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The search for tech’s next big city

The search for tech’s next big city

Good morning! This Monday, a look at the many contenders for the title of The Next Silicon Valley, what scares DoorDash and why Travis Scott is the future of advertising.

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The Big Story

The many next Silicon Valleys

Anna Kramer writes: If we've learned anything during this year, it's that California isn't the be-all, end-all for the future of tech. I'm not one of those "Silicon Valley is over" people, but I'm definitely a "Silicon Valley is less important than you think" person. For a long time, a lot of tech workers felt they had to live in the Bay Area. Now they know that's not true, and so do most tech companies.

Where's next? The short answer is: a lot of places. "Tech" is far too large and sprawling to be as centralized in the next 50 years as it was for the last 50. For the long answer, I picked the brain of a man eager to find where tech is just beginning to emerge: Patrick McKenna, the founder of One America Works, which aims to connect tech companies with talented workers across the U.S.

  • Austin, Denver and Salt Lake City are the obvious choices, McKenna said. They're already cities that tech workers and execs gravitate toward, to vacation and luxuriate in the lower taxes. They have the potential to be mini-SVs, with similar cultures and similar problems. (Austin is arguably already most of the way there.)
  • Atlanta and Chicago head the list of places that could really challenge the industry: diversify it, encourage new innovation and make it cheaper and more accessible. McKenna calls them "obviously under-leveraged."
  • Then there are the "emerging cities": It's a long list that includes places like Nashville (thanks to health tech), Pittsburgh (robotics) and Indianapolis (marketing technology).

Retaining talent will now require a greater level of location flexibility, a reality that every tech company is facing. Life outside the Bay Area has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and "a lot of people who went home during the pandemic are actually seeing the value of the places they grew up in," McKenna explained.

  • For people in Atlanta, this rings especially true. After hearing from a number of leaders who back the region as a future tech capital, I dove deep into why Atlanta is key for companies hoping to fulfill their promises to recruit and retain more Black engineers and leaders. My big takeaway? Google and Microsoft are leading the way there, and other industry leaders had better be paying attention.

I want to hear more about where people want to live and the places companies are moving to and investing in. So shoot me an email at akramer@protocol.com to tell me where you're living during the pandemic, whether you're thinking about staying put or anything else you'd like to share.

Risk Factors

What worries DoorDash

DoorDash is going public! You know this already. But this is Source Code, and one of our inalienable traditions is that we have to talk about Risk Factors whenever a company like this files its S-1.

DoorDash is a particularly telling case, given its spot right in the middle of the gig economy. (Though it's also a unique one, given that it actually made money recently!) If there's one thing to learn here outside the standard money-losing and pandemic problems, it's that companies like DoorDash are terrified that eventually everyone — users, drivers, regulators, reporters — will decide that gig companies are a bad idea.

  • From the S-1: "Our pay model for Dashers, particularly with respect to tips for Dashers, has previously led, and may continue to lead, to negative publicity, lawsuits, and government inquiries."
  • And later: "Our reputation, brand, and ability to build trust with existing and new merchants, consumers, and Dashers may be adversely affected by complaints and negative publicity about us, our platform, merchants, and Dashers that utilize our platform or our competitors' platforms, even if factually incorrect or based on isolated incidents." This point is followed by 23 bullets of specific bad things that could happen.
  • The employee versus contractor debate is the most high-stakes. "A reclassification of Dashers or other delivery service providers as employees would require us to significantly alter our existing business model and operations and impact our ability to add and retain Dashers to our platform and grow our business," the company writes.

The filing also makes clear just how tenuous every marketplace company is, no matter how powerful it seems right now. It's not all that hard for a competitor to spin up a delivery service if it's well-capitalized; it's not hard for users to switch apps. The moats that DoorDash and others have built are really, really shallow, and it knows it.

  • DoorDash is hoping to dig deeper moats by investing in drones, building a logistics platform, and creating "a membership program to the physical world." But lots of other companies are digging in those places, too.

A MESSAGE FROM SAMSUNG NEXT

SamsungNext

Welcome to the age of synthetic media

Content generated or manipulated by AI through machine or deep learning is changing how we create, distribute, consume, and democratize media. What does synthetic media have the power to change next?

Learn more

People Are Talking

Selena Gomez is the latest celebrity to call out Big Tech:

  • "@googleads needs to stop the spread of hate and misinformation."
  • She got a five-tweet thread from Google Ads in response

Immigration policy continues to hurt the tech industry's future, Dropbox co-founder (and the son of Iranian immigrants) Arash Ferdowsi said:

  • "Even now, the outgoing Trump administration is seeking to dismantle the visa system for international students, and making it far harder to hire skilled workers. That robs us of the talented young people we need to grow our economy and shuts down crucial opportunities for innovation."

Elon Musk appears to have COVID-19 and processed it the way he processes everything, which is to say in his Twitter replies:

  • "Am getting wildly different results from different labs, but most likely I have a moderate case of covid. My symptoms are that of a minor cold, which is no surprise, since a coronavirus is a type of cold."

Rebekah Mercer was revealed to be the main funding source behind Parler, and she said the app serves a very specific purpose:

  • "The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of free speech online. That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy."

Coming Up This Week

The next congressional tech hearing is tomorrow, with Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for an event called "Breaking the news: Censorship, suppression, and the 2020 election." It's going to be … messy. Jack should be meditating extra hard today.

The CB Insights Future of Fintech conference starts today, and a few of us at Protocol are hosting conversations over the course of the event.

The NYT's DealBook virtual event starts tomorrow, and we'll hear from Masa Son, Bill Gates, Ruth Porat, Tim Sweeney and others over the two days.

Nvidia and Baidu both report earnings this week.

In Other News

  • TikTok now technically has two more weeks before it gets banned in the U.S. I plan to spend the time before then finding a way to bet on "nothing will happen on Nov. 27, either."
  • SpaceX launched four astronauts into space Sunday evening. They're headed to the International Space Station. This is the company's first fully operational mission with humans aboard — another big step toward the commercialization of space travel.
  • The story everyone was talking about this weekend: The New York Times looking into the rural internet "dead zones." The "broadband gap" is going to be one of the core issues of the next few years.
  • 1.4 million people have rejected Airbnb's non-discrimination agreement, choosing to not use the platform rather than agree to "treat everyone in the Airbnb community … with respect, and without judgment or bias."
  • Qualcomm can still sell 4G chips to Huawei, after getting an exemption from the U.S. government. But it still can't sell newer 5G gear.
  • Amazon's customer support team had a weird weekend after inadvertently wading into geopolitics while telling a customer why they couldn't watch rugby.
  • Uber is reportedly in talks to sell its autonomous vehicles division to Aurora Innovation. It wasn't very long ago that self-driving was seen as core to Uber's future as a business.
  • Don't miss this story about the search for a "cryptographic master tool," published by Quanta. Researchers have been trying to prove that such a tool could exist and how they might be able to build it themselves.

One More Thing

The ultimate unboxing video

If you want to understand the future of advertising, basically all you need to do is follow Travis Scott. He turned "buying a quarter-pounder" into a cultural event for McDonald's, he set the bar for musical events in Fortnite, and now he's worked with Sony to create the single coolest unboxing video I've ever seen. The guy just keeps winning the internet.

A MESSAGE FROM SAMSUNG NEXT

SamsungNext

Welcome to the age of synthetic media

Content generated or manipulated by AI through machine or deep learning is changing how we create, distribute, consume, and democratize media. What does synthetic media have the power to change next?

Learn more

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day; see you tomorrow.

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