What Passes for Excellence

Elizabeth Spiers
May 14, 2015 · 8 min read

If you’re looking for housing in Silicon Valley, you may have come across the following listing for spots in a startup house/community of excellence outside of Stanford. Others have expressed thoughts about it, but what I think it’s really missing is a between-the lines interpretation of the requirements, which, according to at least one member of the house, are simply an amalgamation of the qualities “good” people in pursuit of “excellence” happen to have.

So to clear up any confusion about what infuriatingly vague words like “good” and “excellent” mean in this context, I have helpfully annotated the listing. Good luck, potential renter! Let me know if you get in!

[The original text of the listing is in bold type. My annotations are below.]

Welcome friends!

We’re building a community of excellence in one of the most impressive estates in Silicon Valley (125 Northgate Drive in Woodside). We believe that the right people in a place like this can make for a great environment, and geometric scaling of success for everybody.

You must: - Have a top-class degree or job with a strong math/science requirement If you couldn’t afford to go to a top-tier school because you didn’t have a full scholarship, your skills are irrelevant because we only care about credentialing. (Also, we’re all still in our 20s, so we naively think credentialing matters in the wider world because it’s the only grown up accomplishment we have under out belts at this point.) - Exercise at least 15 hours in a normal week We’re looking for people who are not “high maintenance”, by which we mean they only spend 2 to 3 hours a day exercising, as opposed to say, the full 40 or so a week professional bodybuilders spend. - Commute by car less than 20% of the time (Bicycle commuter!) If you have knee problems/disabilities/KIDS/asthma/a need to transport anything but yourself and a portable bag of goods anywhere for any reason most of the time, you cannot live here. - Prefer organized systems and common rules We want people who value innovation… and conformity, as it applies to our house and what we want. But mostly conformity. - Like petting dogs Sure, you claim to be “allergic” but we know you’re just masking your obvious hatred of adorable puppies, you scumbag puppy-hater.

Why? Because we’ve been trying different things for a while, and these seem to be the common threads among ourselves, and the most successful and trustworthy people we’ve lived with before. We’re shooting for motivated and conscientious people. On the other hand, we also looked at traits exclusive to disappointing housemates.

This may not be the right place if you: - Watch more than 4 hours of TV/movie/game entertainment per week Even if you work for a gaming company, digital entertainment company, or, godforbid, would like to see two or more decent movies a week because you value being a cultured, interesting person whose media consumption extends beyond whatever’s on Hacker News at the moment. - Have more than 1 tattoo Some forms of self-expression are simply not allowed here. Especially harmless cosmetic ones that in no way affect your ability to think, do your job, interact with other human beings, etc. Oh, you have your late mother’s birthdate tattooed on your ankle? Well, she should have thought about the potential housing repercussions for you before she up and died! - Have ever attended more than 1 protest Goodness and excellence have nothing to do with being socially conscientious about anything. If you feel strongly enough about a social issue to protest, your sense of civic engagement will obviously interfere with your ability to make gobs of money via our world-changing, life-altering consumer-facing quantified poop app. And sorry, grandpa, you’re not going to elicit any empathy from us for going to the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation that one time. That was 1993 and you could have been learning C++ instead. And you’re too old for this house anyway. - Make more than three posts a week to social media This may be difficult if your app/project/job requires that you interact in any way with social media, which 99.999999% of your users do on a regular basis or if Facebook is your primary method of communicating with your relatives in Small Town, Iowa. But we like to impose arbitrary meaningless rules because controlling every aspect of your social and professional existence is important to us. - Listen to a songs with explicit lyrics more than an once a day We’re not sure you can handle “adult” language, and the artistic value of it is irrelevant for us. Disney soundtracks are fine, though. If anyone has any particularly good covers of “Let It Go,” please share. But not via social media. We already talked about that. - Wear make-up more than twice a week We don’t want women in the house, and we have so little exposure to them generally that we think women wear make up because they’re self-absorbed and high maintenance and not because men like us routinely judge them as “not being put together enough” in professional situations if they roll out of bed and don’t bother to fix their hair and face, or simply because they prefer to look a certain way for their own reasons the same way we prefer a certain haircut, a particular frame of glasses or the hideous novelty t-shirt we’re wearing right now. We love the “natural look” — on Karlie Kloss. But not you, normal looking female who we’d never by the way date, because, well, that acne is kind of a turnoff, and if you exercised more and hydrated regularly you probably wouldn’t have it anyway. Our 15-hour-a-week minimum gym routine, strong feelings about tattoos, etc. have nothing at all to do with our feelings about our own appearance, by the way. Nothing at all. - Own any clothing, shoes, watches, or handbags costing over $500 But we reserve our right to buy gadgets, bikes, miscellaneous wearables, fees for physical training regimens well over that price point because valuing material things is only bad if we’re talking about apparel and accessories. You know, things women like. (No fashion startups, please.) - Have bills that get paid by somebody else No matter what your personal circumstances are, or whether you have a partner who’s willing to subsidize your dream of building something great and making cool things while you pay yourself a salary of zero dollars and work for sweat equity. If you can’t do it all by yourself financially, and/or are not independently wealthy enough to support yourself during this period of entrepreneurial salary famine, you’re an asshole. - Drive a vehicle that was given to you by your parents Even if the Blue Book value of said vehicle is $0 and you’ve had that piece of shit Chevy Nova since you were 17. It’s fine if your parents paid for your college education, as ours likely did, but if they managed to help you commute and move from place to place during that time at no great cost, well, that’s just crossing a line. But we’re fine if they gave you a bike. BIKE COMMUTERS 4EVA. - Get regular spending money or gifts from your parents No birthday, holiday, etc. presents or thoughtful gestures that involve the transfer of objects, however sentimental and significant from your parental units. Independence is not about self-reliance, it’s about how much you can reject affectionate and well-meaning gestures from people who love you. - Have more than one internet app date per week Your personal life is completely unimportant in this context, unless we’re talking about social outings with your newfound roommates, which you will be expected to attend. If you consider having a human romantic partner a reasonable or desirable life goal when we’re only a few years away from sex bots with advanced AI, you have failed to fully envision the ideal future that technological advancement will bring us. - Have a complex diet that requires lots of refrigerator space Allergies? Keeping kosher? Have celiac disease? Diabetic? So, so sorry. But Paleo is fine. We’re all doing Paleo. And Costco-sized tubs of protein powder are fine space-wise because you don’t have to keep them in the fridge. - Drink alcohol more than 3 drinks per week We realize this may be difficult, Gary Vee, but this wine business is really just a distraction, right? Rules are rules. And everyone knows that 3+ drinks a week = severe alcoholic. - Use marijuana more than twice a year GATEWAY DRUG. Nancy Reagan said so when I was three. - Have been prescribed anything by a psychiatrist more than once Some of us are secretly Scientologists and view needing psychiatric help as a sign of moral weakness, or a general propensity for bad luck resulting in traumatic experiences that might warrant that sort of help. We’re worried that it might be contagious. Sexual assault victim? Veteran with some not-so-pleasant combat experience? Your dad beat the crap out of you as a kid? If you were smarter and stronger, let’s face it, you’d find a way to power through it without professional help. May we suggest some nice, therapeutic cycling? In fact, we read this a few years ago and wondered why everyone mentioned therein was not immediately banned from the industry. (And go fuck yourself, Brad Feld, you loser-y non-excellent bad person.) - Use any other drug more than twice in your entire life Curiosity about life experiences should not extend to pharmaceuticals under any circumstances because again, we traffic in arbitrary boundaries of control that are reflections of our personal prejudices and not indicative of wider realms of logic and rational thinking. If Steve Jobs were still alive, he’d be banned from this house. Just imagine how much more he could have accomplished if he’d never taken acid during those trips to India. The iWatch might have shipped earlier!

But really, folks, what we’re talking about here is character. We may be judgmental people with superficial standards that are ludicrously arbitrary and come from a place of extreme privilege (though we’d like to point out that our parents don’t write us any checks now — Stanford tuition doesn’t count in our book) and it may seem on first glance that we have no empathy for normal human beings who are not physically perfect and have onerous lifestyle requirements like weird diets, not being able to commute by bike, vaginas, etc., but excellence is really not about things like being a decent human being or producing high quality work or doing healthy rational things to address flaws and problems you do have.

We’d also like to point out that this is no way indicative of what some have characterized as a “toxic” culture in Silicon Valley that values superficial lifestyle choices and aesthetics, or “culture fit”, over baseline talent and worth ethic, and is so oblivious to the myriad of ways in which it is exclusionary and mindlessly conformist that it makes the stodgiest elements of the financial and legal professions look like egalitarian wonderlands of diversity, creativity and innovation.

We believe this because we are children who do not yet understand that the most impressive and innovative human beings are often precisely the ones who fail to conform and in many cases draw their strength from having struggled with and overcome personal flaws and challenges, some of them not even of their own making, because we view ourselves as having none of the former, and having so far avoided the latter. We’re also happy to be complete hypocrites about materialism in any form, touting the virtues of living in a place that we’re literally terming a “castle” while condemning expensive handbags in which we have no interest because we have penises, (and our Freitag messenger bag was only $300 at most and we’ve installed solar panels in it to charge our devices, so really, there’s utility there.)

We do want to buy a Tesla at some point, though. For the eco-friendly-ness.

    Elizabeth Spiers

    Written by

    Founder, The Insurrection.