The startup founder who wants everyone to know about his new house

Will tech types ever enjoy a sensitivity toward others? Normal others, that is. A tech type loudly intoning about his entertainment areas made me wonder.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Oporto, Portugal. Giorgio Rossi, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The bacon wasn't great.

A little too sweet for my taste.

Still, my wife was enjoying her sandwich of something fresh and healthy and the coffee was really quite good. And this was, after all, our honeymoon.

Well, our working honeymoon. Yes, technology has us in its tentacles, one way or another, so we ended up working most days.

Still, we know we're lucky to be able to get away, even if we can't quite get away from everything.

Suddenly, our coffee shop (non-working) breakfast was invaded by angst.

"Is the kitchen really going to be close enough to the elevator?" bemoaned a female voice from an adjacent table.

"Yeah, I don't know," said her husband. "That's going to be tough."

Tough is a relative word in a country where youth unemployment has just edged down to 21.9 percent.

Ah, perhaps I forgot to mention that we were in Lisbon, Portugal, last week, where they know tough. After all, they've been going through hard economic times and they have to deal with an ever greater number of tourists -- not all of them reasonable people -- every year.

The Portuguese, though, handle things with a grace and a patience worth craving.

It turned out, though, that this particular husband was an American startup founder. He said so, you see, as he worried about his elevator.

He and his wife were here with their local architect, in order to discuss the finer points of their apparently palatial new house.

"Do we need one entertainment area or two?" wondered the wife. The couple frowned deeply.

Well, it's a difficult decision, isn't it?

And then there was the attic. Should they turn it into a fourth floor? It would surely add to the value of the house.

They continued to torture their minds loudly over whether to insert a false door here or an even bigger master bedroom there.

Should they use this particular material or that? It was a difficult question, you understand. That material would cost another 50,000 euros.

The average salary in Lisbon? Last year, around 860 euros a month.

But the price of good carpentry in Portugal? It's not low, you know. Would this startup founder be prepared to push the boat out for that material? I feared he might.

I also feared he'd be happy to talk loudly enough about it, so that everyone would know his choice.

This, though, would surely be considered normal behavior in the Valley.

After all, coffee shops there are full of the young and the restless discussing options, series B funding and chatting about their extensions and their multiple entertainment areas with their architects.

In Lisbon, though, it's a little different. At least, so far it is. But perhaps the arrival of Web Summit has slowly begun to change the culture.

The angst-ridden couple continued to be entirely unaware of several other customers who turned toward them with looks of disturbed disdain.

"Do they really need to talk about this stuff here?" the customers' faces said. "Can't they meet somewhere in private, so we don't have to feel bad about spending 15 euros on breakfast, while they worry about spending 50 grand on a few cabinets?"

But on plowed the privileged.

I didn't catch what kind of startup the gentleman had in mind. I did catch a whiff of considerable indifference to those around him. Startup founders can be so, um, focused, can't they?

I confess that, in a weak moment, I was tempted to tap him on the shoulder and mutter: "Honestly, you have to go for that material. Your image is at stake here."

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I worry that one of the bigger problems of our technologically myopic, Valley-vacant times is being exported.

Those tech types who are supposedly creating the future and making the world a better place still have relatively little grasp of, well, the world. And specifically, the feelings experienced by the various sorts of humans who live in it.

Instead, their thoughts are wrapped around themselves. Their worlds are so warped that they only hear complaints when they're public and loud.

Even then, they profess to be stunned that anyone would think they had nefarious -- or even merely grossly self-centered -- motivations.

They're just working so hard. Disrupting the old house that society built can be torture.

I worry that if someone had asked the startup founder to pipe down a touch, he'd have apologized, Zuckerberg-style, and just carried right on.

I bet his house will be lovely, though.

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