No Back Taxes, Inside Quora, and I Heart San Francisco

The days are getting shorter and colder, and it's been a few weeks since my last update. That means it's time for a roundup of my recent Xconomy and Xperience posts.

First off: I am thrilled to report that startup investors in California will not be getting bills for $120 million in retroactive taxes, thanks largely to a citizen tax revolt that got its start in the pages of Xconomy. 

Back in January, in an Xconomy op-ed, Bay Area entrepreneur Brian Overstreet was the first to raise the alarm about the California Franchise Tax Board's plan to issue the retroactive income-tax assessments, which came as the board's response to a 2012 court case that invalidated a long-cherished tax break for small-business investors. I recounted the strange history of that tax break, its demise, and the board's decision in a subsequent news analysis.

The battle to quash the FTB's plan has been raging all year in Sacramento, and a lobbying group organized by Overstreet finally won last week, as Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill sparing investors from the unfair tax hit. This week we published Overstreet's behind-the-scenes account of the campaign. "In short, we succeeded by doing what we do best: being entrepreneurial," Overstreet wrote.

In other news:

-- What is Quora? Maybe, like me, you've been wondering exactly what the Silicon Valley-based question-and-answer site is trying to do, and why. Well, I talked with co-founder and CEO Adam D'Angelo and lieutenant Marc Bodnick, and I've finally got some answers for you.

-- If you're a foodie, you've probably heard of Epicurious and Allrecipes. You may not have heard of Yummly. But already, the Redwood City startup is the Gooogle of recipes, and I'm betting their advanced search technology (and their sweet new iOS app) is going to make the company into one of the central information brokers in the food world.

-- Can ideas from the "lean startup" and "customer development" movements work for life science companies, which traditionally have higher costs and longer paths to market? Startup guru Steve Blank used to think the answer was no, but he's changed his mind, and now he's teaching a whole course on entrepreneurship to life science startups at UCSF.

-- After reading two fantastic new books about San Francisco -- David Talbot's Season of the Witch and Gary Kamiay's Cool Gray City of Love -- I was inspired to write my own paean to San Francisco, offering a few theories about why the city is always reinventing itself -- and our larger economy and technological infrastructure along with it. I called it The Winds of the Future: Five Ways San Francisco Stays Innovative.

-- Speaking of books, I interviewed Scott Berkun, author of a fascinating new book called The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work. It's an account of his time as a team leader inside Automattic, the company behind the WordPress publishing platform, which is famous for letting all of its employees work remotely. That's not an arrangement that will work for everyone, Berkun said. "People who struggle to want to go to work and manage their time and manage their attention will probably have a harder time, because they don't have a boss checking them every day and looking over their shoulder." The only person looking over my shoulder is my dog, and he usually just wants food and walks.

-- The Rock Health accelerator for digital-health startups launched 10 new startups at its fifth demo day. I was there and took lots of pictures.

-- Speaking of accelerators, there's a new startup accelerator in town for early-stage companies building tools for software developers. It's called Heavybit Industries, and it's intended to help companies deal with the unique challenges of selling software to other software companies. "We think of it as grad school compared to Y Combinator's undergrad," says co-founder James Lindenbaum.

-- Also speaking of accelerators, Evernote announced at its EC3 conference that it has picked six startups to join the inaugural class at its new Evernote Accelerator, a month-long program designed to help teams improve their Evernote-connected products.