The stately Victorian houses on Alamo Square, known as the “Painted Ladies,” are an easy visual shorthand for San Francisco, especially if you know the city mostly from Full House. Around the corner, in a grand old five-bedroom, $9,000-per-month place on Fulton Street, a poster hanging in the kitchen tracks the history of man from “hunter” to “start-up founder.” Welcome to a hacker hostel, complete with Ikea beds in rooms named Instagram, Zappos, and Tesla.
Dozens of this new sort of commune have lately cropped up in the city: mansions or warehouses filled with a mix of engineers, artists, and “makers” who sign up for “tech talks, BBQs, parties on weekends,” as the listing for one summarizes the lifestyle. If the Summer of Love–era commune was for anti-capitalism and political ideals, Startup Basecamp—a start-up itself, freshly incorporated—has rebranded the co-living space as a vehicle for the entrepreneur lifestyle and its big-money IPO daydreams. Here, the average stay is just ten days, and many of the residents—almost all of whom are men, between 22 and 37—have made the pilgrimage from overseas. Some arrive looking for gigs with H-1B visas, others to network or to get “feedback,” the term that seems to have found its way into all their accented English.
On a recent Monday “pitch night,” Kurt, a friendly, 22-year-old Canadian in an Amazon hoodie, cued up a keynote-presentation investment pitch on the living room’s flat-screen TV over the electric fireplace for a dozen residents sipping Red Stripe. A copy of The Wolf of Wall Street lay at the foot of the couch. Kurt explained how his app, Woof, delivers tips and pet insurance to new owners via their smartphones. “How do you measure engagement?” came a question from the room. “How many people are going to connect more than two times?” Out in the kitchen, an Ecuadoran was drawing what looked like a football play on the whiteboard. “These are the rich families in Latin America,” he said, pointing to a row of circles. A French developer described his visit to San Francisco: “I get up, get coffee, and get on my computer.”