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Why Parker Conrad Won’t Read This

Hi, welcome to your Weekend.

While I hope everyone carves out some time this weekend to read Abe’s fascinating cover story about the tech hero-turned-villain-turned-hero-again Parker Conrad, there’s one person I know will not be reading it: Conrad himself.

As the Rippling CEO admitted to Abe during a lengthy interview in Vermont earlier this month, he hasn’t read any press about himself since 2016. That’s when things hit rock bottom at his previous startup Zenefits: the scandal-dogged Conrad was ousted by his investors and replaced by his chief operating officer David Sacks. According to Conrad, Sacks then waged something of a proxy war against him in the media—a claim that Sacks denied. But the point is: Conrad, who once trained as a journalist at an Arkansas newspaper, simply can’t read journalism in which he’s the subject.

I can’t entirely blame him. As we’ve seen recently with the narrative violations of the Bob Lee murder, speculation and reductivism can sometimes outpace facts and hard data. As humans, we like our story lines neat and our saviors unvarnished. But stories like Conrad’s (and, tragically, like Lee’s) are far more nuanced and complicated than that. His “redemption arc” is as much about our habit of simplifying the difficult job of leadership as it is about his own management wins and losses.

He doesn’t have to read his own profile to understand that. 


the big read

Parker Conrad Takes the Pain

A spectacular implosion at his last startup Zenefits forced him into exile. But the Rippling CEO’s bold response to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse has brought him all the way back. From Conrad’s sister’s goat farm in Vermont, Abe tracks the billionaire’s evolution.


Social studies

The Rise of the Not-Home Not-Office

In San Francisco, a new kind of co-working space is emerging, one that isn’t really about work at all. Arielle pokes her head into these “third spaces” and speaks to founders who believe what people really need isn’t just a quiet place to take calls, but a place to form friendships over boxing sessions and ikebana flower arranging classes.


market research

Biohacking Spas Are Becoming the New Starbucks

No longer just a Silicon Valley phenomenon, smart spas and alternative wellness clinics are turning up everywhere from the deep South to the Midwest, Zara Stone discovers. They’re also receiving backing from serious investors and interest from customers who once had no time for cryotherapy or lymphatic message treatments.


screentime

Screentime: The Creator Who Quit Google to Experiment With AI

A few weeks ago, Bilawal Sidhu quit his job as a full-time product manager at Google to become an AI influencer. He walks Margaux through his phone use, describing his favorite AI creations, his morning meditation regimen and his go-to Twitter Spaces.



Listening: An unexpectedly emotional Tiny Desk concert
When I first heard about the English DJ Fred Again, it was just before he played the 2022 Portola Music Festival in San Francisco, where  people climbed over fences and charged past security to get a better glimpse of the stage. Fred Again had risen from obscurity to fame so quickly, I chalked the whole thing up to TikTok-driven hype. But I changed my tune this week when NPR released his Tiny Desk concert, a truly mind-altering mashup of musicality and space. It’s unusual to see a DJ doing so much during a live performance, from playing the piano and the marimba, to singing, to cuing up beats and looping bits of slam poetry and iPhone videos. Those original samples are a key part of Fred Again’s style, which a friend of mine dubbed “musical freeganism.” Just listen to the set. It will make you feel something. —Arielle


Noticing: A dirty secret about Discord 
Discord has been around for nearly a decade, but the social media platform has seemed little used—and little understood—by anyone over the age of 25. That is, until a 21-year-old Air National Guardsmen leaked a trove of top-secret national intelligence onto the site. This crossover moment into global notoriety reinforces a belief I’ve had while writing extensively about Discord: It may very well be the next Facebook—for better and worse. Many young people see it as a beloved online gathering site, great for voice-chatting on “Fortnite” sorties or trading tips on crypto—but the more it grows, the more  problematic content it draws in. Discord has wrestled with these issues in the past when it became a rally pointing for the far right in 2017. Clearly, it has more work to do, and it should see Facebook as less a lodestar than a warning sign: 20 years in, Mark Zuckerberg’s creation is still trying to clean up its own house. —Abe


Reading: Life after Instagram, sort of 
Lee From America was Instagram in the late 2010s—well, at least for millennial women with a predilection for athleisure and Zooey Deschanel-adjacent quirkiness. But then, as my friend Mattie Kahn writes in The New York Times, she disappeared from the site in 2019 “in a puff of ashwagandha.” For Lee Tilghman’s 240,000 Instagram followers, her retreat from influencing has shattered the air of glamor that comes with social media fame. Kahn gives us a sly glimpse of Tilghman’s ridiculous-yet-ordinary new life—after getting laid off from her 9-5 tech job, she’s leading workshops helping other creators quit influencing. Tilghman wants a boring career: “Put that in the article” she says. But why speak to the Times if she wants a reprieve from fame? Because, as a recovering influencer, “she knows good exposure when she sees it.” —Annie


Makes You Think

2 Fyre 2 Festival? What could possibly go wrong?


Until next Weekend, thanks for reading.

—Jon

Weekend Editor, The Information


Jon Steinberg is the Weekend Editor at The Information. He is a former editor-in-chief of San Francisco magazine and senior editor at New York magazine, where his work won many National Magazine Awards.
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Rippling CEO Parker Conrad at his home in San Francisco on April 10, 2023. Photo by Carolyn Fong for The Information
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