Everyone knows that the epicenter of Silicon Valley has shifted north to San Francisco. There’s a lot of digital ink spilled on all the ways that’s bad for the city. Vacancy rates are less than 5%. Housing prices are surging. Traffic is bad again. Plenty of people think high tech ruins what’s great about this city.
Well, having a city full of well-off people who have a hacker mentality and thrive on solving problems is a good thing, too. I’ve written a few times about how people in the tech world are turning their attention on schools in San Francisco. One of the efforts is a school launched in part by Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew. Called Presidio Knolls, it’s a progressive Mandarin immersion school in the heart of San Francisco.
It’s doing a capital campaign, and Liew is helping out by putting up for auction his most valuable possession, at least professionally speaking: his connections. He’s auctioning off 1:1 lunches with 20 VCs in his network, among them Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital, Alfred Lin of Sequoia, and Sameer Ghandi of Accel Partners. In case you’re looking to know more VCs, the auction ends August 27. So far, David Lee of SV Angel is fetching the highest price at just under $1,000 for an hour of his time and a meal.
VCs have long trumpeted their rolodex as the reason you take money from them — the so-called elusive “value add.” Can you put a price on that? For charity….well, maybe.
Forget bachelor auctions, startup connections and relationships are the most lucrative currency in the Valley. There’s a reason that the biggest companies tend to come from the same place, and it’s not the water. Liew is seeking to leverage them to continue building his dream school for his kids.
I think there’s a big trend here, and we’re going to see more of it, as Silicon Valley’s philanthropic drive starts to get awakened. Not everyone has millions or billions to give, or maybe they do, but it’s not liquid yet. Meanwhile, a lot of people have important pull. It’s the unique commodity that drives the economics of this place.
A lot has been written about how the Valley doesn’t have the same “gala” fundraising culture as exists on the East Coast. It strikes me that this trend is a decidedly Valley way to support local causes. And the fact that you can publicly see what time with each VC is “worth” may even spur some interesting “please bid on me!” game mechanics to promote more giving. (To wit: A few VCs have no bids yet. Ouch.)
How highly our audience values time with someone is something that we stumbled upon a year ago when we decided to dedicate September PandoMonthly tickets to Charity:Water. In a spur-of-the-moment bid to raise even more, I asked Tony Hsieh if he’d have dinner with people for a $1,000 donation. I figured we’d have a few takers. Bear in mind, the company was less than a year old and we were significantly smaller than we are today. Our audience stunned me: We raised almost $90,000. Many of the people who donated felt told me it was a no-brainer. One person even donated $5,000 just because he felt it was a good cause and well worth it.
Perhaps money can’t buy you a network in the Valley, but given a donation to the right cause, it can increasingly help open a few doors.
[Image Credit: Tawheed Manzoor on Flickr]