One evening some months ago, I had dinner at an eating place in San Francisco known as Dirty Habit. It became aptly named. One of my companions that night time turned into a pal from the tech enterprise – he had studied at Stanford Graduate School of Business and been a government at a self-driving-automobile firm earlier than founding his very own startup. But as we ate, he flaunted an exceptional sort of fulfillment: he had lived in the Bay Area for years and never paid for a bed.
My buddy, who requested no longer to be named, approached this mission methodically. First, he compiled a spreadsheet of all the bed firms’ free trials and return policies. Then he proceeded to take benefit of them one at a time, “buying” six mattresses in turn and replacing them just earlier than the deadline, at no more fee – and getting all his cashback. He typically made the switch just before he moved flats, so he didn’t must lug a massive bed throughout the city. As he described his method, I found myself torn between admiration and disgust. His ruse turned into resourceful; however, he began developing an Excel report approximately bedding, indeed the excellent use of his time?
Taking gain of promotions is a worldwide phenomenon, but techies stalk deals with first-rate ingenuity — the perks of the “freeconomy” variety from the quotidian to the high-priced. Startups, flush with investment from task capitalists and eager to grab new clients’ attention, provide unfastened meals delivery, organized meal kits, grocery-buying, dog-strolling, errand-walking, moving, laundry and experience-hailing. Some techies boast that they have found a way to get free nights on Airbnb and nearly free flights from JetSmarter, which offers on-call for private jets. San Francisco is now extra highly-priced to live in than any other metropolis in America. Still, the biggest irony of its free economy is that the most adept folks at exploiting it are the people who need its advantages least: well-to-do nerds with high-paying jobs that come with plenty of benefits.
I used to suppose I was, if now not a free economy professional, as a minimum, a high-level newbie. Since I moved to San Francisco, my quiet town, I had learned the political tradecraft four years ago. Locals frequently use a couple of email bills and excellent credit score cards while signing up for apps, so they look like a first-time purchaser. I play tough to get, wandering away from a provider for months only to dash again as soon as they provide me a coupon. When I need experience, I play Uber towards Lyft to see which trip-hailing provider offers a better deal. I’m presently the usage of Lyft: they supplied me 25% off ten rides.
I have come to realize but that I am nothing but an amateur. One famous route to free riches includes a “referral code,” which offers all of us who make use of it a credit score for assisting comfortable new clients. Felix, who runs a startup in San Francisco, has taken this to extremes. He did what he calls his “Bay Area hack” by buying around $600 in advertisements on Google and setting his referral code from Uber in each advert. He spent hours fine-tuning his method until his publications often had a higher click-via rate than Uber’s own. He obtained a credit score for all and sundry, who signed as much as Uber’s provider through his ad. He finally accrued $30,000 in credit, which allowed him to ride across the town in Uber’s cars and consume three food a day from UberEats, the company’s meals-shipping service, for a whole year without paying a cent.
Companies recognize consumers try and benefit from them, but a few entrepreneurs pick out to be willfully blind to it. “A little bit of you doesn’t want to discover,” says Sean Behr, the Stratum boss. “You need to trust your product has traction.” His startup, which gives agencies parking services, needed to pivot its business far from cheap on-demand valet parking when purchasers like me exploited it feverishly.
The free economy might also ultimately fizzle out. Simultaneously, the tech boom sputters and challenges capitalists to grow much less comfy with their cash getting used to winning new customers at any value. In the period in-between, this bargain-searching tells us three matters about techies’ mindsets in Silicon Valley. First, to compete with giants like Google in a reduce-throat talent market, groups are supplying their personnel with a massive sort of perks, from meditation rooms to concierge offerings to egg-freezing for women. This company munificence has brought about entitlement. Techies count on all agencies, no longer just their employers, to attend to them.
Second, techies are greater concerned about getting a good buy than they may be about ownership – and is the reason why people are inclined to return mattresses and why many techies get their sheets from an enterprise that offers free samples. For them, residing inside the Bay Area looks like being at the center of a well-funded studies lab where nearby startups test new thoughts and offerings to assess how they fare properly. “I love San Francisco. You see the destiny with a view to in no way paintings,” one high-profile entrepreneur mused at a night meal, as a delivery man or woman cycled up a steep hill in a far-flung part of the metropolis to supply meals from miles away at almost no cost.
Third, and most importantly, exploiting the free economy is a manner to take returned control. Tech businesses have gathered fortunes via monitoring customers, collecting as many records as they could approximately them, predicting what they’re seeking out, and manipulating them to spend as a good deal of time with their products as viable. This is specifically authentic for firms like Facebook, which can now be underneath fire for earning profits out of surveilling purchasers throughout the net. Many other businesses make it their business to recognize clients: they hire humans to observe users’ places and behavior for you to entice them in.
For my bed-scheming pal, getting free matters from agencies “in a few small manners permits you to reclaim sovereignty for your very own inner nation. It’s David versus Goliath. It’s sticking up for the person over the organization.” And who doesn’t like rooting for the little guy, although his slingshot became firmly discounted?•