Tom Fallows

Early this morning, my younger brother called to announce that he was making a surprise visit to San Francisco and needed to be picked up at SFO–about 10 miles down Highway 101 from where I live in the city. Ten miles isn’t far to drive to see your brother, but after heading down 101 into Silicon Valley almost every day for the past 10 weeks, I had been looking forward to today’s day off from work, mostly because it meant that I didn’t have to face 101. But everything turned out well, and my brother and I had a fantastic day hiking in the hills of Berkeley, far away from any cars.

In the land of stock-option-financed BMW Z3’s and souped-up Land Rovers, I’m behind the wheel of a 19-year-old stick-shift diesel that lumbers and wheezes its way through my 35-mile commute from San Francisco to Mountain View. Over the past week, “The Diesel” has been smoking more that usual, so I’ve taken to parking it as far away from my office as possible, hoping that no one I know will see me get out. My car is a sign that I’m new to the Valley, that this is my first try in the great game of the Internet.

I graduated from college June 10, and on June 14, I showed up for my first day at Epinions.com, a startup that’s creating a forum where people can read and write reviews of products and services–it’s a shopping guide driven by user experiences. By my reckoning, I was the first 1999 Harvard graduate to start work, narrowly beating out a good friend who signed on with his congressman in Washington. Of course, I would have liked to spend the summer in Europe or lazily make my way across the country, but Nirav Tolia and Naval Ravikant, the 27- and 25-year-old founders of epinions.com, managed to convince me that the company needed me now. Tomorrow was too late. Whether I was easy prey after being so fed up with the lazy world of academia, or whether it was Nirav’s half-cheesy, half-inspirational words, “We’re going for the whole enchilada!” I got swept up in the moment and the idea and flew to California.

Time at epinions.com doesn’t really pass in hours, days, or weeks. Mornings are scrambles to finish phone conversations with East Coast partners before the end of their business days, afternoons are for the West Coast, and suddenly it’s evening before I can start working on my part of the site. Our engineering team seems to operate on Hawaii time, arriving at noon and burning the midnight oil. Days are indistinct, since we’re always at the office, the only noticeable difference being that potential partners seem to disappear for the weekend on Fridays starting at about noon. Smaller partners, of course, can be found in the offices on Saturdays or late at night during the week, but even they seem to go home on Sundays. Milestones are the big measures of progress, be they internal code freezes, soft launches, partnership deals, or big new hires.

If milestones are what it’s all about, the next several days will be exciting at epinions.com; we’re pushing to launch the site at some point late this week. I’ve only been through one site launch–that of my own company, RowersWorld.com, two years ago. I remember finally understanding how my dad must feel when the first reviews of his books trickle in–after working hard in a vacuum, it’s scary to show the world what you’ve been working on. Most of us had the weekend off to prepare for the final push to launch. Sort of the calm before the storm. We’ll see how this one goes!