Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, November 14, 2022
by Neil Senturia
I belong — at last.
Now I can finally tell the shrink that my feelings of inadequacy and rejection have been salved, that my embrace of the imposter syndrome can be released, and I am free, free at last.
I have been invited to join a hot startup, Groundfloor — “an inclusive community of people from all walks of life (as long as you are fantastically rich and self-absorbed) looking to build meaningful relationships” (or suck up to a bunch of venture capitalists and beg for financing). Groundfloor exists as a “cure to social isolation and our mission is to empower new relationships, face-to-face.” It claims to want to be “the operating system for friendship.”
At the moment, it is only in San Francisco, so for me, there is the matter of either Southwest Airlines or Wheels Up. But they have plans in the works for Los Angeles, London and New York. The Groundfloor space comes with a private lounge, a library (let’s get real here, who exactly has actually read a book in the last 12 months), a wellness space (yoga, pilates) and a gym (a private outdoor oasis — assuming the air quality in SF doesn’t kill you). But wait, there’s more.
There are monthly supper clubs, comedy shows (did you say the pre-money was $1 billion) and art classes. And of course, “bottomless espresso coffee.” How can you say no to mainlining caffeine at all hours of the day or night? Their goal is to be “the intersection of technology, travel and work.”
Groundfloor also comes with your own BYOB liquor locker. I am a bit concerned that my neighbor may be opening 16-year-old Balvenie, and all I have is a six-pack of Coors. For the first founding members, the fee is a mere $200 per month. And as of now, there is a waitlist.
Startups always want to scale, and there is a link on their homepage that lets you “nominate a city.” So, why not open one in San Diego? I mean our town is not chopped liver. We have techs with money looking to spend time with people who look like them, think like them, and bear the appellation of entrepreneur.
But then, like in 100 movies, I wake up.
I was not invited to join Groundfloor. In fact, I was only invited to use this column to interview and feature the CEO founder, Jamie Snedden. Well, Snedden, all I can say is be careful what you wish for, you may get it.
I am somewhat skeptical of the assumption behind Groundfloor, which is that people want to get together and share. The very nature of a closed loop, private club runs the risk of sleeping with your cousin.
Do the tech-bros go to Groundfloor to collaborate or do they go to work the room, make contacts for their benefit, peddle their deals, signal their wealth or most recent funding valuation, etc.?
I admit to being a bit of a curmudgeon on this, but I want desperately to believe in community. I am a follower of Wharton professor Adam Grant, who is the godfather of the behavior of giving with no equal expectation of receiving. He is famous. The behavior is named after him. To “Adam Grant” is to act selflessly for the benefit of others.
I think “groundfloors” in general are antithetical to the idea of true community. Private, privileged spaces do not expand the “ecosystem.” Without question, entrepreneurship is vibrant as an idea, as a challenge, and as a personal goal, but it needs to promote positive sharing and encourage the personal network effect at scale in our community. I am arguing for increased generosity of spirit on this road, which is hard enough as it is.
You may remember Clubhouse. They initially raised $100 million (at a $1 billion valuation), and yes, they are still in business. However, the audio platform used to be invite-only. To join, you had to know somebody who knew somebody. Not anymore. The site has seen an 80 percent drop in downloads, year over year. When no one is in the echo chamber, you end up talking to yourself.
And that is the risk for Groundfloor. It may turn out to be nothing more than the bargain basement.
Rule No. 738
Sally sent me. What’s the secret handshake?