevine that San Francisco was still one of the grooviest places to hang and meet with like-minded artists and creative-types. I met a number of young runaways. Now, I’m a recovering heroin-addict, grateful to those who keep feeding me, and who help me to get through the day. I do see a lot of young people here. But they are jacked into their smart phones on what seems like 24 hours a day. I see endless lines at Starbucks of caffeine-driven zombies who seem incapable of actually making a cup of coffee at home. Yeah, I do see mixed cultures and a variety of different people. But the homeless remain destitute. And the contempt shown by some of these young start-up entrepreneurs of those who live in the streets grates at me. If I’m in hell, I’d rather be flying among the clouds.”


Pinterest: How to create a content strategy for Pinners

Pinterest's Tiffany Jones Brown
Content Strategist Tiffany Jones Brown speaks to a captive Pinterest audience


I recently had the pleasure of hanging out at Pinterest’s new headquarters in San Francisco. I listened to a presentation by Pinterests’s own “voice strategist,” Tiffani Jones Brown.

Sculpting the Pinning message and brand

In her presentation, Tiffani reviewed a number of qualifying factors that go into determining the company’s content. Voice factors include: personality, vibe, and feeling. According to Tiffani, Pinterest’s voice must have power and resonate in everything the company does. In forging their voice, Tiffani stressed the company’s storyline and how it values Pinners first, above all else. Tiffany described “pinning etiquette” and “Pin with care” as models for crafting a unique voice. Tiffani stressed being “gender neutral” and “to be the voice” when crafting content. With so much of Pinterest’s content being graphical, someone in the audience asked what written content is the Pinterest content strategy team actually creating?  Tiffany responded that content strategy included the creation of traditional company content such as  FAQs, style guides, product descriptions, etc…

Tiffany provided one example of developing the Pinterest voice by comparing two email responses crafted by the company in response to a Pinner who had pinned content that was considered “sexually explicit.” The first Pinterest response used a stiff, generic voice and began with “We removed a pin from your account because it contained nudity…Please remove any other pins you’ve added that contain nudity.” Instead, the Pinterest voice team revised their “corporate speak” and the email response crafted went like this: “We recently removed one of your pins from Pinterest because it may include sexually explicit content. We hate removing pins, but sometimes we have to when they go against our policies. This helps keep Pinterest fun for families, professionals and everyone else who uses it. Please remove any other pins like this from Pinterest. Or, if you think we’ve made a mistake, please let us know!”

Now most brands do spend the time and resources to cultivate a unique voice that speaks to their customer-base. But many corporations still come across  with an icy voice to their audience. But I was surprised at just how banal most of what Tiffani discussed came across to me.  I’m not sure what I expected but it makes sense that Pinterest does not want to be using “corporate speak” when communicating with its users. That warm and fuzzy feeling is critical because Pinners are using their platform, in particular, to post and share about their life passions, like cooking, fashion, travel, etc…Pinners don’t want to dialogue with a “corporation” that doesn’t understand or appreciate their human qualities. Hmmm, wouldn’t everyone like a corporation to communicate in this same fashion?

Pinterest is a start-up. It received 200 million in series D funding earlier this year. The company is valued at more than 2 billion, according to VentureBeat. The company, while not profitable, is flush with cash and can spend the time needed to figure out how it is going to earn a profit.

When VC money comes knockin on your door

So Tiffani and her crew of five writers (yup, this constitutes the core of Pinterest’s current content strategy team) have this golden opportunity to continue refining and developing their voice to maximize Pinner appeal. VCs, however, will one day want their money back. Pinterest will be forced to go public. Now Pinterest continues to experiment with revenue driving models. Founder Ben Silbermann says, “we don’t want to commodify someone’s passions.” Great sentiment. I’d like to see just how far it gets him and the company when it comes time to show a profit to investors.

More importantly, once a company does go public, everything changes. The warm and “viby” voice that Tiffani and her writing crew are busy developing now will most certainly be impacted by the time Pinterest does go public. Think about Facebook. As a public company, it is beholden to its shareholders and must consistently show a profit. Facebook’s stock price is currently nestled in at around $25 a share, thirteen dollars below its IPO price back in May of 2012. In a recent story in U.S. News & World Report, Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg expressed his own disappointment at the stock’s performance, mirroring the sentiment of the company’s shareholders

Meanwhile, Facebook continues to try new initiatives that piss off its users. Just how popular was the $1 fee Facebook implemented forcing users to pay if they want to send messages to non-friends?  Or what about the hashtag? I haven’t used hashtags yet myself but I’ve read nothing but negative accounts by users in my network and just as important is the spam it has created generating dozens of irrelevant spam posts.

Facebook is a splendid case study for Ben Silberman and I’m sure he and co-founder Evan Sharp are not ignoring that company’s ongoing challenges in its quest to remain profitable and popular among its users.

The warm and fuzzy Pinterest voice

Pinterest has the luxury like any other venture-backed start-up to proceed at a measured pace not beholden to any stockholders. Tiffani and crew can take the time to hone the Pinterest voice, making it warm and congenial for its users. But nothing I heard in Tiffani’s presentation made me think that what the company is doing in developing its voice and branding isn’t terribly unique. Because Pinterest is heavily invested, it has more than a few years to go modifying and shaping its brand voice.  Meanwhile, the VCs still breathe down Silberman’s neck wanting to know sooner, rather than later, just how Pinterest is going to become profitable.

Tiffani left Facebook to work at Pinterest.  Does anybody wonder if Tiffani would leave Pinterest the day it goes public to go work for another start-up?  Well, assuming she’s still working as the company’s chief content strategist she probably won’t have to worry, as she’ll become one of the next SF Bay Area millionaires.

Entrepreneurs generally love the start-up culture. The time before a company is forced to go public is generally considered one of the most exciting periods in a company’s life. Once it does go public and shareholders enter the mix, the fun is diluted.  Pinterest is hiring like crazy, in particular, for more software engineers.

Pinterest will be an interesting company to track. According to Alexa, Pinterest currently ranks 17 on the top websites visited in the U.S. with Google and Facebook ranking 1 and 2, respectively.  While the majority of its users are still women, men are becoming a larger demographic. Tiffany did bring up the important point of how Pinterest’s voice will continue to adapt as its tries to broaden its user-base.


Before Midnight: The truth hurts but authenticity trumps fantasy (spoiler alert)

Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke as Celine and Jesse
Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke as Celine and Jesse in Before Midnight

When I first heard about Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third film in his story about a romantic encounter between Celine and Jesse in Vienna, I couldn’t wait to see it. I distinctly recall when Before Sunrise first came out back in 1997. I was 28 and desperately wondering when I’d fall in love. Watching the film then, I couldn’t help but be delightfully impressed at the provocative banter between actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. I recall just how refreshing it was to see a film that weighed heavily on the verbal exchanges between both characters to propel the story forward. If the dialogue failed to deliver so would the movie. The fantasy of just such an encounter was not new, however.

I traveled to Europe as a college student (having attended the University of Oslo) and most certainly entertained the idea of meeting a French (or in this case, Norwegian woman) and falling in love. Why not? My parents met in Caracas, Venezuela of all places at a party purely by chance. The encounter led to my Dad wooing my mother for more than a year and eventually she capitulated and they married in Paris. They later moved to San Francisco and started a family.  They are still married to this day; my father is 83 now.

Tracking the lives of two characters enveloped by chance

The magic behind this unique trilogy is the quality of the screenwriting. LinkLater has made it clear that in all three movies there is no improvisation between both actors. Ethan and Julie memorize the dialogue and act it out in as natural way as possible. While garrulous, the verbal play between both characters comes across so authentically that you’re wondering whether you’re watching a movie at all.  In Before Sunrise, Celine came across as a romantic cynic.  Jesse was more the idealist. The culmination of both character traits shine in Before Midnight. Celine, upon realizing the significance of Jesse’s pain in not being able to raise his son on a 24/7 basis, quickly takes a defensive position. She does not want to move back to the States for the sake of Jesse. All Jesse wants is to have a sane conversation about the idea, to express his regret, and if anything, receive some sympathy from Celine.

Celine’s insecurities about the choices she has made in her life play an important part in why both characters fight in the hotel room. Jesse complicated his life by falling in love with Celine. He divorced his first wife to start anew with Celine and finds himself a parent a second time around with twins no less.

When does love matter most?

Before Sunrise was a perfect little romance. Before Sunset saw the maturation of both characters, nine years later, and the realization for both of just how important they meant to each other.  Before Midnight captures the willingness of both characters to fight for a love none thought was originally possible. I don’t believe in miracles and I never thought the chance encounter between Jesse and Celine came across as one. But when does love matter most? Is it when you’ve made perfect love with your partner, somewhere in Greece? Or having kids and spending time with friends, cooking, drinking, and sharing meaningful conversation?  No. When love seems like it’s on the precipice of disappearing is exactly when it is time to take off the gloves and fight for it to come back.  Relationships are challenging. Toss in kids and you’ve got plenty of potential complications thrown into the mix. Divorce remains an ugly reality because couples just are not willing to make the sacrifices and/or compromises needed to forge a lifelong commitment towards one another.

Authenticity satisfies more than Hollywood endings

Before Midnight is a rare cinematic example of art reflecting back on life without the need for metaphor. It is authentic and perfectly suits a more jaded time; we live in a period in which the idea of romance remains an ideal but in practice is more effort than it’s worth. I’ve grown sick and tired of hollywood endings, and Before Midnight is a gratifying slap in the face to those movies that seek the fantasy route to satisfy their viewers. There is no bow tie in Before Midnight. It’s merely the realization that love is a fragile flower requiring an endless supply of affection, attention, understanding, and commitment. Something easy to agree with but more problematic when trying to apply.

The Before Midnight screenplay was a collaboration between LinkLater and the actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. The script deserves an academy award.  Share with me your thoughts about this movie.