West Coast Differences – Non Startup Edition

I just took a trip to the Valley for the first time. I’ve had a lot to say about it from the perspective of an entrepreneur (see on Greenhorn Connect here and at OnStartups here). I also noticed quite a few things that have nothing to do with startups that I found culturally interesting.

1) Everyone is nice

Boston can be a cold place, and no I’m not talking about the weather. In general, you just don’t find people being friendly walking down the street, and you definitely don’t see it on the road.

One event really tipified this for me: I had just made it out of a parking garage before close. Because of this I didn’t have time to set my GPS before hitting the road. There was no where to park so I pulled off blocking a driveway. As I was engrossed in entering my destination address into my Garmin, an SUV started honking at me; they needed in the driveway. I of course complied.

What happened next shocked me. The woman parked her car, got out and walked over to where I had pulled off slightly up the street. When I put down my window, she apologized for honking her horn at me. 

2) Everyone weighs 15 pounds less

It’s hard to believe until you see it. Everyone is just in slightly better shape than I see them in Boston. It’s a visual average I noticed after a few days.

I think the cause of this is pretty simple. Nice weather = more time outdoors = more exercise. What kills us (even a gym rat like me) are these brutal winters. It’s really hard to get enough cardio in under those circumstances which means every winter you’re putting on a little weight. Add that up over a winter or two and you quickly get those 15 pounds.

3) The Valley has safer drivers

I’ll be totally honest: after not driving for 7.5 years, I’m a pretty terrible driver. Luckily, people in the Valley drive slower on the highways (around 65 instead of 80) and well, they aren’t MassHoles. They actually use things like turn signals and let people over when they do signal. It was refreshing and the only reason I got back to Boston in one piece.

4) Parking is a breeze outside SF

There’s easy parking in Mountain View and Palo Alto. Even downtown. And it’s free. I was terrified when I forgot to bring quarters with me on my trip and was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t need them.

5) Their public transportation is good, but flawed too

We all have our gripes with the MBTA but it gets you where you need to go….usually. The SF system is the same. Their buses are slightly unreliable, but have some drawbacks: the stops often smell of urine and the back part of every bus is covered in graffiti. Meanwhile, the CalTrain is incredible. Like a well oiled machine, the trains fly through the Valley right on schedule.

The best part of their system is they’ve tied it all together on one master card (their version of the Charlie Card). The Clipper Card, as they call it, was the only thing I needed and was easy to pick up at a station.

6) They have a serious homeless population

I found out while I was there that SF has the largest homeless population in the country and for some ridiculous reason they give each of them $400 a year (as if the year round good weather wasn’t attractive enough for the homeless).  I think this is a likely contributor to the bus stop urine smell.

These are just a few of the random differences I noticed in comparing the cities of Boston and SF and the Valley vs. New England.  Have you been both places? What have you noticed as a difference?

Visiting the Valley Next Week

Late in the summer, I wrote about how I thought startups should be “Tricoastal.” What I meant was that you can benefit greatly from having a presence in Boston, New York City and Silicon Valley.   I’ve made a number of visits to New York City in the past 6 months, but have yet to make a real visit to the Valley. It’s finally time to change that.

December 3rd through 8th I’m going to be visiting Silicon Valley.

In order to make the most of it, I plan to spend a little time in 3 of the major hubs: San Francisco, Palo Alto and Mountain View.

If you’re reading this, I’d love to meet up and/or hear your advice on things I can’t miss during this visit. I really want to get a feel for what it’s like out here, what makes the Valley tick and as many of the places that make the Valley special as possible.  I’m also working on a lean product management tool, so if you know any product people I should meet, let me know!

I’ll be in San Francisco: Saturday evening, 12/3 to midday Monday 12/5

I’ll be in Palo Alto: midday Monday 12/5 to midday Wednesday 12/7

I’ll be in Mountain View: midday Wednesday 12/7 through Thursday 12/8

I have places to crash in Palo Alto and Mountain View, but I’m still looking for a place to crash in SF on Saturday and Sunday nights.  If you’ve got a couch, please let me know!

So, what do I need to check out while in town?