“Welcome to Miami, Where All Your Memes Come True!”
WIRED, December 21, 2021
By Arielle Pardes
“The city is trying to lure in Silicon Valley types, hyping the promise of sun, sand, and seed rounds. Does it want Silicon Valley’s problems too?”
Early in the first pandemic summer, around the time California started requiring people to wear masks indoors, Jack Abraham booked a weeklong vacation to Miami. Four days into the trip, he tested positive for Covid-19. He canceled his return flight to San Francisco and, mildly sick, waited out his sniffles in an Airbnb. By the time he felt better, Abraham found, to his surprise, that he was in no rush to get back. The city was humming with energy, filled with street art and people lazily sipping cortaditos in Cuban cafés. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is actually an incredible place,’” he told me. “And I found I was being very productive.”
Abraham had moved to San Francisco in 2008, a baby-faced college dropout with a big startup idea. He sold that company for $75 million a few years later, then became one of Silicon Valley’s better-known angel investors, striking gold with early bets on Pinterest and Postmates. More recently, though, he had soured on the Bay Area. San Franciscans had elected a slate of progressive politicians who, as he saw it, left the place littered with homeless encampments and heroin needles, then blamed the mess on tech companies. The cost of living had gotten so high, he said, that entrepreneurs needed the backing of investors just to pay their rent. Even the region’s geography, which Abraham had always found beautiful, seemed increasingly hostile: In 2017, his house in Sonoma burned down in a wildfire.
Miami felt like a fresh start. Abraham closed on a house there in August and started inviting contacts in the Bay Area to visit him. “I just basically told them, ‘Look, here’s what I found,’” he said—good weather, good food, parked cars with their windows still intact. Once these associates spent a nice long weekend in Miami, “more than half” of them opted to stay, he told me.
In years past, when technologists got disenchanted with Silicon Valley, they might move to Silicon Beach (Los Angeles), Silicon Hills (Austin), Silicon Slopes (Salt Lake City), even Silicon Alley (New York). All those places made sense as tech hubs; Miami didn’t, at least not in the obvious ways. The region has no top-tier engineering schools and few notable tech companies—in other words, not much physical infrastructure and not much of a potential workforce. But at this particular moment, physical infrastructure was off-limits and the workforce was going remote. Suddenly, Miami was a contender.
Over the summer, as I was driving on the 101 freeway in San Francisco, a billboard caught my eye. It pictured a man sitting on a classic Lincoln Continental, palm trees and cerulean sky in the background, with a three-word command: “Move to Miami.” It listed the phone number for a real estate agent. I took it as a sign. Later that night, I booked a flight.
Was Miami eating Silicon Valley’s lunch? Not quite. More VC money had begun landing there, certainly, but other cities—from Raleigh to Atlanta to Denver—were seeing influxes too. The Bay Area was set to attract less than a third of annual VC funding, its lowest level in more than a decade, but that didn’t make Miami the tech industry’s heir apparent.
What set the city apart, though, was that sudden crush of attention—sustained, in part, by the memes and the mayor. Whether Miami was, in fact, the new epicenter of fintech and crypto was less important than whether people believed it was. For some investors, the city was a speculative asset. If the startup scene boomed, it would make them seem prescient. If it didn’t, they could do what VCs do when their investments fail: cut their losses and move on.
Later in the week, I got in touch with Edward Lando, the entrepreneur-investor who started the Pareto fellowship. More than other VCs I’d talked to, Lando seemed committed to growing the Miami tech ecosystem now that he lived there. He invited me over to his house on North Bay Road, an expensive stretch of real estate in Miami Beach. He had just moved in, and the place was bare—except for the living room, which was furnished entirely in white. In the kitchen a dozen boxes of keto cookies sat on the counter. Lando explained that they were a startup investment. He offered me a cookie and a seat on the couch.
About the Author:
Arielle Pardes is a senior writer at WIRED, where she works on stories about our relationship to our technology. Previously she was a senior editor for VICE. She is an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania and lives in San Francisco.