A recent profile by The San Francisco Standard painted the contentious CEO of Y Combinator as a righteous deity, who yearns to see a “common sense” renaissance in SF. But his actions and overall persona lack any semblance of grace.
With eyes white and brightened by a collection of studio lights, Garry Tan appears to sit mere inches in front of a forward-facing lens. The 42-year-old father of two and Noe Valley resident speaks softly, his tonality malleable to interpretation. Tan seems composed; materialized as spun sugar bound around a pastel paper cone. Benevolence isn’t expressed, however; his delivery is too calculated, contains too many bizarre inflections, and carries with it a feeling of shrewdness.
Something is off. You can’t quite put words to it.
But a part of you — the same slice responsible for providing food and water and seeking shelter and community — recoils. Tan’s hands signal; the motions are harsh, quick, and unpaced. Like a rattlesnake defending itself; the “strikes” are blunt and messy, not quite akin to the more accurate and snappy blows associated with hunting prey.
No, these gesticulations are flinched by fear.
There’s a finger pointing at you. It’s clear now: Garry Tan isn’t conversing in either goodwill nor is he interested in holding a convivial space with room for discourse. Tan is, instead, talking at you and through you, as if your flesh and opinions represent a means to a vague conquest.
The whites of Tan’s eyes enlarge. You’re reminded of just how close he appears. Stock drone footage canvassing various San Francisco landscapes populate your line of sight.
Congratulations. You’ve finished watching any one of Garry Tan’s recent video uploads to his YouTube channel.
On Thursday, September 28th, The San Francisco Standard, a quasi-new media outlet based in San Francisco that remains financially sustained by venture capitalist Michael Moritz — the same individual who authored a manipulative op-ed about San Francisco politics in February of this year — published a lengthy profile on Y Combinator’s current CEO, Garry Tan.
An oversaturated and exposed picture of Tan enshrines the piece, his hands gleefully holstered in denim pockets. Tan, who has exercised his right to vote in “all but one San Francisco election” since 2014, never mind the fact Tan moved to SF two years prior, is presented in glowing Pantones. Josh Koehn, the senior political reporter for the Standard who authored the piece, attempts to humanize a man worth an estimated $750 million.
Tan’s childhood is wielded as a tool of relatability — the eldest son born to a mechanical engineer and a multi-hyphenate mother, who recounts food scarcity and familial “tension” that existed alongside “mundane family outings.” His early onset drive for success is connoted by an aptitude for media. Garry Tan’s YouTube channel, per Koehn, is “fine-tuned,” sharpened by advice from the internet’s foremost content creator Mr. Beast, leading Tan to hone said video catalog with shared “life lessons and business strategies.”
(Tan’s content cuts like rusted steel.)
Billionaire Garry Tan, major donor to YIMBY Action, YIMBY Law, and GrowSF trying to take pro bono lawyers away from homeless people bc he’s so mad that some homeless people get to have a tent. pic.twitter.com/qtS9Mjor7l
— Kate Willett (@katewillett) August 26, 2023
Tan’s online actions butt heads with the irony of his spoken words — “I never want to run for office. Like, it’s not for me to figure out,” he tells the media outlet. It’s implied that Tan’s idea of fun isn’t rooted in constructive social engagement, but rather in selecting political fights on the internet — “Oh, my God. This is fun,” he recites after being questioned about what he does for fun, narrating that “[playing] video games on his family computer as a kid [and] trading floppy disks with his friends” brought him joy in his youth.
this was in my neighborhood in d5, i took it off after taking the pic. this is the rhetoric enabled by the anti-dean fanatics like growsf, garry tan, tom wolf, et al: killing my political representative. it abhorrent & 100% based on lies & disinformation. i won’t stand for it pic.twitter.com/G4KcfQLdA0
— Tweets for Charity (@seisinenfeoffin) May 17, 2023
In the profile, Koehn constructs a faunal comparison, aligning Tan, who is registered Democrat, to ”San Francisco’s preeminent political pitbull” with “a taste for progressives.” (The canine analogy alone is already off-putting, capitalizing on an oft-scapegoated dog breed.) Alas, Tan is far from such a superb animal. If anything, his actions more align with that of an earthen nematode — spineless, small-minded, and parasitic.
Reason #11 GrowSF sucks. They re-launched their propaganda/mailing list mouthpiece and borrowing a page from their leader, Garry Tan, blocked an entire swath of San Franciscans from accessing their Twitter. What is @thebolditalic afraid of? Why is local media blocking citizens? pic.twitter.com/FilI8fbGAG
— Jerque Cousteau is shadowbanned (@neo_antiquarian) August 11, 2023
If you’re reading this article, there’s a sizable chance Garry Tan has blocked you from engaging with him on the social media formerly known as Twitter. Even if you haven’t interacted with him prior.
It’s an eerily similar move The Bold Italic’s present editor-in-chief Saul Sugarman performed en masse shortly after Garry Tan joined GrowSF’s council; it’s unclear if he still serves in any capacity; Tan’s donation of $50,000 to the previously mentioned PAC’s “Dump Dean” movement — a campaign aimed at removing and replacing District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston from office in 2024 — was widely reported.
As I reported, Elon Musk hasn't donated the $100k he pledged to GrowSF's "Dump Dean" PAC. GrowSF, which has Musk buddy Garry Tan on its board, distanced itself from Musk in response to my q's.
— Alex Shultz (@AlexShultz) September 29, 2023
In fairness, the Standard briefly mentioned Tan’s proclivity for silencing counter comment — “Blocking tens of thousands of people on X can silence some of the noise—and conversely, create a dangerous echo chamber of thought—but one meltdown or poorly worded tweet can lead to becoming persona non grata in this city” — but failed to give it suitable importance. Because context is quite important here.
Garry Tan prides himself on his altruism for San Francisco. But it’s a generosity that seemingly exists with a tinge of not only narcissism but conceivably classism.
Nah, this is racist.
You can agree or disagree with someone, but as soon as you’re in the position of invoking horrific imagery from wartime propaganda, you’ve slid from honest debate to base bigotry. https://t.co/T6mltK6p6R pic.twitter.com/LZ0dOHPS5C
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) September 10, 2023
Tan said to the Standard “I don’t think I’ve found a single thing I agree with [Supervisor Dean Preston] on.” Preston is the only card-carrying democratic socialist on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, whose core activism in the City legislature is largely organized around tenant rights, access to mental health resources, efforts that create permanent shelter for San Franciscans experiencing homelessness, and both supporting and bolstering labor unions, specifically those in more blue-collar fields.
Tan, who has publicly shared on X that creating more shelter beds is key to ending homelessness in San Francisco (despite evidence to the contrary), has actively blocked people on X who offer or support counter-arguments to his ideas of what’s wrong and what’s right — again, an act of silencing done by a man who is quoted saying that San Francisco’s livability and government issues are “not for [him] to figure out.”
Are YOU blocked by @garrytan?
— Emily Mills (@sf_mills) September 27, 2023
A recent poll conducted by Emily Mills asking “are YOU blocked by [Garry Tan]?” on X found that 71% of the 1,133 respondents found that they were, indeed, blocked; many of them were surprised because they had never interacted with Tan.
Tan isn’t practicing civility by blocking thousands of users on X. If anything, Tan is parroting an oligarchic future for San Francisco.
Tan also appears to have no accountability for his place in fueling tech’s massively male-centric landscape.
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Emily Chang, the pair stop at a wall of photos inside Y Combinator’s Dogpatch office. The corkboard is plastered with pictures, pages ripped from print media, and stationery. One picture in particular taken in 2009 shows Tan and other later-prominent techies sitting along a table, mirroring Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
(It’s an image that sits as a painful reminder of the God complex that runs deep through the tech world, which is exacerbated by one’s net worth.)
Tan smiles, likely proud and tickled by nostalgia. Chang then asks the question any feminists, regardless of gender, would pose: Where are the women?
Tan crumbles under the room’s acknowledged pachyderm, fumbling over his response. He claims no accountability in whatever role he might’ve played in the glaring gender disparity, instead casting blame on “the times” — “it was easily a problem,” Tan continues, struggling to steady his eye contact.
As of publishing, Y Comibinator’s first 300 results of its Founder’s Directory, which includes “all batches” of graduates include no more than ten women — less than 3% of the shown founders.
The “yep” Tan awkwardly blurts when Chang indicates the obvious misogyny rings even more searing.
Tan has unwaveringly defended robotaxis in San Francisco on his YouTube channel, regardless of the growing criticism around them by government officials, City departments, and the general public. It’s worth mentioning that before Cruise, the autonomous-vehicle company with the most self-driving vehicles deployed in San Francisco, was acquired by General Motors in 2016, they were… you guessed it… a Y Combinator-backed enterprise.
When you zoom the lens out, it’s clear Garry Tan’s “common sense” San Francisco isn’t a garden kept alive by rationality. It’s one that’s watered with a very narrow spout, which could leave large swaths of plant life (read: SF communities) to wither away into indifference. That’s chilling.
It’s unclear whether or not Garry Tan has a family dog. Scrolling through his public Instagram account is more like a nightmare blunt rotation of self-improvement quotes and pieces of advice that read like get-rich-quick shams. There is, however, a post featuring an interview conducted outdoors with the founder Jupe, a pop-up shelter company that aims to help house people across the globe
More than 300,000 species of nematodes are currently known to science, many of which thrive in topsoil. It’s unclear how this one exerted the power of speech while touring an ambient-lit tent, shrouded in black weatherproofing.
Feature Image: Courtesy of Y Combinator, edits done by author