In October 2017, at Sequoia Capital’s offices in Menlo Park, the legendary investor Mike Moritz found himself scrutinizing a group of unusual mid-20th century maps. Moritz, an avid painter, has been known to walk around with a sketchbook and draw when the mood strikes him. That day, however, he was looking at some sketches of Solano County, a largely agricultural area some 100 miles northeast from Sand Hill Road. The maps had been unfurled on the table by Nat Friedman, an entrepreneur who had come to feel out Moritz on a friend’s moonshot idea: building a new city from scratch.
Moritz, a one-time Time journalist turned early Google investor, was immediately intrigued. And so, a few email introductions later, he decided to make his most ambitious personal investment to date: a campaign to raise close to $1 billion to buy 50,000 acres, mostly from farmers, to build a city for tens of thousands of people in Eastern Solano County. With high enough density and first-in-class transit, Moritz and Friedman hoped to relieve Bay Area housing costs and revitalize the poorest county in the region.
Pulling off a project of this scale, though, would require complete and utter secrecy—and for a very very long time. That was the task of the real man behind the project, Jan Sramek, a precocious, Czech-born Goldman Sachs alum who originally conceived of the city and had given Friedman the maps in the first place. Sramek was described by associates as almost maniacal about keeping a lid on things, given the legitimate fear that any public disclosure would lead to land speculation in Solano County, or create holdouts that would drive up costs, risking the integrity of the project altogether. “Jan had the most unbelievably good OpSec I’ve ever seen,” said a person involved.