A more humane genre of technological innovation is forming here.
My grandfather was a bricklayer. As grueling as the work was, finding it was harder. Sometimes during the many months without work there simply wasn’t any food to put on the table. Yet despite the hardship, he found honor in his work. When I was a boy, my grandfather would tell me proudly of how he had once laid bricks for our City Hall; back when it was a new city on a blank canvas prairie. He was doing real things for the real world — building things — and there was honor in that. The only problem was how rarely he got paid.
A few weeks ago, one of the largest M&A deals in the history of Silicon Valley closed; Salesforce’s $27.7 billion acquisition of Slack. On the day the acquisition closed, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said “Together we’ll define the future of enterprise software, creating the digital HQ that enables every organization to deliver customer and employee success from anywhere.” What does this even mean? It’s an articulation of a vision widely shared in the Silicon Valley technology industry; a vision that ultimately renders physical place itself redundant — a vision of teams of workers and lines of code spit out from digital HQs that transcend the real world altogether. On the day of the announcement, a friend of mine was mugged and almost stabbed in broad daylight just outside the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
As Silicon Valley continues to decouple from physical place while its capital of San Francisco continues to decay, I’ve created a new home in Texas. As a technology investor, I found myself slowly falling for the state through my involvement with Workrise; an Austin, TX based technology company that empowers skilled trade workers — folks like my grandfather — with more work, better pay, stability, benefits, training, and dignity. I was the first seed investor in Workrise eight years ago, and have gone on to invest in the company eight subsequent times. Today Workrise is valued at around $3 billion dollars. That’s a fraction of the price Salesforce paid for Slack.
Workrise’s mission of empowering skilled tradespeople is far more energizing to me as a human than Slack’s banal “Making work simpler, more pleasant, and more productive”. Every moment that my grandfather was out of work and money, there was a project going up that was short staffed on bricklayers. Skilled trade labor markets have been notoriously inefficient for a century, yet America quite literally depends on them — namely workers in energy, construction, and defense. Workrise bridges these workers with not only jobs, but with training and upskilling to remove barriers to income and advancement over the long term.
Yet Workrise touches just a sliver of the skilled trades market today. Having gained their initial momentum in Oil & Gas, it is a company that only could have been started in Texas. Were Workrise around for my grandfather, he would have had opportunities for training in skilled trades beyond bricklaying, and thereby empowered to produce more income for his family. It’s going to be huge, but it’s also much more concerned with real people and real places than today’s Silicon Valley behemoths — put simply, it is a more humane technology company.
And it’s my search for this more humane genre of technological innovation that brought me to Texas. I’ve lived on the coasts and built my career as a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur and investor, but I’ve never felt of the coasts or as an insider in Silicon Valley — I didn’t go to Stanford nor grow up rich. My journey toward founding Bedrock — our technology investment firm with $1 billion in approximate assets under management — was a rebellious one. In my frequent visits to meet with Workrise in the years prior to moving here, I was drawn in by the rebellious yet warm spirit embodied by Texans. Now that I’m a proud Texan myself, I realize that while the place itself looks and feels like one of endless possibilities, endless space — truly a frontier in the physical sense — there’s even more than meets the eye.
It turns out that Workrise isn’t an anomaly: innovators in Texas — From Solugen in Houston reimagining chemical manufacturing to Leadr in Dallas innovating on organizational development — seem to care about real people and real problems more than the abstractions from reality that animate too much of Silicon Valley. At minimum, they tend to at least ask the question of how technology relates to our humanity — a profoundly rebellious question for tech leaders to ask today. Since moving to Austin earlier this year, I’ve invested in several new Texas startups. I’ve been invited into hacker houses filled with young, brilliant engineers and cryptographers but also into an emergent intellectual culture of philosophers, thinkers and writers who value substance — free, original thought and daring action — over the status games that tend to characterize America’s elite coastal cities. There’s a kinetic frisson in Texas today that I believe demarcates something truly new: The most rebellious young minds in technology and beyond will increasingly be moving to Texas to find their tribe.
Geoff Lewis is the Founder & Managing Partner of Bedrock, a technology investment firm launched in 2018 with approximately $1 billion in assets under management. He serves or has served on the Board of Directors for companies including Lyft, Nubank, Vercel, and Workrise. He has additionally led early investments in Wish, Upstart, Tilray, Canva, Rippling, ClearCo, Flock Safety, and several other companies now valued at north of $1 billion dollars across sectors and geographies. The New York Times has named Geoff as one of the Top 100 venture capitalists in the world. Bedrock is credited with coining the phrase ‘narrative violations’ to describe the most compelling technology investment opportunities. Prior to founding Bedrock, Geoff served as a Partner at Founders Fund for several years. He began his career as a technology entrepreneur in 2009.