10 Critical Mistakes You Could Be Making in Your 1 on 1s

One on ones are a crucial part of good management practices, but just because you have regular one on ones with your team doesn’t mean you’re making the most of them. You could even be doing serious damage to your relationship with your team if you don’t do them correctly.

As a manager, your job is to amplify your team to allow them all to perform more efficiently and effectively. Your 1 on 1s with them are your best weapon to raise performance and address issues. However, making these crucial mistakes below can damage your relationship with your employee and prevent you from discovering the kinds of things that will fix problems, raise morale, and motivate team members. Hopefully you aren’t doing many of them, but if you are, there’s no time like the present to turn it all around.

Critical Mistakes You Could Be Making in 1 on 1s

1) Not following through

If you’re talking about ideas, problems, or things important to your report in your one on one, but then nothing is ever done about what you talk about, you’re making a lethal mistake. The effectiveness of one on ones is based on trust, and that comes from following up and following through on what you discuss.

When you lose the trust of your report, they will shut you out and won’t share feedback, ideas, or problems with you. They will feel there is no reason to waste effort talking about things that will never happen and they’ll resent you for it. This is the path straight to losing a team member.

What to do about it: End your one on ones by specifically setting what you and your report’s tasks are because of what you have discussed in the meeting. When you take action on something important they brought up, let them know and thank them for bringing it up.

2) Canceling one on ones

One on ones are the one meeting your report has that’s all about them. The rest are all about what the company wants and needs. When you cancel their one on one, you may think it’s ok, and they’ll probably even say it’s ok if you ask, but it’s not. They will resent you for not treating the conversation about them as important.

It will also break your rhythm of these meetings regularly covering important topics and addressing them; if you go a month without having a one on one, so much may build up that you’ll miss covering something important.

What to do about it: Book your one on ones on your calendar for a consistent time you know you can stick to. If you absolutely can’t make a one on one, then reschedule it for as soon as you can after the cancellation rather than not having it at all.

3) Turning them into status updates

One of the most common things I’ve heard as I talk to people about management is how often a significant portion of the meeting is spent giving a status update of their projects. Nobody wants to have more meetings than necessary, but by putting a status update into a one on one, you’re squeezing time spent on the most important subject of one on ones: your team member.

What to do about it: Have a separate meeting to do status updates or consider using an app like idonethis to stay up to date on what people are accomplishing without having to talk about it in one on ones.

4) Not preparing

Yes, one on ones are all about your report. And yes, they should be bringing things to talk about in the meeting. However, assuming you don’t need to prepare at all for the discussion is a big mistake. Context switching to the meeting can be difficult if you’ve been working on other things and like it or not, your report can tell when you’re really ready for the meeting. Not preparing also makes you miss out on great coaching and feedback opportunities.

What to do about it: Save a few notes and to do items from each meeting. Review them before your next meeting and bring a couple questions for the one on one with you.

5) Not talking about their goals

It’s easy to spend all your time focused on short term issues in your one on ones, but what will make people happiest is when they’re making progress on their long term goals while working at your company. You are unlikely to find out what those goals are unless you talk about them and there is no other time as ideal as the privacy of a one on one to explore their big life goals.

What to do about it: Every month or two, revisit questions about their goals and what you can do to help them make progress on them.  Keep these goals written somewhere you can easily reference, like Lighthouse, so you can take action on them when opportunities arise.

6) Not asking tough questions

It’s easy to get into a rut with one on ones and thus only cover a fraction of the topics that you could. Your one on one time is an amazing opportunity to get insights on many things including: improving the company, feedback on being a better manager for them, feedback and coaching them, improving morale in the company, managing goals and uncovering team issues. Don’t waste it only talking about a fraction of those things.

What to do about it: Rotate through the topics on this list of questions for one on ones and always follow through so your report knows they can really talk to you about anything.

7) Not having them at the right frequency

When someone is brand new to your team, it’s important to have one on ones often so you can build rapport and trust quickly. Also, if every one on one is running long, you may want to have your one on ones more often with them.

On the other hand, if you’re doing them weekly and finding often the meetings aren’t yielding much to talk about even as you cover all the tough questions, then backing off to biweekly or monthly may make sense. This will happen especially with colleagues you’ve worked with or known for a long time.

What to do about it: Challenge yourself to look hard at what’s happening in the one on ones. Are you covering everything you should? Do you know them well enough to detect a problem early without a 1 on 1? If so, you may be able to have them less often. If not, you may want them more often.

8) Not holding them accountable

You’re not having one on ones to play psychologist. You are having them to address issues, understand your team members, and hear what they want. Both of you should have takeaways from each one to make sure you’re both making progress in the areas you agree are important. Letting them slip by with not being actionable in your discussions or not taking care of the action items you discuss, is wasting the time of both of you.

What to do about it: End every one on one by asking them what you can hold them accountable to before your next one on one. Circle back in the next meeting to make sure things are getting done. You should notice an increase in satisfaction that comes with a sense of progress from completing agreed upon takeaways.

9) Not being present in meetings

Have you ever caught yourself zoning out, checking your phone, or looking at email when you’re supposed to be listening to them? Just like canceling a meeting hurts them, not giving them your undivided attention will as well.  You may be able to get away with it in a big meeting (though that’s not good either), but this is a one on one, so you are the center of the other person’s attention. You aren’t as sneaky or as good at multi-tasking as you think.

What to do about it: If your computer in the meeting is too tempting, leave it at your desk. Do the same for your phone if you have to. Many managers use Moleskin notebooks for these meetings since all you can do is jot notes, not the million other distractions we have today. They then transfer them to their note taking app later.

10) Thinking you don’t need a 1 on 1, too

I know. You’re busy, and your manager is even busier. And that’s all the more reason for you to touch base in a 1 on 1 for yourself, too. Some of those subjects you’re covering with your team in their one on ones will need to bubble up to your manager, who can also help you in many of the same ways you have been helping your team.

Just because you’ve gotten a promotion to manager doesn’t mean your career is set. Continuing to learn where you can improve and talking about your goals is all the more important when you are trying to lead a team of others.

What to do about it: Share with your manager the positive results you’re getting from the one on ones you’re having with your team and tell him you want to do the same. Results will grab their attention and convince them of the value.

What mistakes have you made in 1 on 1s? How have you improved them?

Get LighthouseWant to have great 1 on 1s with your team? Lighthouse helps you have great 1 on 1s by helping you follow best practices, always be prepared, and follow through on what you discuss. Your team will love you for it.

Learn more and sign up at GetLighthouse.com

Founders: You don’t own your employees

[Ed. note: This is in response to a post by David Hauser entitled, “The Startup Side Project Bubble” which you can read here: http://buff.ly/10Lw9ek]

So many founders forget something simple: You do not own your employees.

They are human beings with their own passions, interests and lives. You have a vision of a reality you want to create. After much labor and hard work to get it off the ground, either funding or your own revenue allows you to hire help. Those people are choosing to devote a significant portion of their lives to your cause to help make it possible. Take a moment to appreciate that. 

In David’s post he argues that employees having side projects is bad for them and his business. This is so backwards.

First, telling someone what they should and shouldn’t do in their free time is a tremendous insult to them and their personal judgment.  It’s also incredibly short-sighted.

You want employees with side projects.

Especially for the creators at a startup (ie- the people that design and build your product), there is tremendous benefit to them having side projects. A few of those benefits are:

  • Experimentation. An outlet to experiment with new technologies before suggesting the company use them; no amount of research compares to having used a new framework and being able to provide first person accounts of the tradeoffs.
  • Independence. A place where they can make all the decisions (for better and worse) versus the negotiations that often happen in a company. You can also call this their creative release.
  • Mastery. The ability to further hone skills in a self-directed fashion, getting them to the 10,000 hours to mastery faster than standard work hours alone would provide.
  • Relief. Providing some variety in their life’s work can help avoid the burnout that comes from only working on one thing for too long.
  • Focus. Motivating them to get their work done efficiently because they don’t have every hour of the day to work on it. The saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person” for a reason.
  • Contribute. The ability to help the greater tech community through contributions to open source projects, which wouldn’t exist without many people having side projects.
  • Network. They’ll often work with people outside their day job on these side projects, which will grow their learning and network. It might even provide the next recruit when you need more help at your startup.

And I’m sure there are others.

Great employees are a package deal.

In the early days of a startup, you want athletes, which are often entrepreneurs themselves.  Later, you want specialists who have deep expertise in their skills. By their nature the same skills you value each day in either group’s work for you also lends itself to having these side projects: In early employees that means a breadth of knowledge, while later, the depth of knowledge that comes from side projects is what makes many great later stage startup employees.

I would not be running product at KISSmetrics if I had only put my head down and worked on my past jobs (I wouldn’t even be in tech now most likely…I have a degree in Electrical Engineering). The skills that are core to my job came from side projects like Greenhorn Connect, taking the time to learn new skills in my free time and reading voraciously. Every founder wants to hire people with passion for their craft and a wide range or depth of skills.  This is a package deal.

“Why don’t you quit your job already?”

Taking a step back and looking at David’s argument, it seems centered around the idea that if an employee has a side project, they should quit their job immediately and start a company. While they should definitely quit their job if they’re ready to make a run at it as a business, they may not do that right away because of a few reasons:

  • Funding. They lack the personal funds and see the foolishness in fundraising when they don’t even know whether an idea has legs whatsoever.  Not all side projects have clear paths to revenue/bootstrapping either.
  • Motivation. Many side projects are for fun and passion. Sometimes those become businesses worthy of full time attention, but usually they are just an enjoyable thing to do with only part of their time.
  • Stability. Depending on what else is happening in their life, it may not be the time to start a company. If they’re getting married, just moved to a new city or a close family member is on their deathbed, they may not want the upheaval of launching a startup on top of that.

None of these reasons prevent a person from being a valuable contributor to your startup. In fact, someone may work for your company and add tremendous value you’d otherwise never receive.

This is a seller’s market.

If you have hard to find skills like design, product management or engineering, it’s a great time to be a startup employee. Companies must compete for you. With salaries skyrocketing, it takes more than money to attract talent. Having a good culture, treating people well and supporting them as individuals become important factors as well.

David’s views may work for him, but I caution other founders from adopting his cynical attitude towards those with side projects. The potential gains far outweigh any losses in hours David seems so concerned with and run the risk of turning off potential great team members.

25 Things I wish I knew before moving to San Francisco

I moved to San Francisco 9 months ago from the East Coast bastion of Boston. Despite having experience living in a major US city, I found quite a few surprises coming here.  Some have been great, while others not so much.

If you’re planning the move here, I hope this will help you know better what to expect. And if you already live in SF, this should give you a laugh or two and hopefully inspire you to leave a comment with anything I missed. Consider this the guide I wish someone had given me when I moved here.

It gets cold at 4pm.

On the east coast I got used to it staying warm on a nice day til 10pm. If it was 70 degrees in the morning, you could rest assured that the temperature would be about 70 when you left work that night.  That is not the case here.

Working in SoMa, I’ve found that somewhere around 4pm the temperature starts dropping and so by 5 or 5:30pm it’s 10 degrees cooler outside. A lot of this is due to the fog that seems to roll in around then.

Pro Tip: Be prepared to always have layers with you. A light jacket is your best friend in San Francisco.

Neighborhoods define you.

People take the neighborhood you live in pretty seriously. It’s often a quick way to figure out a lot of what a person values most as SF is a city with something for everyone. Each neighborhood has a unique set of offerings, and pros and cons.  Like any stereotype, it’s not always true, but you will find that yes, there are a lot hipsters in the Mission, bros in the Marina and families in Noe Valley.

Pro Tip: If you’re moving here, spend some time in different neighborhoods before you get locked into living somewhere. (See one man’s opinion here and *update* this is another set of stereotypes for the trendy neighborhoods

If you’ve ever lived in SF, you’ll totally get this, and if not, it’s a pretty good idea of the stereotypes & diversity of neighborhoods:

Bikes of SF by Tor Weeks

Rent is insane.

The first thing you’ll notice when you get here is the sticker shock on rent. This is the most expensive city to live in now and only Manhattan is in the race with them. A studio is now over $2,000 a month in most parts of the city and even with roommates you’ll end up paying $1,000-$1,500 a month for a place pretty much anywhere in town. I just looked up the building I moved into April 1, 2012 and as of January, 2013 the rent is up $700 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. If you’re wondering why that is, this PandoDaily article does a good job explaining why.

Pro Tip: Finding an apartment is a full contact sport. There’s a lot of important advice on finding an apartment in San Francisco here and a guide for finding roommates in San Francisco here.

Lovely, an apartment listing site, did a great infographic on SF rent prices:

Rental rate rises by Lovely

Update: Here’s a Mid-2013 Look at Pricing of Apartments per Priceonomics.

Cost of living overall is sky high.

Of course these high rental prices are just part of the challenge of living here economically. The cost of goods in my experience have been as high or higher as anywhere else in the country. I’ve solved much of this by moving to buying more online, which is a shame because that means not supporting local businesses.  The most crushing aspect I saved for last though. Taxes here are significantly higher than I’ve experienced anywhere. This means you’re squeezed both on your take home pay and your expenses.

To put it all in perspective, I used to take home about 75% of my pay in Boston and here it’s only 65%. Meanwhile, my monthly expenses have risen almost a third from $2,500 a month in Boston to $3,300 here. This combines to mean despite a significant pay raise when I moved here, I live less comfortably here. I have no idea how anyone who isn’t working in a high tech role that pays an above average salary can live here.

Pro Tip: If you’re moving here for a job, take into account the added costs so you’re sure you get paid a salary that won’t dramatically hurt your standard of living.

There are crazy and cool things always going on.

One of my favorite things about coming to San Francisco has been this fact. It is truly amazing to me how often there are festivals, concerts, and just randomly awesome cultural events going on. From SantaCon to Fleet Week, Yerba Buena to the Academy of Science, there’s not just something for everyone; it’s impossible not to get drawn to something you didn’t expect.  I give huge credit to the city of San Francisco for how often they let streets get shut down, allow for impromptu performances and try to make it easy for people to participate by adjusting public transportation accordingly.

Pro Tip: There’s quite a few great sites out there to find things to do. The best I’ve found are Sosh (my goto site), UpandOutSF and Thrillist. Finding something exciting on one of those sites and asking people to go with you is the fastest way to make friends.

Costumes are a way of life.

“Is that a costume, or is that how you always dress?” is a legitimate question in San Francisco. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought that question when I look at a fellow passenger on the bus or a group of people walking down the street.  San Francisco takes costumes so seriously, we even make up extra occasions for it as Bay to Breakers is essentially a second Halloween for SF.

Also, as a forewarning, some people choose the cheapest costume of all, their “Birthday Suit”, on some days.  As one friend told me, “You’re not a true San Franciscan until you see a naked guy walking down the street.”

Pro Tip: Don’t fight it. San Francisco is one of the most creative cities and it’s because of the self-expression that comes from events like this.

This is a drunken costume party, err, race, across the city:

Lots of homeless, beggars and crackheads.

This is definitely part of the uglier side of San Francisco. Unfortunately, the worst parts of the city for crime are the Tenderloin and Civic Center (as well as some areas of Western Addition and the Mission), which are right in the middle of the city. Market Street and Union Square, which are areas filled with startups and great shops, is unfortunately on the border of those areas. Due to this, going to work or going shopping you’re likely to have multiple people hit you up for money and probably meet a crackhead or two. Luckily, most are harmless, so you’ll find it humorous after while as evidenced by this Yelp thread on “Favorite Crackhead Moments.” 

Unfortunately, this means there are some unpleasant scents in those areas.  Walking down the street you may find yourself playing the game “dog or human?” (note: this is unfortunately referencing what kind of feces is on the ground…or in one case a high heel on the sidewalk in SoMa).

Pro Tip: Learn the streets that include the Tenderloin and don’t walk there at night and avoid any Muni buses that will take you through there on your trip. (See map below and learn about crime in San Francisco with this great site.)

Don't go inside the dotted lines

Don’t wander inside the dotted lines alone

PBR is pervasive, but microbrews rule.

No matter what bar you’re in or store that sells beer, you will always find a hearty supply of PBR, usually in cans. Even Whole Foods sells 30 racks of PBR while only selling 6 packs of everything else.  Of course, being SF, startups have gotten into the game as well with recruiting pitches including a “year’s supply of PBR”:

PBR Recruiting bounty

Now, if you’re not into PBR, never fear. There’s actually a vibrant homebrew community and a number of great beer bars including Toronado and the Monk’s Kettle. California is home to tons of microbreweries so there’s always new beers to try. I personally prefer the microbrews but still see PBR everywhere I go. And if you’re not into beer, the influence of Napa is felt strongly with plenty of great wine options.

Pro Tip: When you’ve spent all your money on rent, you can still afford a beer thanks to the many happy hours and cheap cans of PBR.

An extremely pro-dog city.

If you’re a dog lover or have a dog, this is an amazing city for you. Every neighborhood has one or two parks in it and every one I’ve seen has had sizeable dog-friendly areas. No matter the time of day, you will always find people out and about with their dogs and socializing with others with dogs.  A number of bars I’ve been to have even let owners bring their dogs in when it’s not too packed.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of your dog living in SF, this article captures it better than I ever could:

“Living here has been a revelation when it comes to my dog.

I’m not just talking about the fact that there are hundreds of acres scattered in and around the city where he can romp undeterred by a leash. I’m talking about the fact that the people of San Francisco love their dogs. Where else in the country is there an active dog owner Political Action Committee?”

Pro Tip: Not all landlords allow pets, so if you’re bringing a dog with you, be sure to look into it when searching for an apartment.

Divisadero is the fog line.

San Francisco is known for many things, and one of the most notable is the fog.  It’s a big contributing factor to the temperature drop I mentioned before. The Divisadero is a street running North-South across the city effectively cutting it in half. If you live West of the Divisadero, you’ll see the sun a lot less than your East of the Divisadero counterparts.

Now, this isn’t to say that the whole city doesn’t get blanketed in fog, but if you’re on the West side, right around the time the sun has burned off the fog in the morning, the evening fog is rolling in.

How the Fog rolls in SF

How the Fog rolls in San Francisco

Pro Tip: Don’t let the fog discourage you from checking out the West side of the city. The Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park are all awesome places on the West side.

Palo Alto and Mountain View are farther away than you think.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I was excited to know I had a number of friends who lived in Palo Alto and Mountain View. I figured I’d definitely make trips down regularly for work and pleasure.  I also figured they would come up to the city regularly. In the 9 months I’ve been here, I can count the number of visits on 2 hands. Meanwhile, I do see them in the city on rare occasion mainly because the center of the Silicon Valley universe has shifted back up towards San Francisco.

The Caltrain actually is pretty reliable, and most things in Palo Alto and Mountain View are within a reasonable distance of the stations, but when you look at your phone and realize it’s a 90 minute to 2 hour trip each way, it suddenly feels a lot less appealing.

Pro Tip: If you love living in an urban environment, don’t even consider living in Palo Alto or Mountain View. There’s a reason Google, Facebook and other Valley powerhouses have shuttles for their employees living in SF.

The 3 things you need to know about MUNI.

The MUNI is the bus system in San Francisco that most San Franciscans have a Love-Hate relationship with.  Learn these 3 tips and you’ll avoid some of the biggest pains.

1) Google Maps is never right about what time the bus will come.

- If you need to figure out the best bus(es) to take to get to your destination, Google Maps is great, just not for telling you when the next bus will arrive. Use Rover or NextMUNI for time of the next bus arriving.

2) Half of the buses require you to step down into the steps to get the back door to open. 

- Failing to do this will get the whole bus yelling at you. Avoid the rookie mistake.

3) Chinatown is a bottleneck on any route going through it

- If your bus passes through Chinatown you can be sure that the bus will stop numerous times while passing through, usually delayed by a horde of people either cramming on or fighting to get off. If passing through Chinatown, add time to your trip.

Pro Tip: There are tons of great alternatives for any budget to MUNI & BART: walking, biking, cabs, SideCar, Lyft and Uber.

There are tons of amazing views.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk to your destination. This is because there are so many amazing views in San Francisco. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve looked around while walking the city and seen a truly breathtaking view.

You can learn where there are particularly great views in this awesome video (Corona Heights and Buena Vista are my favorites):

Of course, the views aren’t limited to the city sky line. There’s incredible nature all in and around the city from the waves crashing on the rocks on Ocean Beach to the sunsets on the Embarcadero to the Presidio view of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It’s definitely one of the best things about this city.

Pro Tip: Alcatraz is not just a cool destination in and of itself, it has some incredible views of the city. Bring your camera and hope for a clear day.

Startup Central is in SoMa.

If you’re interested in startups, the center of all the activity is SoMa, which stands for South of Market St.  With all the public transportation (MUNI, BART and CalTrain) criss-crossing Market Street and SoMA, it makes it super convenient to get to from most areas of the city.

Someone told me that there are over 1,000 startups in the area, and from what I’ve seen, it would not surprise me. Everywhere you look, there’s a sign for companies big and small. It’s not uncommon to find out an entrepreneur you’re going to meet with is in the same building as you.

For those that don’t have offices, many of the coffee shops in the area are notorious for great startup chatter and founders hacking on their laptops at EpiCenter and the Creamery or investors and partnership meetings at SightGlass and Blue Bottle.

Pro Tip: San Franciscans are a heavily caffeinated group that takes their coffee seriously, so try them all and choose your coffee meetings wisely.

SF is a super fit city.

One of the first things I noticed when I visited San Francisco a year ago was how fit everyone was. It literally seems like the population as a whole weighs 10-15 pounds less than their Northeast counterparts. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, the weather is virtually always nice enough to be active and go outside. While the Northeast is freezing and cooped up in their homes buried in snow, it’s sunny and in the 50s here. This makes it easy to stay active year round and helps avoid the dreaded “winter weight” many fight off every spring in colder climates.

Access to healthy food here is also pretty amazing. There are great farmers markets all over the city and with so much agriculture in California, the produce in grocery stores is also super fresh. Restaurant menus are also generally tailored to healthy eating as well. What surprised me most though was that even the Walgreens has produce, so you’re always within reach of something better than a candy bar.

Finally, with all the great weather, everyone seems to find some way to be active whether it be rock climbing, surfing, running, sports, yoga or the gym. Just Google your favorite activity and you’re sure to find a group for it.

Pro Tip: Joining a league or taking a fitness class is a great way to make friends. I made quite a few quick friends from the soccer team I joined and the ultimate frisbee league I play in.

If you’re a foodie, welcome to heaven.

A friend told me San Francisco has so many restaurants the entire city could eat out at the same time and be seated.  From what I’ve seen, I’d believe it.

Seriously check Yelp. It’s truly stunning the wide variety of food available. With so many options, there’s little reason to eat at the same place too many times.

A few of the tasty things you’ll find in SF (via Let’s Eat SF)

Pro Tip: Great places to eat and drink are a great conversation topic for any San Franciscan. If you want to move beyond Yelp and Foursquare Explore, just ask a local for a recommendation.

The 3 hour time zone difference is a big deal.

Having lived on the East Coast my whole life, I got very used to how much life revolves around the EST time zone. Sporting events, major news (like the State of the Union) and most television is optimized for EST. Being 3 hours behind can be difficult.

Being a big sports fan, this was a big adjustment. The first time I realized a Celtics playoff game was starting at 4pm was a sad day as there was no way I could watch the game until at least half time because of work. Meanwhile, NFL Sundays will never be the same as 10am kickoffs is something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. For those of you playing Fantasy Football, you may find yourself setting an alarm to make sure you’re awake in time to check injuries and set your lineup before the 1pm EST games.

Most importantly though, is the adjustment with family if they live in another time zone. I used to call my parents at least once or twice a week, especially to talk to my father if I needed business or life advice in a pinch. Unfortunately that’s a lot harder when you realize that if you wake up at 7am, it’s already mid-morning for them. Meanwhile, after work, if it’s 7pm here, it’s already 10pm and my parents are getting ready for bed. Bummer.

Pro Tip: Build a routine around connecting with anyone you want to keep in touch with on the East Coast. It will help fill in for all those moments you’re about to call someone and you realize the timing won’t work.

Watching sports matters a lot less.

With such great weather, so much to always do and the time zones throwing off game start times anyways, it’s little surprise that sports aren’t the center of conversation like they are in much of the Northeast.  In Boston, even women that hate sports have to pretend and wear pink Boston gear and watch the games. That definitely doesn’t happen here.

The good news is, if you have a team you love, there’s a “team bar” for just about any team in any sport. As a Steeler fan this has been great as I know there’s a place to go clad with the black and gold and the game on.

Pro Tip: If you’re used to bumming around inside on Sundays watching football, expect for that routine to change to brunch (a SF favorite activity) or any number of outdoor activities.

Everything is taken to the extreme.

San Francisco is a city with something for everyone. The interesting thing I found is how that is taken to the extreme. Whether you’re a hipster who will ride your fixie with your year-round (not just Movember) mustache or a bro in the Marina hulking on creatine, it seems everyone in a group tries to take it to the furthest point. In the most extreme case…look up the Folsom Street Fair (NSFW warning: graphic / sex-related).

In my daily life this has led to me noticing polarity like:

  • In fashion, either you’re super dressed up or you try very hard to look like you’re not trying at all in your skinny jeans, sandals and a t-shirt you wear every day.
  • Either you wear a jersey of your favorite team and go to the team bar to watch and talk about the game, or it doesn’t matter.
  • If you have a startup, your pitch probably includes how you’re going to not just build a cool business, but change the world in a massive way.

Pro Tip: Use this to your advantage and take one of your interests to a deeper level when you get there. You’ll likely meet others with the same interest who can teach you new things and be a friend. 

You’ll turn into an early adopter even if you weren’t one before.

As a city, San Francisco is at the forefront of a lot of innovation. Even our trash program is progressive as it tries to set us on a path for zero waste by 2020.  More specifically in your day to day though is all the new products gaining new adoption and hype every day here.

A common topic of conversation whether at work, at a bar or just out and about is always the latest the apps people are using. You’ll try them out and have an opinion or be left in the dust. All this adoption has an added benefit of meaning that San Franciscans often gets the first look at apps other cities can’t even use yet (exp: Sosh, Lyft, SideCar, etc).

Your iPhone screen may start looking like this after a few months:

Pro Tip: Try a couple new apps every week and if you’re looking to spark conversation, ask someone if they’ve tried any great apps lately.   

All the best tech startups are at their best here.

With all this great early adoption, it’s not that surprising that most of these startups are at their best here.

The most impressive to me is definitely Yelp.  It’s amazing in SF. I always use it and hear tips constantly after never using it in Boston. It seems like every store and restaurant has hundreds of reviews and there are a crazy number of Yelp Elites.

Pro Tip: If you tried apps like Foursquare and Yelp in other places and weren’t impressed, they’re worth another shot here.

Working in tech is the norm, not the exception.

Coming from Boston, startups feel almost like a secret society that flies under the radar; most of the city has no idea the hundreds of early stage startups there nor realize giants like Constant Contact, Kayak, and VistaPrint are all Boston companies. Meanwhile, here, no matter what you’re doing, those you meet will almost always be in finance or startups.

Like in Hollywood a few hours South, if you’re trying to “make it” (in our case, in startups, not writing/acting/directing), this is the place to be. There’s a 98% chance the person next to you in the coffee shop with the laptop open is working on their own startup or someone else’s.

Pro Tip: If you listen carefully to the conversations around you at the coffee shops here, you’ll hear tech gossip without even having to read TechCrunch.

A common sight at San Francisco coffee shops

People love novelty and new experiences.

This was actually one of the most surprising adjustments I had to make in common to San Francisco. In Boston, people are all about routine; you go to your favorite bar or restaurant with a certain group of friends like clockwork. If you find something you like, it quickly becomes the old standby and everyone is excited to recreate that experience.

In SF, it’s all about trying new things. Just because the last place you went was awesome doesn’t mean you’d like to go back. Instead,everyone looks for unique things to do and the fastest way to make friends is to suggest something unique & awesome to check out.

Pro Tip: With great weather pretty much year round, you can safely assume every weekend you’ll be able to get out of your apartment and experience something new. Cabin fever is a foreign concept in San Francisco.

Tons of awesome lies just beyond SF’s borders.

It’s easy to get lost in exploring San Francisco, but what really makes the city great is what lies just beyond. No matter what you love doing or your favorite climate, there’s great places to visit within a few hours drive of San Francisco.  You can snowboard or gamble in Tahoe, taste wines in Napa, rock climb or hike in national parks, mountain bike in Marin, or sail the bay.

Pro Tip: Oakland gets a bad rap, but there’s tons of great concerts and other events there worth checking out.

Come with an explorer’s attitude.

San Francisco is a city for new adventures and boundless opportunities. There’s great websites, apps and friendly locals who can help you take advantage of all there is to offer. With all the personality of the city and each individual neighborhood, there’s new things to discover and appreciate every where you go.

 

San Francisco native? What advice do you have for newcomers?

Update: Jacob, a native San Franciscan wrote a great post from a veteran’s perspective that’s well worth the read: http://sfloveaffair.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/34-on-things-you-should-know-about-san-francisco/

Update 2: With rent skyrocketing, if you want to save money, finding an open room is a must! Unfortunately, it’s super competitive with hundreds emailing for one room. You can learn to stand out from the crowd with this great guide on finding roommates in SF.

Special thanks to Zach Cole for help with this blog post. If you’re interested in startups and hiking, check out his site here: http://startuphike.com/