Four weeks ago, a handful of frustrated but determined tech leaders in San Antonio met to talk about how they could galvanize their community into greater cohesion and political action.
In retrospect, the departure of Uber and Lyft proved to be a rallying cry. Tuesday evening marked the official launch party of Tech Bloc (@SATechBloc), and the turnout exceeded all expectations as the movement caught fire on social media.
"Six grew to 60 and now look at you!" said Lew Moorman, a tech investor and former longtime president of Rackspace, as he spoke to crowd of 600 people that filled Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery and spilled on to the patio and plaza. "This happened in only four weeks."
Heard warmed up the crowd with a joke: "How many software engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? None: it's a hardware problem."
Heard and Moorman stood on a balcony with brewing tanks behind them as one of the biggest concentrations of tech talent ever to gather in San Antonio stood below, sipping craft brews, savoring passed hors d'oeuvres, and enjoying what Moorman called the energy and power of people engaged in a "creative collision."
The event was part social, part networking, and most of all, a call to action for people more comfortable with software and startups to get organized and get active politically.
"We were hoping for 200, then we got more than 900 RSVPs and now there are 600 in the house," Heard said to shouts and applause. "Why are we here tonight? Free beer? Maybe for a few of you, but that's not it for most of you."
Heard then introduced Moorman: "If Tech Bloc has a godfather, it's got to be Lew."
Moorman made several references to the departure of rideshare companies as giving birth to Tech Bloc, and he shared an anecdote about a friend and Los Angeles tech company founder who Moorman had been wooing to move to San Antonio, working, in his words, "as a one man economic development enterprise."
The friend, Chris Ueland, founder and president of MaxCDN, seemed interested until news broke of Uber and Lfyt leaving San Antonio. Ueland sent Moorman an email with a link to news coverage and this in the subject line: WTF?
"All the air in the balloon got let out," Moorman lamented, "but the good news is that's why we're here now.
"We are going to get Uber and Lyft back here," Moorman added to loud cheers. "If Cedar Rapids, Iowa, can get it right, so can we."
He asked attendees to sign Tech Bloc's new change.org petition to bring back Uber and Lyft to San Antonio that goes live Wednesday.
Interestingly, both mayoral candidates, interim Mayor Ivy Taylor and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, were present as Moorman addressed the audience, along with Councilmembers Roberto Treviño (D1) and Ron Nirenberg (D8).
Moorman then answered the question on everyone's minds:
"Where do we go from here? We're going to start with small things, this is going to take a long time."
Moorman said Tech Bloc seeks to do three things:
1. Advocacy work with city officials to improve San Antonio's livability, which will include adjustments to economic development strategies to grow the tech community, and new marketing strategies that focus on places like the Pearl and Geekdom rather than the River Walk, mariachi and margaritas.
2. Build an ecosystem that connects everyone in the city's tech sector, an effort that will include an online directory and calendar of events.
3. Convene the community for "one damn good event each quarter." Moorman said San Antonio native Robert Hammond, co-founder of the Friends of the High Line in New York, will speak at the next Tech Bloc gathering on Aug. 11.
"Robert Hammond is an amazing guy...the High Line has generated billions of dollars in development along the park, and Robert is going to come here and teach us how to start and build things."
Moorman finished by speaking about his personal commitment to his home town, saying he had no interest in moving to more tech-friendly environments like San Francisco or Austin.
"I like to build things, and we have the opportunity to build something great here in San Antonio," he said.
With that, people lingered to talk with elected officials, make new connections, and renew longtime connections. No one seemed in a hurry to leave. Finally, word came over the Southleigh loudspeaker. It was time to take the creative collision outside and make room for the evening's regular patrons.
Years from now, the founders and organizers of Tech Bloc might look back at Tuesday night at Southerleigh at the Pearl as the moment when San Antonio shifted into a higher gear and began accelerating, making up for lost time.
This story was originally published on Tuesday, May 19, 2015.
*Lew Moorman speaks to a packed crowd. Photo by Scott Ball.