San Francisco Apartment Hunting

As you can imagine from my multi-week radio silence, I've been a bit busy lately. Over the past couple weeks, I finally moved into my new place and am (almost) no longer living out of suitcases and boxes. To commemorate this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to deliver on my promise of a SF apartment hunting post.

It's no big secret that craigslist owns the San Fran rental market. Whether you're looking for or renting a place, you really need not look any further. My company even hooked me up with a rental agent to show me around and all but one apartment we looked at came straight from craigslist.

Having lived in NYC and Boston, two other heavily craigslist-dependent cities, I understood how the game works: landlords or rental agents put up a post and receive 50-100 responses within a couple hours. This creates a seller's market, where landlords can screen for the best credit report and highest income and fast-track those applicants to avoid the hassle of large open house crowds. Convince the gatekeeper that you're responsible, a good neighbor and, most of all, successful, and you're in.

At first blush San Fran seemed like the same game: big city, expensive apartments, huge inventory of renters, relatively standardized offerings. Only one minor difference stood out: landlords here seemed to prefer open houses to save time showing the place. On the whole, though, same game, same strategy.

...But three weekends came and went and I wasn't offered a single apartment. What was going on? I started questioning the agents and landlords- what was wrong with my application? And one by one I got the same answer: "we never even ran your application." It seems I misunderstood the rules of the game.

East coast landlords interpreted craigslist as creating a fair market, where they could select the best tenant with the least likelihood of default, but San Fran landlords hold to a more basic definition of fairness: first come, first served. Despite all the similarities in the markets, the rules of the game were, in fact different. What I didn't know at first was that landlords would run the first 3-5 apps and pick the best one; everyone else has a near-zero chance.

With only one weekend left to find a place, I changed up my game plan. No more schmoozing the landlord, no more wasting time. If I couldn't be the first one at any given apartment, I knew my chances dropped significantly; so I only went to open houses if I could be there 15-20 minutes before the posted time, to ensure my application would be first or second in the pile.

Did it work? Well, I put in six apps that weekend and was offered four apartments. Far better than my .000 batting average prior to that. Most importantly, I now have a great place that I love and didn't wind up sleeping on the street at all.

Have you found success with a similar strategy? Know of others that work well? If so, let us know!


Apple Wins Again: Dust Settles on the iPhone Controversy

The blogosphere ran rampant on the heels of Apple's day-after announcement of a $100 store credit for early iPhone adopters. The range of emotions was wide, but most saw the move as reactionary, a surrender, a shame. Personally, I couldn't disagree more.

Credit Steve Jobs with yet another brilliant move. In his apology letter, Jobs explains what I penned less eloquently yesterday: "There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane." Early adopters know and expect this. The $200 drop seemed so extreme because Apple did such a masterful job of justifying iPhone's initial price tag a couple months back. Early adopters weren't upset to be out $200, they were upset that Apple itself had called into question the value of their baby!

So the initial, short-lived backlash aside, where does the dust settle on Apple? What have they won?

1. When iPhone II launches next year, early adopters won't be afraid to fork over the cash, because they trust Jobs will treat them fairly should the price decline.

2. Jobs and Apple turn a PR nightmare into a PR success by showing the company has a heart that beats only for its customers.

3. Apple STILL walks having successfully price-discriminated its user base, extracting and extra $100 from each early adopter.

4. Apple is rewarded with not 1, but 2-3 days of heated media coverage (not to mention years of case study discussion at the world's top MBA schools).

5. Apple gets to explicitly communicate iPhone as the perfect holiday gift early, reminding shoppers to stash away that extra $399 by December.

6. Many recent purchasers will claim the $100 rebate, not realizing they're actually entitled to $200.

7. The $100 rebate is in Apple store credit- ensuring return business and potentially INCREASING sales!

Many have assumed the rebate wasn't planned, but I for one wouldn't be surprised if this is yet another beautifully choreographed, albeit unconventional, Steve Jobs presentations.


To iPhone Early Adopters: Ha Ha!

During today's much-hyped Apple Special Event, the company announced all-kinds of new fun regarding iPods, but the story they tried to bury under a deluge of iPod upgrades,the marked drop in 8MB iPhone pricing from $599 to $399, is grabbing a lion share of media attention.

Everyone knew the iPhone price had to come down to earth, but this decline is quite striking- and early adopters are not happy. Let's do the math: 3 hours in line + paid $200 more + dealt with a ton of early kinks/bugs/service issues = 10 "wow, cool!"s out of their friends. I hope it was worth it...

NYC Cabbie Strike a Non-Issue

The long-feared NYC cabbie strike took effect today, reports the NY Times and the impact felt by passengers...well, hasn't really been that great. Despite rather extremist reports on some sites (i.e. Engadget) that estimate strike volume at 90% of cabs, the NY Times reports that major cab companies have only seen a loss of about 25% of cars on the road.

Chalk this up as yet another victory for the free market in the storied tale of diminishing union power in America. NYC cab drivers are notoriously capitalistic, a fact that Bloomberg's contingency plan brilliantly leveraged, offering economic incentives for cabbies sitting out the strike that could pay for the GPS installations that caused the strike in the first place!

As a consumer, I applaud the GPS requirement, as it will reduce tax evasion by cab drivers, improve routing and fleet management (making individual cabs more profitable), assist in the "greening" of NYC and provide new revenue streams through advertising. Oh, and being able to pay via credit card is clutch, as in my past life I often paid the "black car" premium over yellow cabs for this luxury alone.


Why (not to) start-up in the valley?

As you likely guessed from my unusual silence, I went on vacation for Labor Day weekend, spending a few lovely days with my girlfriend and her family in Oklahoma City. Yes, Oklahoma City. One of the rare commonalities binding east and west coasters is their reaction to the phrase "I'm going to Oklahoma"- I could just as well say I'm going to Narnia or Tatooine and receive the same response (if not better). I promise, it's a real place: and even Wikipedia backs me up on that claim.

But I digress.

Over lunch on Monday, my girlfriend's father posed a hypothetical question: how would life be for someone such as myself, trying to make it somewhere like Oklahoma City? My gut reaction is of course to think that there's just not as much opportunity there- I mean, for techies in the U.S. where else is there but the Valley, Seattle and Virginia?

On the other hand, many people have made a small fortune in small town America- Warren Buffet among the most notable. It seems to make sense to me that for internet start-ups, potentially the most scalable and location-agnostic business model outside of finance, location shouldn't be an issue. The obvious sticking point is that at a certain size, attracting qualified local labor or relos might be tough, but there must be at least 100 bright engineers for the taking in middle America. That's enough to get along for awhile. Throw in decreased labor, capital and overhead costs and an improved ability to fly under the radar and there might be something to this argument.

So let me ask you, my exalted (and rapidly growing!- thanks for referring me!) audience. Is the need to be in one of the tech hot spots fact or fiction? Can you scale and "go viral" without being entrenched in the tech community? How does the trade-off stack-up in your mind?

Here's what others are saying:

1. How to Kick Silicon Valley's Butt
-How to Change the World: A Practical Blog for Impractical People

2. One of our goals...is to help build that ecosystem here in the Chicago area, the place we call home. We know we’re not alone...what needs to happen first?
-Silicon Prairie Social

3. Everyone needs to hop into the sandbox and play. And that’s exactly what you get in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It’s a giant mashup of non-stop events and networking opportunities. Meeting top people and key players is easy. And generally, people seem willing to help.
-Instigator Blog

4. On Bangalore being compared to the valley: But the biggest problem...is the absense of “deal flow”. No one likes to trade capital – if you get in, the only way to get out is the IPO or an acquisition.