Get Back in the Game

Everything I’ve read about the American economy argues that our most serious problem is the number of able-bodied men and women who in previous generations would be working but now haven’t worked in years.

Such articles evoke the ghetto’s despair, the laid-off factory worker, the aging salaryman left behind by a digital economy.

But my immediate experience is with a different group of people : the 42-year-old engineers and entrepreneurs who retired from Microsoft, Google and Apple at the top of their game; the 28 year-old Facebook and Zynga millionaires already intent on doing deals, not making products.

Who could blame them? A high-growth company can rip the bones from your back. The people who built those companies have earned the right to do whatever they want. They’re reinventing philanthropy, and investing in thousands of new businesses.

But I can’t help but feel that if all the people getting lunch at the Bellevue Club or a coffee at Buck’s just got back in the game as operators and engineers, you could open a second Silicon Valley from the result. The glow from its economic activity could be seen from outer space.

We could use another Valley right now. The entrepreneurs working from the age of 22 – 32 are enough to make everyone in high-technology wealthy, but modernizing the whole economy is a lifelong project. What if the so-called greatest generation, which turned an agrarian country into an industrial powerhouse, had retired early? In our competition with China and India, America’s digital transformation seems to me like a challenge on the same scale.

That transformation begins with the people who know how to start and build high-growth companies. These are our economy’s unicorns, the mystical magical, rare wild creatures who can create jobs.

They are creatures like Adam Doppelt. Adam made plenty of money on Urbanspoon and, undoubtedly, Cubeduel, but is already back at it again with his VRBO-killer, Dwellable. He keeps doing his own startups because he’s worried one day no one else in high technology will hire him. Last I saw him, Adam’s parting question to me was, “Have you ever met a 65-year-old startup engineer?”

The commercial Internet is only 16 years old, so that question is just now dawning on many of us. But consider my ideal of commercial success when growing up, Michael Reidy. I initially met him on the deck of his house, which overlooked a 9-hole golf course. I was friends with his 14-year-old son, Conan Reidy.

Mr. Reidy was the first businessman I ever saw, and probably the first Republican too. Conan introduced me to him as if it were an audience with the pope. I stared at him as if he were a zoo animal.

It was a Sunday, and Mr. Reidy was working from a lawn chair. The deck may have been carpeted with an astroturf putting green, or I may be imagining this detail. Printed spreadsheets drifted like tumbleweeds by my feet. I looked up to see that he had a high-ball in his hand. I asked what he was doing.

“Trying… to get… this goddamn economy…  MOVING AGAIN!” he said. Jimmy Carter had implored America’s business leaders to start new ventures, and Mr. Reidy said that he had to heed the call. He had already made enough money to kick back in Coeur d’Alene, but was up to his eyeballs again in a venture to build a chain of Hoagie’s Corners.

Long after he didn’t have to anymore, he kept on risking, building, trying. Last I heard, he’s now “doing windmills in Phoenix.”

Discussion

  • Matt

    Amen, Glenn!

  • Conan Reidy

    Some fun fact checking for Glenn…
    It was obviously Reagan, not Carter. Nice try. This is the patent # for the windmill that he invented while living in Phoenix: 7,484,363
    You did get the astroturf detail correct, though the deck didn't double as a putting green. 
    Hoagie's Corners is actually correct

    I think it's sweetly ironic that my Dad spent the better part of his adult life fighting environmentalists (his term was NIMBY) in the Pacific Northwest, and a good portion (thus far) of his retirement years inventing an actual windmill. Even better that he refuses to see any irony in this at all!

    PS Kathleen says hi

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      Conan! So glad Kathleen showed you this blog post! I think your dad only likes windmills if they make money, which is the right attitude to have when you're building them! Are you sure that it was Reagan? I thought you'd presented it to me as this act of noblesse oblige, that your dad would deign to help a beleaguered Democrat. And it's nice to think that we rallied for one another back then…

  • http://www.realtown.com/ardell/blog Ardell DellaLoggia

    I think of this every time I see Matt Kruse's message on the market summary on my iGoogle page. The goal of “work” has become to “quit working” at what they currently do to earn a living. 
    In the mid to late 90's everyone wanted to quit their “day job” to be a “day trader”. Now they publicly announce their “cause” of quitting their “day job” to create new technology thingies in their basements. :) “My name is Matt Kruse, and I created this Market Summary gadget. I'm just one guy doing all this, and it is supported solely through donations from people like you. I'm not a company. I'm a guy sitting in his basement late at night, coding for you! My dream is to quit my job and work full time creating awesome software projects. Do you know that if every gadget user would just donate $5, I could actually do it?! Could you spare just a few dollars to make a small software developer's dream come true?You would tip a waiter more than that at a random restaurant visit, right? :) How about the guy spending hours writing the software you use daily? Thank you!!!”

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      Great sentiment Ardell, I love it!

  • Aggie

    Where I'm at in Silicon Valley, there is a lot of hiring, but people are being brought from overseas for interviews. Very few locals are brought in for interviews.

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      I worry more about ageism than anti-nativism…