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The Telegraph Hill neighbourhood in San Francisco is not known for having technology executives as residents. Densely populated with ethnic Italian restaurants and delicatessens, the district is a perennial favourite for intrepid tourists, but offers little of the fashionable accoutrements typically found in many of the city’s more affluent areas.
Yet the lack of hipster pretence is precisely why Kayvon Beykpour, the 27-year-old chief executive of Periscope, says he moved there four years ago.
“There’s no single area where tech industry people live, but I don’t think you’ll see many of them rushing to live here,” says Beykpour, who co-founded the company that developed the popular livestreaming app just over two years ago. Last year Twitter bought the app in a deal worth up to $100m.
Periscope has found fame around the world as an egalitarian video tool, broadcasting everything from refugees crossing the Turkish border to protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
Beykpour says living in this modest neighbourhood, in the shadow of Coit Tower overlooking the city, allowed him to move away from the technology herd. “There’s a feeling here of being far away from the business side of San Francisco,” he says. “And that’s exactly why I like it.”
Shoeless and wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and slightly faded jeans, Beykpour appears even younger than he is, but his is the archetypal image of the laid-back millennial populating tech companies across the Bay Area.
Just as he begins the tour of his second-floor apartment, his dog, Scotch, trots into the room. “I got him about two years ago from a rescue shelter,” he says, as we enter the sitting room. “He’s very relaxed almost all the time, which I love.”
The two-bedroom home is a lazy dog’s paradise: a brown sectional sofa with plush cushions covers half the sitting room wall and there is a beige, upholstered love seat in the corner. Beykpour points to a small, rounded sofa where he and Scotch often share a seat. Teak tables and vintage Persian rugs add character to the room.
The apartment spans more than 1,400 sq ft and has an abundance of natural light thanks to large floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a quiet, tree-lined street. Towards the back of the apartment, down a narrow hall adorned with family photos and framed prints, sliding glass doors open to an outside deck with unobstructed views of downtown San Francisco.
“This is the best amenity of the place and why I knew I wanted to live here,” he says, gesturing to the sight of the Bay Bridge, the vast overpass that connects San Francisco to nearby Oakland. “It basically allows me to be in the city, but far away from the craziness of it.”
Raised in affluent Marin County, about 14 miles north of San Francisco, Beykpour is the only child of Iranian immigrants who arrived in California in the 1970s. The confessed computer geek had begun to create mobile apps by the age of 17.
Just a year later, while studying computer science at Stanford University, he co-founded Terriblyclever Design — a platform for universities to create and manage mobile applications for their academic community. In 2009, aged 20, he sold the company for $4m.
The inspiration for Periscope came while planning a trip to Turkey in 2013 when mass protests erupted in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. “I wondered ‘why I can’t see what’s happening right now somewhere in the world’,” he says. “The initial seed of Periscope was born right there and then.”
He and co-founder Joe Bernstein introduced Periscope in 2015 and it quickly amassed 10m users. In March 2016, the company announced it had 200m total broadcasts.
Among those broadcasts is one that ranks as the strangest yet most popular in the company’s history. In January almost 20,000 people simultaneously watched a livestream of people attempting to cross a puddle in Newcastle, England. While many viewed the event as a novelty, tech observers cheered the livestreaming app as an increasingly relevant part of the expanding social media landscape.
Yet there have been controversies, too. In April this year, a woman from the US state of Ohio was charged with livestreaming the rape of a teenage girl via Periscope. A month later, a 19-year-old French woman broadcast her suicide using the app.
Both episodes raised concerns over privacy and the use of the technology for nefarious purposes. Yet Beykpour defends Periscope, arguing that the company vigorously polices anything that violates the app’s terms of service, which includes explicit graphic content. “There’s no question that we work very hard to make this app a safe place for any user,” he says.
As we walk back towards the sitting room, Beykpour points out a framed photograph on the wall in the corridor. It is an image he captured in Cappadocia, the semi-arid region in central Turkey. It shows the tall, cone-shaped rock formations the region is known for, with a horse grazing in the foreground. An avid photographer, he says the picture serves as a reminder of his trip to Turkey, but also of the ideas that the trip helped fuel.
“I love photography and I’ve been taking pictures as a hobby for years,” he says. “I framed this because I love the way it turned out, but also because it’s a reminder to me of how technology ideas can come from a genuine need to connect people to the world.”
Beykpour appears relaxed when the discussion turns to Facebook and its new live streaming app Facebook Live. The company launched the service for its 1.7bn users earlier this year as part of an effort to cement its position as a major video hub. “For us, it’s always been about building technology people will love to use,” he says. “Competition is always healthy, but we don’t let it distract us from our goals.”
In an industry known for youth, Beykpour ranks among the youngest chief executives of a major tech company in the US. But in his home there are no ping-pong tables or video games — typical fixtures in tech hubs. Instead, reading, music and television are his means of entertainment, he says.
A vinyl record bin with albums by David Bowie and Daft Punk sits disheveled beside a cherry oak console in the sitting room, which holds a vintage walnut turntable. A bookshelf behind it is stacked with a mix of sci-fi thrillers and novels, that range from The Martian by Andy Weir and Reamde by Neal Stephenson to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral.
His favourite pastime? Board games. “I still love them,” he says, explaining how contemporary board games have now amassed a cult-like following among many techies. “I bring them out every time I have people over and we can play for hours.” His collection is neatly aligned on the lower rung of a bookshelf in the sitting room. It includes current favourites Settlers of Catan and Cyclades — strategy games, he says.
Another staple of his home life is a Sunday night ritual of hosting friends and colleagues. He has managed to maintain the weekly event despite an expanding work life that sometimes stretches into 12-hour working days.
“It’s one of the few times I cook,” he says, gesturing to a freshly renovated kitchen behind him, as we sit at a large oak dining table just off the sitting room. When I remark how the kitchen — immaculate with white wood cabinetry and stainless steel appliances, looks seldom used — he admits that his signature dish is charcuterie plates. “I know it sounds predictable, but I jazz it up with handmade pâtés, salumi and terrines.”
Scotch saunters back into the room. “Oh, I also love Scotch, did I fail to mention that?” he laughs. “That’s not where he got his name, but it’s still my favourite drink.”
Three Persian rugs given to him by his father are among Beykpour’s most treasured objects. “My mom and dad moved to the US when they were teenagers,” he says. “My dad went into business selling old rugs and gave these to me as a gift when I bought this home.”
A night light in a hand-carved wooden box is another favourite thing. The device is engraved with his likeness, along with three of his colleagues at Terriblyclever, the company he founded in college, which produced iPhone applications. The light was a gift after the company was sold in 2009.
Photographs: Brian Flaherty
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