Festival of open houses taps San Francisco's tech startup allure

Reuters

By Malathi Nayak

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 13 (Reuters) - New York-basedentrepreneur Caleb Gandara came to San Francisco this week andmanaged a rare feat: he spent half a day roaming the offices ofhot startups DropBox, Cloudera and Sidecar, chatting upexecutives at will.

Gandara was one of 3,700 people who signed up for "OpenCo",a festival of open houses held at scores of San Franciscostartups, non-profits and corporations from Google Inc to local business and chocolatier TCHO over two hectic days.

Now in its second year, OpenCo is billed by its organizersas a novel twist on traditional staid business conferences, andan opportunity for investors, entrepreneurs and even job-seekersto get a close-up look at the San Francisco-area tech scene.Companies that throw open their doors, in turn, get a chance tomeet potential talent, gather feedback and make connections.

"You don't have to be anybody special and in that spirit,OpenCo is just letting a community of people who are interestedexplore what is normally preserved for employees, professionalsand business deals," Gandara said.

"You get to see what brings them to work everyday. It's rareand definitely more rare in mature companies. You don't get togo inside a Target and see how it works, right?"

San Francisco's thriving local tech scene has fascinatedmany aspiring entrepreneurs across the country. This year'sOpenCo drew 135 participating companies, almost double that ofthe first, when Twitter - which will soon go public - and ZyngaInc took part. Those two were absent this year.

OpenCo put together a two-day schedule with back-to-back45-minute sessions at firms across the city. Attendees got afree general admission pass or paid $95 to reserve spots early.

From startup Lit Motor's "super-secret vehicle lab" - wherevisitors checked out a prototype of their urban two-wheeled"C-1" vehicle - to audio platform SoundCloud, participants weregiven a close-up view of popular and lesser-known startups.

"It's a nice way to do it and bring people into (your)working environment rather than going to a big stuffy, airpumped building like the Moscone center," said Dan Dupree,SoundCloud's public relations specialist. "People have beenthere, they've done it....This seems to break the mould."

Eighteen month-old ride-sharing startup SideCar opened itsoffice in the financial district to the public for the firsttime. CEO Sunil Paul said participating helped "in materialways, like spreading the word about hiring."

Organizer and author John Battelle said OpenCo was inspiredby the concept of open art studios, where the public can tourfreely and appreciate works of art.

Perry Simpson, who runs an e-commerce sports site calledGryndo, spent his Thursday morning at SoundCloud and was struckby the startup's willingness to be transparent.

"When you think about tech companies, you think of them asbeing very private with proprietary technology that you don'tshare and be open because somebody might steal your idea, butthis completely the opposite," Perry said.

"Here you get a visceral sense of their culture, you put aface on the technology company."

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