Startup founders set up hacker homes to recreate Silicon Valley synergy.
October 15, 2020 11:11 PM   Subscribe

'Everyone that was working in a WeWork is now working out of a house' Hacker homes, the newest iteration of remote work adaption, feels like a nostalgic attempt to recreate some of the synergies COVID-19 wiped out. Generally speaking, it’s a nod to the digital nomad lifestyle, but in some cases, hacker homes feel closer to Hype House, a TikTok mansion laden with sponsored indulgence and wealth.
posted by geoff. (40 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
"we will be making fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups. We all live exciting lives, and there’s plenty of drama, so we’re excited to showcase that"
posted by clew at 12:01 AM on October 16


"we will be making fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups. We all live exciting lives, and there’s plenty of drama, so we’re excited to showcase that"

I had to look up Sway House as I had no idea what it was. And warning, because we have used TikTok, content and startup in the same sentence we are basically reaching Taylor Lorenz event horizon.
posted by geoff. at 12:11 AM on October 16




Not sure why when I look at Sway House all I can think of is the Twirl King Yo-Yo Company
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:19 AM on October 16


Fixed link for geoff's most recent comment (mods please delete this if his comment is updated).
posted by Ryvar at 5:20 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


Original article without any paywall or ads.

That kind of goes against the spirit of this entire exercise, doesn’t it?
posted by mhoye at 5:39 AM on October 16 [5 favorites]


Here’s hoping the phrase “fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups” is a solid “are we the baddies” moment for the still-salvageable people in their audience. Fingers crossed.
posted by mhoye at 5:44 AM on October 16 [8 favorites]


In the spirit of Cato the Elder, I intend to append “fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups" to the end of all further metafilter comments
posted by phooky at 6:13 AM on October 16 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:22 AM on October 16 [8 favorites]


I want Guy Debord to weigh in on this.
posted by subdee at 7:38 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


Debord: "Spectacle is as spectacle does."
posted by deadaluspark at 8:26 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


“There’s this sort of veil of mystique that surrounds a lot of entrepreneurs and founders,” Goldstein said. “The curtain has been lifted, and now you can get a social media perspective, and inside look at what it takes to start and launch a company.”

I feel like I wandered into the wrong bar and earnest young men won't stop talking at me. Honey, you self-styled "entrepreneurs and founders" made up that veil of mystique and you're the only ones who believe it exists.
posted by desuetude at 8:55 AM on October 16 [15 favorites]


> Fixed link for geoff's most recent comment (mods please delete this if his comment is updated).

That site only gives me the first page down to the paywall break. Sigh.
posted by desuetude at 8:56 AM on October 16


How are they not recreating the environment that Covid-19 thrives in, though?
posted by Selena777 at 9:21 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


"For Greg Isenberg, a growth advisor to TikTok and former head of strategy at WeWork, entrepreneur homes are a signal of what the foreseeable future of building could look like."

Great. Totally fine. This is totally the kind of house we need in these parts of the country, certainly not affordable family homes.

"Launch House members described a strong focus on inclusion when populating future homes and just opened up the application process for Launch House 2."

Inclusion! Awesome! We welcome everyone. Except, obviously, people with children. Or people with elderly parents they have to care for. Or a spouse who won't relocate and move into a dorm too. And not people who don't have the cash to relocate across country at short notice to do a job that could perfectly well be done remotely. Certainly not people who would need a second job to support them while doing this for basically nothing. And we are prooobably not going to get many applications from people who might feel a teeny bit unsafe living in a hot house environment with a lot of strangers... So basically we are really inclusive and welcoming to young white men who already have money and no dependents!
posted by EllaEm at 9:46 AM on October 16 [19 favorites]


Who cares about this other than other start-up founders?
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:28 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


Who cares about this other than other start-up founders?

They don't even care.
posted by sideshow at 10:44 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


Vox on the churn and risk of TikTok influencer houses. One of their points is that TikTok stars are likely to be much easier to mistreat then YouTube stars because TikTok requires less equipment and training, so allows people from poorer families which are less likely to counter terrible contract offers.

Added to this article, there’s three levels of reality houses - no capital, family capital, venture capital. I guess five levels, counting network studios and houses that non-performers also live in for regular life. Though by Greshams law the bad reality is likely to drive out the good.
posted by clew at 11:12 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Weren't hacker houses a thing 20 years ago? I remember housing listings advertising that, talking about CAT5 in the walls. Almost moved into one. By about a decade later it felt like there'd been a shift more towards HackerSpaces -- I remember watching SuperHappyDevHouse events shift from the RainbowMansion to the HackerDojo.

Maybe this is a cycle now, like tie width?
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:48 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


It's old ideas coming around again, but worse.
Less of a cycle than a widening gyre.

Of the few things I'd return to the late 90's for, it would be for when San Francisco Startup House meant all 8 'founders' live/working in a duplex to save rent, because the whole thing was self-financed. Where your desk was a door laid across two filing cabinets, rather than Herman Miller corporate decor, and '2nd round VC funding' was 'dudes! Everybody apply for a Discover card, they do cash advances now! We can go another six months!'.

More 'Hack the Planet' than “fun and dramatic dope bro content, centered around launching startups". Chuck Taylors, not Allbirds.
I mean, it had its toxic waste too. Just without the money and the smugness and the adulation.

~Fantasizes about the next cycle of 'incubators' as being set up in a former Dairy Queen in Chilicothe, OH. Or a software development collective in what used to be a Piggly Wiggly in Tuscaloosa. If you're going to keep a sleeping bag under your desk, do it for yourself.
posted by bartleby at 12:50 PM on October 16 [12 favorites]


Hacker houses existed as soon as it was economically sensible to share a broadband connection. Which is just a subset of bartleby's point that living together to save money is not the same as living together to farm drama.

(Cadigan's Synners got a lot right especially given how much it didn't guess about tech. Instaparty!)
posted by clew at 1:07 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]


I'm 39, and have a date tonight with a 28 year old software developer from Dubai (social distance rules etc) and I swear on my right tit if he uses any of these terms my head will completely spin off.
posted by lextex at 1:17 PM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Of the few things I'd return to the late 90's for, it would be for when San Francisco Startup House meant all 8 'founders' live/working in a duplex to save rent, because the whole thing was self-financed. Where your desk was a door laid across two filing cabinets, rather than Herman Miller corporate decor, and '2nd round VC funding' was 'dudes! Everybody apply for a Discover card, they do cash advances now! We can go another six months!'.

Wells Fargo alone set fire to $14B in failed VC investments during the first tech bubble, so I think you just have a "rosy" view of the late 90's startup life.

I got my first web dev job at an advertising agency in 1999, and trust me, the many clients I visited with huge offices full of people getting paid to basically sit on their hands for months/years were not self financed.
posted by sideshow at 2:18 PM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Oh, there are / were levels. Any VC money losses on Pets.com's market-corner bid, or trying to make Xcite a thing, or the CueCat is gonna be the next mouse! were well deserved.
We may be just using two definitions for Startup. I'm not talking about people trying to be the next Instagram. I'm talking about people who want to be the next Innersloth.
posted by bartleby at 2:31 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


Innersloth is no one’s definition of a “startup”, that’s just a lifestyle business, and without the extreme luck of YouTubers deciding to latch onto their game 2 years after release, it wasn’t a super successful one at that.
posted by sideshow at 5:40 PM on October 16


CueCat is gonna be the next mouse

CueCat was not a bad idea, especially twenty years ago. The execution was ridiculous but lets look at what it did:

- Created a unique marketing landing page to track engagement origination. This predates omni-channel by at least a decade, I don't even know if they were tracking e-mail campaigns at this point.
- The criticism of "scanning your soda can" turned into My Coke Rewards which was a huge success 6 years later with Y&R and Coca Cola, both large original investors of CueCat.
- QR-Codes still popular today, to an extent, across non-advertising uses as well.
- The criticism that you're not in front of your computer to scan something was valid at the time but the fact we have a computer in our hands, with a camera, nearly all the time no longer applies.

So while I will agree the execution was poor and technology simply wasn't there, it wasn't a solution looking for a problem. It was capturing valuable analytics data that just had way too high of a capture cost for the end user. I bet it would have gained traction if it were implemented better or had a rewards program attached to it, but at the time the best we had in handheld were Palm Pilots.
posted by geoff. at 7:16 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


CueCats are very handy for scanning ISBNs and are still available for purchase from LibraryThing.
posted by Not A Thing at 8:32 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


CueCat was not a bad idea, especially twenty years ago.

Counterpoint - CueCat was an especially bad idea 20 years ago, which would not be a bad idea now.
posted by atoxyl at 10:50 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


I know what you meant, but it’s possible to be so far before one’s time as to look like a fool even in hindsight.
posted by atoxyl at 11:01 PM on October 16


Honey, you self-styled "entrepreneurs and founders" made up that veil of mystique and you're the only ones who believe it exists.

Never get high on your own supply.
posted by mhoye at 12:54 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]


I know what you meant, but it’s possible to be so far before one’s time as to look like a fool even in hindsight.

I get what you mean. At the time they wanted to create a loyalty program for websites. What they were doing wasn't even that revolutionary or without precedent. Loyalty programs at stores started in the late 70s with barcodes being scanned. It only works because you give people direct, actionable benefits. In traditional loyalty program this is quite literally giving you cash (purchase discounts) when you pull out your loyalty card. For CueCat the only benefit to the end user was not typing out a full URL. It was a weird time before search was good, before people were really comfortable with going to just cocacola.com and people were figuring out things. But the problem was very real: how do we know the ad we printed in a specific media buy, e.g. the October 2000 edition of Forbes, is driving people to the site? I'm going to say that targeted advertising wasn't really solved until 3-5 years later with Google.

And you probably are thinking like I am, who the fuck reads in front of their computer? Given the names involved and the sophistication of marketing programs even at the time, someone did research that indicated a sizable percent were reading in their den or home office near the computer.

I'm thinking out loud at this point. I'm in AdTech so I see all kinds of things that come along that are great ideas but work in a lab environment and advertising technology needs to work in the worst environment imaginable. It is like a toymaker, anyone can make an RC car but can you make it simple enough for a child or anyone to operate and cheap enough to be affordable.
posted by geoff. at 12:57 AM on October 17


CueCat is an even more terrible idea now because ubiquitous camera phones.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:23 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


I just explained to somebody what a CueCat is because I was sorting through old boxes of stuff and came across mine. I never, ever used it.
posted by sardonyx at 7:26 PM on October 17


[Searches thread for "colonizers," does not find it.]

Welp. Notice that they couldn't afford to do this in the U.S. right now, so instead they went to Tulum, Quintana Roo, in Mexico, in the middle of a pandemic, and plunked down some cash from their card with a ridiculously high limit so they could colonize the local economy. Why did they choose Mexico, beyond exoticism and a low cost of living? Do most of them even have any connections there or care about the culture or have any concern for the influx of COVID-19 or gentrification this operation might incur?

I'm gonna guess the answer to the last three questions is no. Under "Accomplishments" on Michael Houck's LinkedIn profile, it lists "1 Language"—that language is "English."

It's offensive, to be honest, that they chose to do this, to colonize in this way at this time. In May 2020, border restrictions were in full effect and people were checking the news daily to know whether they could get back to the U.S. from Mexico or whether, when the unemployment money ran out in the U.S., they'd be able to safely make it to Mexico to live with family so they could stop starving and start salvaging what was left of their lives. We now know, of course, that those border restrictions weren't wholly desired by Mexico or the CDC, and were pushed through against the wishes of the CDC. But that artificial situation was and is terrifying to people of Mexican descent in the U.S. who have been subject to a rise in sectarian violence and white-supremacist terrorism, increased policing of minority and marginalized populations during protests, vastly broadened authority of ICE and CBP, continued demonization by this administration... Lots of people are looking at their options for being anywhere else besides the U.S. now, for very good reasons, but that shouldn't be undertaken lightly, as like a fucking vacation scenario.

Unfortunately, I know other tech bros and Remote Year alums who can barely speak the language yet are planning to do something similar, relocating to expat areas in Mexico. It's one thing if you have family and/or deep connections there, if you've studied and value the language and culture, and if you have a plan for how you'll survive and keep the people around you safe without burdening local resources. But this is just colonization otherwise. The thing is, Mexico will welcome them and their influx of cash, because the economy there has been hit hard too, and will continue to be as the virus spreads and ravages local populations. But that doesn't mean they're doing this the right way whatsoever.

I'm not sure it's entirely unaddressed in the article, because I can't read beyond the paywall, but it's definitely disheartening to read at least the first part and realize that the article treats the location of this hacker house as merely incidental, as a backdrop, whereas I think it's a huge part of this story.
posted by limeonaire at 12:36 PM on October 18


They probably went to a beach community in Mexico because the weather is nice?
posted by geoff. at 1:28 PM on October 18


That wasn't mean to be that sarcastic, they need a good b-roll and great ocean and beach views make engaging content. The aspirational nature of TikTok and YouTube plays into the aesthetic and no one really cares the surrounding community is not Venice Beach. People like to imagine they're in a creative house full of, I'm assuming, incredibly attractive people.

I cannot imagine this being anything but good for the community. I've been to communities like this and I am going to say the alternative is a healthcare executive who spends 3 months of the year with his family holed up in a house versus an over-occupied house full of young people and their accouterments of whatever productions like this bring? That's relatively good, high paying jobs for people in the community when you need a gaffer versus someone involved with keeping up a manor house.
posted by geoff. at 1:58 PM on October 18


(I'm much more offended when Amazon goes into working class communities to promote 1,000 warehouse jobs while the underlying message is that it is high tech growth with a great company like Amazon. I have not heard any stories where Amazon's warehouses encourage growth to the top of the company, if anything entry level is likely the same path as any traditional tech job. At least with TikTok or startup homes or whatever, if they need staff for lighting that's a job that's very likely too expensive to send to a foreign country meaning they'll need local help and high level enough that someone doing the lighting actually has an important key role in the production. This is just the kind of jobs communities need, they can easily transport these skills to other productions and why so-called secondary cities like Vancouver or Toronto are popular for film shoots).
posted by geoff. at 2:03 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]


Heh, I feel like we're talking past each other a bit. No doubt it will put some money in the local economy. It may give a few people production jobs. I'm just not sure that attracting tech influencers is a sustainable means of building something that would involve local residents in a meaningful way or better their lives in the long term. Not that these folks ever said they were trying to do that, but I guess I'm trying to make that abundantly clear here—they're not saying much of anything at all about how they hope to ethically interact with or partner with anyone in the local community in what they're doing, beyond renting someone's Airbnb. (And if someone had enough money to buy or build an Airbnb property, they're already probably doing reasonably well.)

Sure, if what it's standing in for is tourism, maybe it's equivalent—no more or less harmful than what's already there, perhaps. But that is what they are—tourists, and ones who are willing to travel and be out and about there during a pandemic, who may not have fully thought through how they're going to do that in a safe way (again, safe for locals and themselves). And they're importing Silicon Valley startup norms along with them, which I wouldn't say have made the lives of working-class people in the Bay Area better, either. Mostly it's made life there wholly unaffordable for anyone not living the tech dream, by many accounts. I'm not sure Mexico needs more United States–style gentrification and income inequality. But I guess I'd have to leave it to people who actually live there to say for sure.


no one really cares the surrounding community is not Venice Beach

No one really cares about the surrounding community, period, I think, except as a colorful and exoticized setting to attract would-be cohort members and/or investors. So I think we're in agreement to some extent, but you view it as far more benign than I do.
posted by limeonaire at 2:50 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]


In just a few weeks, The Launch House has produced nine products, including a discovery platform for the best OnlyFans accounts, an anonymous Twitter bot that sends positive comments and tools that enhance newsletter and email reading experiences.

One more thing: It would be nice if some of their startup ideas were actually things that might benefit people locally. Just coming there to create more unnecessary tech that layers on existing tech infrastructure (Gmail, OnlyFans, Twitter) isn't exactly very creative, nor is it likely to benefit anyone without ready access to things they take for granted, such as smartphones and fast internet. The things they've come up with so far are not inventions that are changing the world.

People who work in tourist areas like that often live a ways away, without anything like that kind of infrastructure. I don't know if when you were there you visited any of those areas, but I did. If it's anything like where I was and where people I know live, they likely need things that help them with basic needs and utilities: to generate, conserve, or store energy; get and share internet access; find reliable water delivery or service; do laundry, wash dishes, or shower with little water; get groceries and food delivered when delivery apps don't already operate there; stay safe and seek help, especially for women, when they don't have constant connectivity or phone service; support local businesses; find the best exchange rate if they get tipped in U.S. dollars; find jobs; find places to live; make reliable electronic payments; buy masks; get reliable news about where they live; cook and store food safely; share resources and raise money for the community; find representation when they have legal needs... There are so many things right there that someone could be working on, if only they had the capital that these people are spending to piggyback on Twitter—or you know, some kind of social conscience.
posted by limeonaire at 8:42 PM on October 18 [2 favorites]


CueCat is an even more terrible idea now because ubiquitous camera phones.

What I mean when I say it’s a less terrible idea now - and I’m pretty sure what geoff means about it being prescient - is that as soon as ubiquitous programmable camera phones became widespread it became possible to do the underlying sort of thing they were trying to do. But not a moment before, IMO.
posted by atoxyl at 9:39 AM on October 20 [1 favorite]


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