Welcome to Miami, Where All Your Memes Come True!

Welcome to Miami, Where All Your Memes Come True! 1

Early in the first pandemic summer, around the time California started requiring people to wear masks indoors, Jack Abraham booked a weeklong vacation to Miami. Four days into the trip, he tested positive for Covid-19. He canceled his return flight to San Francisco and, mildly sick, waited out his sniffles in an Airbnb. By the time he felt better, Abraham found, to his surprise, that he was in no rush to get back. The city was humming with energy, filled with street art and people lazily sipping cortaditos in Cuban cafés. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is actually an incredible place,’” he told me. “And I found I was being very productive.”

Abraham had moved to San Francisco in 2008, a baby-faced college dropout with a big startup idea. He sold that company for $75 million a few years later, then became one of Silicon Valley’s better-known angel investors, striking gold with early bets on Pinterest and Postmates. More recently, though, he had soured on the Bay Area. San Franciscans had elected a slate of progressive politicians who, as he saw it, left the place littered with homeless encampments and heroin needles, then blamed the mess on tech companies. The cost of living had gotten so high, he said, that entrepreneurs needed the backing of investors just to pay their rent. Even the region’s geography, which Abraham had always found beautiful, seemed increasingly hostile: In 2017, his house in Sonoma burned down in a wildfire.

Miami felt like a fresh start. Abraham closed on a house there in August and started inviting contacts in the Bay Area to visit him. “I just basically told them, ‘Look, here’s what I found,’” he said—good weather, good food, parked cars with their windows still intact. Once these associates spent a nice long weekend in Miami, “more than half” of them opted to stay, he told me.

Miami felt like “the first week of freshman year of college,” Jack Abraham said.

Portrait by Flaminia Fanale; Illustration by Alvaro Dominguez; Getty Images

In years past, when technologists got disenchanted with Silicon Valley, they might move to Silicon Beach (Los Angeles), Silicon Hills (Austin), Silicon Slopes (Salt Lake City), even Silicon Alley (New York). All those places made sense as tech hubs; Miami didn’t, at least not in the obvious ways. The region has no top-tier engineering schools and few notable tech companies—in other words, not much physical infrastructure and not much of a potential workforce. But at this particular moment, physical infrastructure was off-limits and the workforce was going remote. Suddenly, Miami was a contender.

In the fall, a friend invited Abraham to join Miami Tech Life, a messaging group on the encrypted chat app Telegram. All sorts of people gathered there—billionaires, startup CEOs, tech workers on the long leash of WFH, established residents who had built companies in town, native Floridians who had recently moved back, and Francis Suarez, Miami’s crypto-evangelist mayor. One early-stage investor told me that it reminded her of the early years of South by Southwest: Every few messages, someone would say, “I didn’t realize you were here.”

Soon, Abraham was joined by the likes of David Blumberg and David Sacks, high-profile VCs who made their fortunes sniffing out early hype. They each paid millions for waterfront homes in Miami Beach. Lucy Guo, a Thiel Fellow turned wunderkind investor, moved to Miami after seeing others do the same. (She had debated between Austin and Miami, but at the time only Miami had a Barry’s Bootcamp.) Keith Rabois, a partner at the investment firm Founders Fund, moved to Miami in December 2020 and promptly began to evangelize the city. “I felt a little bit like Noah’s ark,” he told me. “I was like, I need two angel investors, two VCs, two engineers, two founders.”

In software, “network effects” describe the way a product becomes more valuable as its user base grows. The more people sign up to be Airbnb hosts, the better the selection of homes; the more people own a cryptocurrency, the more each of them can buy with it. For half a century, network effects worked in the Bay Area’s favor: Talented people moved there because other talented people had moved there, starting with the shaggy-haired idealists who built what became the biggest companies in the world. Now another city seemed to be on the upswing.

What was it about Miami that felt so different? The freedom? The novelty? The ease of a rebound relationship after things with San Francisco had gotten so bad? Rabois liked to brag that he could leave his Prada bag in his car without anyone breaking in. There was no income tax on people and next to none on companies. There was no threat of wealth-shaming. “In San Francisco, nobody’s driving a Lamborghini because it would be like, ‘Oh, they’re out of touch,’” says Delian Asparouhov, a principal at Founders Fund, who moved to Miami in April 2021 and mostly drives a Vespa. “Here it’s like, ‘I’m buying half an island and building a house on it.’”