Burning Man 2013
Serial entrepreneur and Haight district resident Richard Titus was
trying to finish a deal last year between his company and Yahoo, but he kept
butting heads with Yahoo's very stubborn London lawyer.
In late August, they both e-mailed each other to say they'd be on vacation and that this potentially doomed negotiation would just have to pause.
A few days later, Titus was riding shirtless on a dune buggy that had been decorated to look like a scorpion when an attractive young woman jumped in and sat on his lap. Slowly, he started to recognize her voice.
"I said, 'Don't freak out, but what do you do in the real world? Because I think we might know each other," he said. "She was like, 'I'm a lawyer at Yahoo, why?' "
"After that, I'll tell you what -- negotiations went much smoother," said Titus, who's in his mid-40s. "I like to think she even looked forward to my phone calls."
Burning Man, which gets under way Monday, is best known as a hedonistic week-long art festival 110 miles north of Reno on a dry lake called the playa. But almost imperceptibly over the last few years, it has become a place where CEOs, venture capitalists and startuppers can network (while wearing, at most, swimsuits). While neither money, branding nor barter are allowed, suddenly companies are getting funded, co-founders are meeting, and people are getting jobs right on the playa. Among the 68,000 costumed and dust-covered attendees are some unexpected names -- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg goes. So do Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. And Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Anarchists parking Priuses next to ramshackle tents and tarps are now sharing the sand with wealthy techies arriving, via private jets, at luxury desert camps fully staffed with cooks, masseuses and assistants.
Venture capitalist and legal scholar Dustin Boyer got a job while he was at Burning Man.
"How do you think I ended up working at Google? I met Larry and Sergey on the playa," said Boyer at a recent dinner party in the Mission District. "They were running around in full spandex bodysuits, so no one could see who they were -- it's hard to be a billionaire at Burning Man, even though there are so many of them."
Burning Man founders are happy about the changes -- even courting them. Those captains of tech also fund the enormous temporary art installations in the city center and support the Burning Man nonprofit efforts.
"What we're seeing are many more of the Fortune 500 leadership, entrepreneurs and small startups bringing their whole team," said Marian Goodell, Burning Man director of business and communications.
Like a corporate retreat?
"A little bit like a corporate retreat. The event is a crucible, a pressure cooker and, by design, a place to think of new ideas or make new connections."
She said that, contrary to what people may think, she is not particularly liberal and, as a sign of her conservative cred, added that "my sister's godfather is Antonin Scalia," t he staunchly conservative Supreme Court justice. "Burning Man on the outside has very liberal and socially strong principles, but
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