When I started TechCrunch in 2005 there was no question that Palo Alto was the center of the tech universe. San Francisco was really pretty and a nice place to see the symphony, but all the startup action was in and around Stanford University in Palo Alto.
TechCrunch eventually moved away from Palo Alto and set up shop in the southern part of San Francisco. That decision was partially due to the fact that many of the writers wanted to live in the city, but also because San Francisco leases were far cheaper than Palo Alto. Still, it felt odd to be in SF.
Just about everything important in tech seemed to happen around Palo Alto. I remember making fun of Loic and Geraldine, who run the immensely popular LeWeb conference, when they moved to San Francisco. “Just don’t expect me to come visit very often,” I remember telling him.
Even a few years ago larger companies like Google had lots of employees in San Francisco, but it always felt like a satellite office (because it was). There were SF based companies like Salesforce, too, but they were the exception.
Real tech stuff happened in and around Palo Alto. Where Google, Yahoo and everyone else was headquartered. When employees left to start their own companies they generally started them there. And so other startups made sure they were there, too.
Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, where all the venture money was (and mostly still is) had its own gravitational pull, too.
The venture capital is still down there. As is Google and Yahoo, and now Facebook. Y Combinator is in Mountain View, even further south. In many ways nothing has changed.
Something has changed, though. Not only are maturing startups like Twitter and Zynga based completely in San Francisco, but it feels like most of the new startups are basing themselves there, too.
Part of it might be these free shuttles all the big companies run down to Palo Alto every day. Thousands of employees working in and around Palo Alto can now easily live in San Francisco and take advantage of free transportation with WiFi. Now when they leave and start companies, they do it closer to home. Back in the old days living in San Francisco meant a grueling commute back and forth every day. These shuttles have probably led to many people moving to SF that otherwise wouldn’t.
There’s nothing scientific about these observations. But I take a lot of meetings as an investor (as I did as a writer). And over the last several months the vast majority of these meetings are in San Francisco, not Palo Alto.
We’re fairly indifferent on where we meet people. I live in Seattle, MG Siegler is in San Francisco and Pat Gallager is in Palo Alto. AOL lets us use their offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, and the team tends to form up in different places on different days.
Most people, though, just want to meet in San Francisco.
If I walk into the Creamery and don’t see someone I know it’s notable. If it’s a slow afternoon in San Francisco, talking a walk to the Creamery will almost always result in something interesting happening. I think CrunchFund has probably closed (meaning the verbal agreement part) more deals there than anywhere else.
Part of why I like the bay area is because so many people there are in tech that it’s the center of all conversation. Even a few years ago San Francisco didn’t feel like part of the party. Somehow it stole the show.