Anitra and I attended last night’s CyberX Tampa event, an conference about the cybersecurity industry here in Tampa Bay. It was an extraordinarily well-attended event, with over 170 people gathered together to talk about technology, security, and the local tech scene.
The event took place at TheIncLab’s offices, located in one of the old warehouses in Tampa’s historic Ybor City neighborhood, which is largely made of repurposed cigar factories from the late 1800s. They have a beautiful courtyard which I’m familiar with — before it was TheIncLab’s place, it was home to The Undercroft, whose UC Baseline cybersecurity course I took in 2020.
CyberX Tampa opened with drinks, snacks, and networking, followed by two simultaneous panels.
The courtyard had the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion panel, featuring:
By hyping themselves as more than just an a company buying and renting expensive office space to the generation that could least afford it (but with free beer and wine — at least for a little while), and despite hemorrhaging wheelbarrows of cash, they managed to con their primary investor, SoftBank, out of about $10 billion in investments and into a $47 billion valuation. That fell apart after they filed for an IPO, the mandatory disclosures for which revealed their financial fakery.
The IPO was cancelled 33 days after it was launched and all the WeWeirdness came to light.
SoftBank took over WeWork.
Neumann’s reward for screwing up? SoftBank would give him about $1.7 billion to step down from WeWork’s board and dissociate himself from the company.
What was Adam Neumann’s follow-up act?
What do you do when you’ve been exposed as the bozo behind the “biggest, dumbest scam in American history?” You look for even dumber people to fleece. So Neumann got into Web 3.0.
Neumann’s Web 3.0 venture, Flowcarbon, a company that purports to “use blockchain technology to put carbon offset credits on-chain, accelerating the creativity and scalability of climate change solutions.”
And so we come to Neumann’s third big questionable business outing: this “residential real-estate management” startup, which took his previous venture’s name and shortened it to Flow.
Feel free to steal this joke: Creating the new company name from the previous one is probably Neumann’s only success in carbon removal.
Backing Flow is — once again — Andreesen Horowitz, who this time threw even more money at Neumann and company: $350 million, which the New York Times describes as “the largest individual check Andreessen Horowitz has ever written in a round of funding to a company.” a16z value Flow at $1 billion.
Neumann has purchased more than 3,000 apartment units in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Nashville. His aim is to rethink the housing rental market by creating a branded product with consistent service and community features. Flow will operate the properties Neumann has bought and also offer its services to new developments and other third parties. Exact details of the business plan could not be learned.
I fear this idea has legs, but I also take comfort in the fact that Adam Neumann is at the helm. Why? Because he’s one of my south-pointing compasses.
The importance of south-pointing compasses
You’ve probably been told about the value of having mentors and role models, because they provide us with a “horizon” — a direction to move towards, something to strive for, and examples to follow.
But what’s equally valuable is the type of person I refer to as a “south-pointing compass,” or what others have called an “anti–rolemodel.” It’s just as important to know what not to do, which is why we in tech like to look for antipatterns. In fact, south-pointing compasses are antipattern practitioners.
I’ve found it very helpful in my career to maintain relationships with a number of south-pointing compasses because they’re so useful. Some of these relationships are parasocial (I know them, but like I know characters in a book, not personally) or arm’s length (I know them, but keep things at the cordial acquaintance level). All of them have at least one valuable thing to teach, even if that lesson simply is don’t do what they do:
That striver who always follows the latest flavor-of-the-week management trend, and executes it poorly, only to dump it for the next trend? South-pointing compass.
That person who keeps hopping onto the next big language/framework/platform and starts but never completes any projects with that thing? South-pointing compass.
That coworker who constantly performs what HR kindly calls “career-limiting moves?” South-pointing compass.
If you’re looking for a startup job, you’re probably wondering “What warning signs should I look for?”. Fortunately, there’s a recent example to learn from: Fast.
Fast was a startup whose product was Fast Checkout, a one-click checkout system for ecommerce. Every step in the online checkout process increases the chance that the customer won’t complete the purchase. Reducing online purchases to a single click is such a big deal that Amazon patented the process in 1997, which has contributed to its runaway success. The patent expired in 2017, and with that came the competition to own the business of providing one-click checkout to everyone other than Amazon.
In 2021, having raised over $100 million in funding from investors that included Stripe, Fast announced that they were opening their east coast hub here in Tampa to greatfanfare:
In a collapse that was incredibly (ahem) fast — even for an overhyped company with a burn rate fueled by stunt marketing — they closed down a mere 8 months later.
How much runway do they have?Runway is how long they can stay in operation if their income and expenses stay the same. In an early-stage startup that doesn’t have any customers yet, runway effectively becomes how many months the company can operate before running out of money.
Find out if there’s a clear set of critical business metrics that they track and if they’re available to you. Any startup worth the effort is painfully and continuously aware of the key metrics that determine whether they’re doing the right things or not. The employees at Fast were unaware of how little revenue the company was making or how few customers they had
Interview your future manager and a founder.
Talk to investors.
Talk to people who left.
Assume your stock grants are worthless.
Remember that reward is often proportional to risk.
You should be a regular listener/viewer of the Arguing Agile podcast, a YouTube show hosted by Tampa Bay techies Brian Orlando and Om Patel that features local techies talking about software development, agility, and everything in between, completely unscripted and unrehearsed — just real conversations about real tech work. In the past year, they’ve published 66 episodes, the latest of which features…me!
In this episode, titled Personal Agility and the Great Resignation, we talk about doing work in the brave new world of post-2020 and discuss things such as:
The power of team-building ceremonies and exercises, and why they have to be meaningful and not just “doing team stuff for team stuff’s sake.”
In the past couple of months, I’ve had my first chances to meet with my team at Auth0 (Developer Marketing) after working with them for a year and a half — first at a small summit in Salt Lake City, and last week in London.
Earlier in your life, it’s much easier to work ultra-hard in the quest to advance your career, but you can’t do it for an extended period. This is the exact thing that generates mid-life crises, and physical and mental health issues.
We talk about my time at Microsoft where I was a Windows Phone Champion, Albert Shum’s design for its “Metro” UI, and Microsoft’s thinking during the Ballmer era: “The mobile platform is the desktop platform, but lamer.”
I was at a gathering of P2P people at Microsoft in 2001 that was attended by Tim O’Reilly and Dave Winer, where we were told that “IE6 will be the last browser, because the future is applets.”
A story from my time at Cory Doctorow’s startup where how I show how hard it is to predict the future.
The importance of communication when working remotely and keeping Conway’s Law in mind.
Strip away the technology, and a teacher from hundreds of years ago would still recognize a present-day classroom and the lecture format.
We share stories about learning by doing, with Om talking about his daughter at med school and me talking about a story about the Logo programming language, where children learned beyond what they were being taught.
Apparently “scooter rental” — a more accurate description of Bird’s business — wasn’t “TechCrunchy” enough, so they went with the phrase “shared micromobility company,” a case of title inflation that will someday join the ranks of “sanitation engineer.”
What does Musk use his freedom of speech for? Well, there’s the whole “pedo guy” thing, which didn’t add anything useful to a situation where people were racing against the clock in a search-and-rescue operation.
“Elon Musk taking #Twitter private could mean an end to content moderation and a return of the platform as fertile ground for extremism, white supremacy, harrassment, and disinformation. Or it could mean nothing. Either way, if this deal goes through, it’ll change the social media landscape in a very big way.”
A very big way, certainly. But a good one? I doubt it.