Tim Ferriss became a Silicon Valley celebrity 10 years ago with the publication of "The 4-Hour Workweek."
Tim Ferriss became a Silicon Valley celebrity 10 years ago with the publication of "The 4-Hour Workweek." Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
Tim Ferriss is a bestselling author and star podcast host with a huge following in the tech industry. He recently moved from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas. He was alarmed by what he determined to be an increasingly prevalent closed-mindedness and lack of inspiration.
Largely due to smart and relentless networking with tech influencers, Tim Ferriss’ 2007 book "The 4-Hour Workweek" became a sensation in Silicon Valley, and Ferriss soon found himself giving presentations at places like Google.
Ferriss had created a brand that was something like a Tony Robbins geared to the tech set, targeted to young creative people obsessed with efficiency. After making some money to play with, he took investing lessons from his venture capitalist friend Mike Maples and made some bets that turned out to be hugely successful, including Uber and Twitter. He grew his career as a Valley celebrity.
But after a couple decades spent living throughout the Bay Area, Ferriss moved this year to Austin, Texas. And as he recently explained to Business Insider, this wasn’t on a whim; it was a difficult decision he made after determining that Silicon Valley had officially changed for the worse.
He shared his reasons for moving with us.
There’s a rise in closed-mindedness
Ferriss said that if you were to ask most techies in the Bay Area about the degree of how open-minded people there are, "the party line is: ‘Yes. We court diversity, and we want to hear every and any opinions that we can pull the best from different worlds.’"
"In practice, I find that things more resemble McCarthyism right now," he said, referring to the way US Senator Joseph McCarthy led a post-WWII hunt for Communists in the country, often making accusations with little or no evidence.
This year especially, the Valley has faced careful scrutiny of its history of gender discrimination and lack of cultural diversity — but instead of using open discussions to address these issues, Ferriss believes, many people in tech have started to walk on eggshells.
Ferriss said that while he considers himself "very socially liberal," there’s a tangible feeling in tech now that "if you don’t conform to what Silicon Valley views as the established set of credos and beliefs for a hyperliberal, you do get attacked. People do not ask many questions of your beliefs. They do not necessarily try to unpeel the layers or look at the nuances but instead respond immediately with this very, very violent opposition and ad hominem attack. And that really depresses me."
Ferriss isn’t the only one to highlight this tendency — a December blog post from Sam Altman, the president of tech incubator Y Combinator, ignited fury after he said the Valley was overly politically correct, and suffers for it.
There’s a deep intellectual smugness in tech
Ferriss said that some of the most brilliant people he’s ever met in his life live and work in the Bay Area, but there are plenty of people there who are "arrogant" and "intolerable."
It’s become en vogue, he argued, to believe that tech leaders have all the answers to all of the world’s problems, but not in a way that promotes discussion or invites flexibility.
The excitement that drew him there in the first place has waned
Ferriss said that the Valley, once the beacon that beckoned some of the world’s most creative and ambitious young people, has become as homogeneous as Hollywood or Wall Street as it has matured.
In a Reddit post, Ferriss explained in more detail: "Silicon Valley is often a culture of cortisol, of rushing, and of fear of missing out (FOMO). There is also a mono-conversation of tech that is near impossible to avoid (much like entertainment is some parts of LA), where every dinner has some discussion of rounds of funding, investing, and who is doing what with Uber, Amazon, or someone else. This can be dodged, but it takes very real and consistent effort. I don’t want to spend 20-30% of my daily mental calories on avoiding the mono-conversation."
Austin is a great place to be right now for creative types
Ferriss said that he’s liked Austin for a long time, and traveled annually for the past decade for the South by Southwest festival.
Not only does he like the weather and culture, but, "in Austin I found a … very young community and a medley of feature film, music — certainly tech if I need to scratch that itch — but there were more perspectives that I could borrow from and learn from than I found readily available in my circles in Silicon Valley." And since retiring from startup investing and advisory two years ago, he said, he doesn’t have any reason to physically be in the Bay Area anymore.
When we discussed his new book "Tribe of Mentors," Ferriss told us that he wrote it this year because he found himself entering a turning point in his career, where he was going to be much more deliberate about what he wants to accomplish. He needed an environment he felt he could grow and experiment in.
"And so far, Austin is proving out," he said, explaining that the move has brought him feelings he had as a young 20-something moving out west from the East Coast for the first time. He said "that shift of geographic and environmental lens has already brought forth so many different epiphanies and peak moments of joy and insight for me, that I think it’s been very well worth it."