9 Days in San Francisco

Sunset over the Bay

Photo credit: Sunset over the Bay

I just got back from a 10 day trip in San Francisco. This was my second time there, and it confirmed my first impression: there’s definitely no other place like it in the world.

There’s a very special vibe in San Francisco. It feels like you can do anything, whether that’s launch a new social network, or walk around naked in the street.

And it’s probably the best place in the world for meeting interesting people: hanging out in cafés is just part of the culture… and don’t get me started on the amazing restaurants. So although I only stayed 9 days, I was able to meet quite a lot of people. Here’s a short write-up of my trip.


Monday

I had lunch at Moya with Sean Grove of Zenbox and Didier and Estelle Lafforgue of Locomotive.

Zenbox is a great app that transforms your Gmail inbox into a full-featured CRM by importing user data from various apps like MailChimp, Mixpanel, or even Shopify.

Locomotive is an open-source Rails CMS, and I had the pleasure of designing its admin back-end as well as the current website. Didier and Estelle are working hard on the next version, and we talked about various monetization strategies (always a difficult topic for open source projects!).


Tuesday

On Tuesday, I met Paul Du Coudray for coffee at the famous Sightglass café. Paul works at Salesforce as a designer, but is also an experienced Rails developer. I asked him what he thought of Folyo since he’s a member, and we also discussed our respective careers as freelance designers.

I had lunch at Hipmunk, and it was nice to see Steve and Adam again and see how much the company had grown in just one year. Oh, and I got a pair of very cute Hipmunk hoodies for me and my wife! Thanks Steve!

I also met their designer Moiz Syed (also a Folyo designer by the way!), who showed me what he was working on. Since I mostly work alone, I’m always very interested in seeing other people’s design process. And by the way, if you’re a Hipmunk user, pretty exciting stuff is coming soon!


Wednesday

I had a very early 7:30am meeting with Zaarly‘s Shane Mac, again at Sightglass (did I mention I don’t even drink coffee?). Starting your day so early definitely shows an admirable work ethic, but I also find that a little scary…

I asked him questions about what it was like working with Matthew Smith, one of the designers I admire the most. We also talked about the process of translating static mockups to code, which is something I’m thinking about a lot lately, since I’m both the designer and coder on my own projects.

I then had lunch at Twitter with Josh Brewer. Josh is a great guy, and I got some valuable feedback on my projects. I must also say I was impressed by the sheer number of people in Twitter’s lunch area. Twitter is definitely growing up!


Thursday

I spent Thursday and Friday up in Davis (near Sacramento) with Paul Itoi and Seamus Nally of Chronotrack. Chronotrack is a race management app: think dealing with registration for marathons, timing runners, etc. I’ve been involved with them for a long time, and in fact they’re still using designs I made 4 years ago!

But the app has grown pretty complex over the years, so we tried to find ways to streamline the app and rethink its architecture. I think it’s important for any designer to be able to take a step back and think about design at a higher level, and not just make pretty gradients. So this was a good occasion to practice those skills.


Friday

I dropped by the Meteor offices on Friday evening. I’m using Meteor for a new project, and was anxious to meet the team after talking via email and Skype.

If you’re not familiar with it, Meteor is a real-time Javascript framework. I think it has a ton of potential, especially given the team behind it. I definitely suggest giving a try!


Satuday

I spent Saturday with Nicola Armelini and Yari D’areglia of Jumpzero, makers of Gradient and Frank DeLoupe. They had just spent one month in San Francisco and were ready to go back to Italy soon.

Although startups are great, I must say I’m personally more curious about small teams bootstrapping their own products, since that corresponds more to what I’m doing.

So it was very cool to just share our crazy product ideas and give each other feedback. And after that, we all went shopping for woman’s underwear (not for us though!).


Sunday

On Sunday, I met up with Guillaume Ardaud from Neonmob. Neonmob caught my interest early on not only for being an intriguing concept (digital collectibles), but for having Dribbble superstar Rogie King as one of its co-founder.

Rogie is one of the designers I really admire for not only coming up with great designs, but also coding them himself. In fact, he did all of Neonmob’s front-end coding, and the result is one of the best-designed app I know.

In the evening, I had dinner with designer Madhavi Jagdish. I know Madhavi because she used to work with my friends at CruiseWise, but this was my first time meeting her in person.

Besides being a great designer, she was also a great guide to San Francisco’s hidden spots, and took me to Minako, one of the best and most fun Japanese restaurants I’ve ever been to (and I live in Japan!).


Monday

Monday was Mountain View day. First, I had lunch at Google with ex-Sparrow designer Jean-Marc Denis and his colleague. They’re now working on Gmail, and although they couldn’t share any details about their work, I was happy to know that they at least shared my frustration with Gmail’s teeny tiny “compose” icon.

By the way, a word of warning: going to the Google Campus without a car from San Francisco will take you two hours, and require two buses and one train… Unless you do like I did and hitch a ride on the Google Shuttle (it’s supposed to be employees only, but the driver was nice!).

(Oh and by the way I’m sorry Google, but the food at Twitter was much better!)

After Google I dropped by the 500Startups offices to hang out with Diesel Laws of KickFolio and Diego Jimenez from Tourist Eye. The 500Startups workspace had a very hacker-ish, international vibe that reminded me of a hackathon or startup weekend.

We had a nice chat about freelancing, startups, and design, and that once again led me to wonder if the startup lifestyle would suit me…

I then met with Forrest Kobayashi from Zurb, a consultancy famous for its numerous apps and Foundation web framework. Forrest was clearly a very passionate guy, and embodies what’s so great about Silicon Valley people: they’re positive, energetic, and love what they’re doing.

I then finished out the day with dinner at 21st Amendment with Paul Stamatiou from PicPlum, another YC company (I’m trying to check them all of from my list. Only 245 more to go…).

We talked about the startup lifestyle vs being a freelancer, or even just a regular employee. From reading TechCrunch you’d think building a startup was all rainbows and unicorns and rolling around in piles of cash, so it’s always nice to get the story from somebody who’s actually living it.


Tuesday

On Tuesday, I headed down to the Mission to meet up with Creative Market‘s Darius “Bubs” Monsef. I was really excited to meet Darius, because just like Folyo, Creative Market is a startup that directly targets great designers.

We talked about his plans for the site, as well as our shared interest for MMA and Hawai (I’ve never been there but I’ve always wanted to!).

Finally, I rounded out my trip with a visit to Disqus to meet Joshua Sortino. It turns out I’m known throughout Disqus as “the orange circle guy” because of the guest post I did for them about customizing Disqus comments for this blog.

Disqus was in the middle of an internal hackathon so I didn’t want to disturb them too much, but it certainly seemed like a very cool company to work for.


As you can see, those were some very busy 9 days! It was awesome to finally put faces on Twitter usernames, as well as randomly meeting people who had read my blog or were subscribed to my newsletter.

And after this trip, I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if I lived in San Francisco and/or joined (or founded) a startup. It’s certainly an attractive perspective, but since this is not really a feasible option for now, I guess I’ll have to do my best as a lone wolf working from Osaka, Japan!

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