The New York Startup Scene

Giff Constable startups

wilson-ny-startupsAs someone who has done startups in New York, Silicon Valley & San Fran, and Austin, I find the topic of location very interesting.  Fred Wilson and Chris Dixon just gave a talk at  Clickable (embedded below) on why the New York startup scene is special, and I had a few reactions:

  • New York would benefit from a better, more entrepreneur-friendly angel pool. A lot of New York angels basically come right out and say “You don’t want to take money from me” because they are going to screw you on terms.  In general, Silicon Valley angels have a much higher respect for aligning investor and entrepreneur interests, and I think this is largely because so many SV angels are former entrepreneurs themselves. It’s a chicken and egg problem that would be solved by a few more big, local exits. [update: I think this is changing and improving]
  • I completely agree with Chris Dixon that while New York is very design centric, there is a big difference between making something pretty and making something usable (ideally you have both, but they are different). New York is amazing at pretty, but would benefit from a deeper HCI community.  A counter point that can give New York an edge is that Silicon Valley suffers from UI designer “herd mentality”, often driven by the latest design look to come out of Apple.
  • I also agree with Chris that many good engineers have been ruined by the investment banks culture, dev processes, and paychecks.  I do believe that it is possible to scale a good engineering team in New York, although I will admit that at Electric Sheep we built a solid team by hiring all over the country and letting people work remotely.
  • One area where I think New York is particularly weak is affordable sys admin talent — and I’m not just talking about a support role but people who understands infrastructure and designing/building for scalability.
  • I used to say that New York was also weak on the legal side, in terms of law firms that got tech startups both in terms of legal needs and pricing policies, but I think Gunderson and Lowenstein seem to be filling that gap.
  • I agree that New York is a big pond with lots of ambitious, bright people and far greater diversity of industry.  That big pool of talent is a rich source to pull from, especially in sales/BD, but the downside is that few understand what “startup really means” (espcially in terms of the rollercoaster) and that can be a big adjustment.
  • New York does have one very interesting talent pool that is created (rather than ruined) by the investment banks, and that is the “analyst” two years out of college.  These are young men and women who understand how to work hard, focus on details and quality, think analytically, research intelligently, and basically go to the wall to get something done well.  By two years in, they are also jaded and ready to try something new, energizing, and more fun / meaningful.

Good food for thought. Thank you Clickable for sharing the video!

Fred Wilson At Clickable’s Interesting Cafe: What Makes The NYC Startup Sector So Great? from Max Kalehoff on Vimeo.