One month ago, I hopped around San Francisco to visit some of the 135 tech companies participating in OpenCo San Francisco. Just like artists invite art lovers into their studios, OpenCo companies opened their doors – some grand some humble – to share their work and vision with more than 3600 tech enthusiasts.
The event infused me with some much-need optimism about San Francisco. With skyrocketing real-estate prices, Twitter IPO millionaires, and petitions against $4 toast – it’s easy to resent and even fear the tech economy. But OpenCo reminded me why I still love it. It’s vibrant. It has a culture of sharing. And at its best, it has the potential to improve the way we live.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Distributed management sounds cooler than regular management.
Github takes its open-source approach to development and applies it to management. Teams of people iterate and develop lots of ideas -- leading to good ideas. Leadership comes organically rather than hierarchically. I’m sure it’s not this rosy and simple, but it sounds refreshing compared to a traditional corporate structure.
2. Green tech can't just be about green tech.
The Cleantech Group helps clean-energy tech startups with business development. To a group of about 20 sustainability advocates, they frankly acknowledged that the industry too long focused on technology and an environmental message at the expense of business opportunity and scale. At Cradle to Cradle, I heard a similar need for green to scale.
3. Water needs techies
What’s more scary than zombies or the apocalypse? It’s the potential devastation from a shortage of drinkable water. And yet according to the nonprofit accelerator Imagine H20, less than 1 percent of venture capital goes to fund innovation that conserves, purifies, reuses, and creates energy from water. Imagine H20 aims to change that. I hope they are successful.
4. Publishers are agencies.
As a former editorial type, I couldn't resist visiting the offices of Salon.com, one of the first online magazines. While it maintains its semi-intellectual, semi-tabloid approach to news, politics, and lifestyle topics – they’ve added tech and sustainability sections, I’m guessing, as a result of advertising interest. Like a lot of publishers, they are also creating ads and sponsored content for advertisers. It’s the new business model for publishing. Hopefully, it works to fund independent editorial and not muddy it.
OpenCo gave me a peek into the tech renaissance blooming again in San Francisco, both in haute eco-designed expanses with top-shelf bars and shared studios crowded with Ikea desks. May the best ideas win.