Ron Conway is too busy for City Hall
Guests arriving at Pinterest headquarters this morning were greeted with mimosas in either grapefruit or orange juice, with four different sparkling wines available. Further within, a table was lain with bacon skewers, mini quiche muffins, little banana leaf boats full of nuts, hunks of cheese, berries, dried fruits and tiny waffles. A craft table offered visitors a chance to emboss leather pouches designed to hold steel bottle-openers.
I was one of 30 or so journalists invited to join 200 or so Pinterest employees and guests to hear an announcement that promised to shake the foundations of ecommerce...
Pinterest is adding a buy button.
The news is a consequential and long-awaited development for the company and its legions of “pinners”, and I'll have more on that in due course. For today, the row upon row of open Macbooks assured me that my fellow reporters had the day's announcement well covered -- each with her or his unique analysis of the button.
Instead I went over to join a small gaggle of tippling and munching guests, waiting to speak to a silver haired man in khakis and plaid. His name, of course, is Ron Conway, close confidant of the city’s mayor and venture capitalist of import. [Disclosure: Conway is also a Pando investor via SV Angel.] Conway is often invoked at City Hall as the point person for the relationship between the tech industry and the local government. He has given large sums of money toward Mayor Ed Lee's past election campaigns and is the chairman of Sf.citi, which he describes as "the tech chamber of commerce." To hear it from his detractors, Conway has his hand in every pro-tech-company decision the city makes.
As I waited my opportunity to introduce myself, I chatted with a woman who works on Pinterest’s search function. We discussed the company’s aborted plans from last summer to move their offices a few blocks south and take up residence in the San Francisco Design Center building. She expressed her disappointment in the outcome of that effort.
I told her I had been at the meeting of the Land Use Committee in which that decision was made, and she asked me to explain what had happened. Basically, I told her, the building owner had tried to obtain landmark status for the building so that it could be re-zoned. I didn’t go as far as former-mayor Art Agnos, who at the meeting called the attempt “the commercial version of the Ellis Act.” I did say that such a maneuver could set a troublesome precedent.
“It sounds like maybe it was for the best, then,” she said. It's amazing how easy consensus can be when you have the facts.
By the time I'd finished that conversation, Conway was already on the move. I caught him in transit, in a corridor, and introduced myself.
Next Tuesday, amendments to a law seeking to regulate Airbnb will go before the Board. City Hall is expecting a packed house, helped by the fact that Airbnb has developed a habit of hand-selecting platoons of its hosts to attend and testify. Organizations of many sorts -- including, most likely, the actual Chamber of Commerce -- will supply their insight.
Given how frequently Conway's name is cited at this type of event, and his avowed passion for connecting the tech community with the political class, I wanted to know it Conway would be there too. He obliged me a few quick questions on his way into a room where a panel of folks involved in the buy button release were explaining the feature to the rest of the journalists.
“Big day, huh?” he asked. I agreed it was a big day for ecommerce.
“Would you ever consider speaking during public comment at the Board of Supervisors?” I asked.
“Noooooo,” he said, with no hesitation.
“I’m too busy, I have a day job. You know, I’m really not that active. I did pop into the chamber one time, though, just to see it,” Ron Conway said.
So there you have it. Forget what you've heard about Ron Conway secretly running city politics: He's far too busy for any of that nonsense.
And with that he went to join 200 other people in applauding the launch of a button.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]