Grooming the Future: Tristan Walker Challenges the Startup Status Quo
Lauren Murrow for San Francisco Magazine | Photo: Cody Pickens | March 3, 2016
It’s 9am and ’70s funk is reverberating down a tree-lined block of suburban Palo Alto. The twang of an electric bass emanates from a nondescript two-story building midblock, accessible through a chain-link gate and down an alleyway. Inside, a hand-lettered sign reading “Welcome to Walker & Company” hangs above a bar cart that’s liberally stocked with tequila, half-full wine bottles and Fireball whiskey. Records line the shelves—The Jackson 5, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, the Commodores—and black-and-white photographs of Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Spike Lee adorn the walls. Twenty- and 30-somethings in jeans and sneakers slouch at long communal tables partitioned by Macs—Silicon Valley’s makeshift cubicles. In the middle of the row, clad in sweats and a henley in preparation for the all-office SoulCycle class he’s leading this afternoon, sits Tristan Walker, the company’s 31-year-old namesake founder.
The charismatic entrepreneur has a broad, movie-star grin and a deep, sonorous belly laugh. He has a penchant for classic cool-guy accessories, pairing his ever-present Fitbit with Ray-Ban shades or a black fedora. He projects confidence, but dreads arrogance, fretting over what he fears is a “diva moment” when a female coworker brings him a cup of coffee. (“She just asked if anyone wanted coffee, I swear!” he stammers.) He’s devoted to his 1½-year-old son, Avery, and his wife, Amoy, a seventh-grade teacher at a private girls’ middle school nearby. And he’s a demanding boss, expecting “superhuman” performance from his 24 employees. “Do whatever you want,” he tells them, “as long as it works.”…