In 2013, when we needed a space for our startup, Iodine, we found the perfect spot: a little office on an alley in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood, which, as it happened, was just around the corner from Wired, where I'd worked the previous dozen years. It was familiar, commuter friendly, quirky-cool, and not too expensive.
In retrospect, those were simpler times, when a cup of coffee cost less than $3 and office space leased for under $50 a square foot. These days, to walk through the neighborhood is to enter a Neverland of venture capital-subsidized carpools and same-day laundry-delivery services. Today, more than Silicon Valley, SoMa is the epicenter of the world-eating software boom. Within a four-block radius stand the headquarters for Dropbox, Postmates, GitHub, Yammer, a baker's dozen companies with names ending in -ly, and enough venture capitalists to pay off all of Greece's debt.
So we barely rolled our eyes the other day when a new neighbor moved in down the block: Yo. Turns out this was not Yo the absurdly simple and popular friending app. It's Yo.tv, a TV-listings app based in the U.K. that's expanding to the U.S. But the confusion was apt, since every day in our neighborhood there's a new sideshow, be it a block-long line for cruffins (they are a thing, apparently) or the broom-toting, orange-vested tech workers cleaning up sidewalks out of their bosses' sense of civic duty. The new normal around here is pretty much the opposite of normal.
In this environment, it's sometimes a challenge to stay focused on the goals and targets of our company, which can seem a world away from the frenzy just a few doors away, because Iodine isn't in the business of making it easier to watch television or say "Yo" to your friends (who knew that was even a problem?). Rather, we're trying to make it easier to find the best medication for your health condition. It's a lot less sexy than finding a beer bro, but we think it's probably more important in the long run.
Still, I won't argue that better health care brings people as much joy as same-time-as-wished cheesecake delivery or on-demand helicopter time shares. Almost by definition, health care is an unhappy experience. We know that, and actually relish it. When somebody is on the brink of quitting a medication because the side effects are too unpleasant, that's a real problem, one we can address. That's why when people ask what Iodine does, I describe it in terms of health care economics rather than startup metrics. When we talk about how we're helping people, we talk about things like reducing fear and anxiety and improving outcomes and adherence. It's just a fundamentally different discourse.
Not that we think we're better than our neighbors. Far from it; their energy subsidizes our own everyday pleasures. As for any business operating in San Francisco these days, there's a swarm of services catering to Iodine's needs, fueled by venture capital. So we send packages using Shyp, we get food delivered from Good Eggs and Postmates, TaskRabbit assembles our office furniture, and we take cheaper-than-taxi rides home using Lyft and Uber. San Francisco is basically a petri dish in which hundreds of startup experiments are trying to find their niche, and we're lucky to circulate in the same laboratory.
When it comes down to it, we are in exactly the same business as both Yo and Yo. We're all trying to turn an idea into a product that people can't live without. Can we build something people want, and can we get them to find it and use it every day? That's our mutual challenge, and it's the same in San Francisco as it is in Seattle or Syracuse or anywhere an entrepreneur has begun building a company. So hello, Yo. Welcome to the neighborhood.