Rob Fahrni

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Bitwise Industries and Heartbreak


For more than a decade, Bitwise co-founders Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. managed to sustain a vision they had for Fresno.

“It’s not at all a mystery,” said Olguin Jr. in a Ted Talk recorded last year. “But we do have to do three very specific and deliberate things. Invite the underdog in the front door. Pay them to learn like it’s their job. And then build them castles in their hometowns.”

In Olguin Jr.’s vision, the underdog city was Fresno. The job was at Bitwise Industries. And the “castles” would eventually rise everywhere – until they started to fall.

I know Irma and Jake personally. They’re pretty regular folks with big dreams just like many of us. I remember well the day I sat down with Irma to discuss what her vision for Bitwise was and how it would help what I once called a Technology Black Hole.

She shared her vision and listened intently to what I had to say. Not that I was giving advice or anything. I was sharing what I’d like to see in Fresno. At the time Bitwise was tiny and Irma and I met in the Tower District of Fresno at the original Hashtag location — I liked this facility a lot.

I’m grateful for everything Irma and Jake did for Fresno and me personally. When I was trying to go out on my own as a freelance iOS developer Shift-3, a Bitwise Industries company, hired me to do some work. They took care of me and I’ll never forget it.

They had this enormous presence in downtown Fresno. Something I adore about Irma and Jake. They wanted to help revitalize the ghost town Downtown Fresno had become. It’s not at all a bad downtown. It suffered the same fate as many downtowns around the country. Urban sprawl. Instead of investing in downtown folks would go off and build office parks and companies flocked to them. I find them horrible for any sort of community building and are often traps to keep employees in the building. In great cities you can walk out of your downtown building and find great places to eat, get a coffee or drink, and go shopping. They’re amazing.

I digress.

A wonderful bouquet of flowers.When Bitwise collapsed and scandal followed I was heartbroken. All those people busting their butts to make Fresno a better place and make a living to support their families while doing it all gone in an instant.

Fresno is still trying to recover from it and will be for years to come. Not to mention all the lives affected by it.

I wish everyone caught up in the mess all the best for their future. I also wish Irma and Jake well. They had the best of intentions and made huge mistakes along the way.

It’s heartbreaking.

P.S. - KVPR has a nice index of their Bitwise coverage.