Born in San Francisco, Jonathan Littman is a writer and journalist on topics like innovation, startups and technology. He has authored ten books, three about the amazing world of entrepreneurs. “I’ve seen waves of technology firsthand. I even sat around a table like this with Steve Jobs with 15 other people”, he says.

Those waves brought him to Lisbon, but what made him stay were the bridges. To be more specific, the red one from his native San Francisco, and her “sister,” in Lisbon, that he can see every day from his office in Chiado.

When Jonathan Littman first visited Lisbon in 2017 to lead innovation seminars, he wouldn’t have dreamt that six years later he would have co-founded a multinational club which gathers people from all over the world, and creates events and parties to connect them and to Lisbon. The club is very appropriately Red Bridge Lisbon, and of course, there’s another one in San Francisco — Jonathan says they’re sisters.

“San Francisco is just like this. You have the hills, we have the hills. You have eléctricos, we have cable cars. San Francisco is a small to medium city. The metro population is very similar to Lisbon.”

Red Bridge hosts parties that are also four-hour conferences. Talented people, a specific topic and a DJ. Earlier this year, these parties became an official club with more than 120 paying individual members, who are Californian, international, and Portuguese.

“We call them the First Circle, and now that we’ve had so many, we’re going to close the First Circle. And we have Founding Companies and organizations: 42 Lisboa, Unbabel, LBC, AGPC, Health Tech Lisboa, and Startup Portugal. 

Our next stage for the club is creating a digital network of our members because one of the things we can do that most clubs can’t do in Lisbon is we can connect people to San Francisco and California. And that’s our current goal.”

One of Red Bridge parties at Rua Vítor Cordon 5. Photo: Carlos Menezes

Jonathan Littman speaks nearly fluent Portuguese, mixing Portuguese expressions with some words in English when he lacks them. The way he learned was unusual: he began during lockdown, but the real evolution started when he discovered telenovelas. One in particular with more than 200 episodes: O Sábio, da RTP. He would be doing small tasks, like cooking or checking emails, and the computer would always be streaming the telenovela. That or European football. He swears by this recipe. Is there a more Portuguese way to learn Portuguese? Telenovelas and football might be more “typical” than sardines in June.

“I want to raise the level of respect for Portuguese culture. And Portuguese culture starts with language, right? It starts with respecting what is better here, the respect for the individual. In our club, we encourage speaking Portuguese. We actually have ideas about helping people. I think there are better ways to learn Portuguese than the conventional ones.

But why do people come to Lisbon?

In October 2021, just days before the Web Summit in Lisbon, Jonathan published a piece in Los Angeles Magazine that went by the title “The New California Dream Is in Portugal“. In this article, he mentions Lisbon’s low cost, Madonna, and more celebrities buying houses here: the “70-cent morning bica,” the parties, and the similarities between Lisbon and California.”It went viral, with 200,000 views in 24 hours,” he states.

“There is a larger trend: Californians have discovered that Portugal is a lovely country. And Californians are explorers. They have already explored Italy. They have already explored Spain, and the UK. So there is a newness and a freshness to Portugal. And there is a difference between many of those other countries and here: people still love to visit Italy, but when people come here, especially Californians, more than half of them are like, ‘This is nice, I could live here!’ The Portuguese are amazing. They speak perfect English, and that is not the case in Italy or Spain. Everybody speaks English here. You’re at the cafe or at the restaurant, everybody speaks it. My problem is, I insist on speaking Portuguese,” he laughs.

Jonathan Littman says he’s a man of two cities: San Francisco and Lisbon. He flies back and forth between them. One month in each city, for a year and a half now. “I was this guy who was becoming sort of an amateur, unpaid, California ambassador to Lisbon, to Portugal. I’ve been to 25 countries in Europe, but Portugal was special. I think the people are very warm and genuine. And I call it actually ‘Latin light.’ I love that you’re Latin, but it’s a different kind of Latin. I love it. It’s a country that celebrates writers and poets, because I’m a writer, and I even write some poetry.”

Jonathan Littman believes that there are a lot of Californians, internationals, and Portuguese who would like to read articles about local news in English. “English is the language of business and technology. We all want to embrace the reality that welcomes talented, generous people. People who want to give something back to Lisboa, that’s a beautiful thing.”

“But for me as a writer and a journalist, one of my goals is that we’re very clear that these are not people who are tourists. These are people who are coming here because they respect the Portuguese, they respect Portugal, and they want to collaborate. They want to work on initiatives together.”

This is why Jonathan Littman hates the expression “expats” and “foreigners”.

He says that his Red Bridge club has lots of members who would love to collaborate with the city of Lisbon, with Portuguese builders. “We have entrepreneurs in my club who have models to build houses for 120,000 euros with what we call a prefab model, a prefabrication model. We are an entrepreneur club. So we would love to work with people in the government, people in the city, and developers because of the possible solutions. My city in San Francisco has many problems too. We have a very serious homeless problem and have very expensive housing. Whenever a city becomes attractive, there are going to be tensions. So I don’t have a magic solution, right? But we have talented people actually in our club, in our connections, who would love to collaborate and talk about possible things that would reduce some of these issues.”

Here is the latest Red Bridge.

If you want to know more about Jonathan and the Red Bridge, follow his monthly articles in Mensagem in this partnership with Red Bridge.

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Ana Narciso tem 23 anos, vem de Rio Maior, mas vive em Lisboa desde os 18. Foi pela paixão de contar histórias que escolheu licenciar-se em Jornalismo. Durante o curso passou muitas horas na rádio e...

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