I spent a few days in New York City last week and into the weekend. I was there for a friend’s wedding but spent time with people that worked at or around startups in a variety of capacities after setting up meetings beforehand.
It was a whirlwind few days but incredibly fruitful, and most of all inspring and motivating. As I emailed one of the folks I met with after our meeting ended, I was all jacked up and excited after our meeting (though that also could’ve been because of all the coffee I was drinking with the various people I was meeting with).
One of the things I took away from the weekend was the sense that while San Francisco / Silicon Valley (and Boston too I think) have already had their period of young people creating the startup community from scratch, that process is just getting going in NYC (and in DC/MD/VA as well). Startups have always existed in these cities but the full-blown ecosystem is being built right now by the participants, and my sense was that I was meeting with people that have a big hand in creating it. Everyone in startups benefits from amazing mentors, a community, and an active ecosystem, and as amazing mentors that Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon, Charlie O’Donnell and others are to the NYC community now, I would bet that when they were coming up in the first wave of NYC startups they would’ve loved to have had the resources that are in place now, from Skillshare classes, to General Assemb.ly, to TechStars NYC, to NYTM, etc.
A picture of the floor plan on the wall when you get off the elevator at the spectacularly-designed General Assembly at 20th and Broadway:
A related point is that plugging yourself into the startup community isn’t just about meeting the prominent founders that have already had hugely successful outcomes, or the veteran VCs and angels. It’s also about getting to know the younger folks that are first-time founders, junior/mid-level biz dev, sales, marketing, and product people, and certainly the builders and hackers. These are the people that are going to be coming up through the ranks together, building the next generation of companies after their current startups, and helping out and remembering the people they were in the trenches with once they’re all successful and looking to “pay it forward” when the time comes.
Another outcome of the weekend for me was the advice that for startup job-seekers, a great source is the VCs/angels themselves since they sit at a “parent company” level and a huge portion of their role is recruiting for portfolio companies. Don’t be shy, they’ll take your call/email if they think you’re hungry and smart. And it’s a good way to find positions before the general public — if a role is publicly announced you’re probably already on the outside looking in.
I also enjoyed — and this is true of the startup community in general, including in other cities, particularly DC — the overall sense of community and good karma that permeates the system. It’s as if everyone in the system knows that people not part of it think they’re weird, crazy, and stupid for turning down regular jobs at big companies to go build something new, and feel obliged to help others out. That “pay it forward” mentality is also driven by the fact that startups are largely about people, teams, relationships, and contacts, and the community is small, even in big cities — people talk, and having a reputation as a helpful, positive person is paramount.
One last point that makes NYC great: I recall seeing a TechStars video somewhere in which Fred Wilson said what makes NYC great for startups is how easy it is to pack in a full day of meetings because of how close everyone is. He said, roughly, try doing 8 meetings in a day when you’ve got to drive up and down I-280 or the 101 out in Silicon Valley — it’s not happening. Even when you get stuck on the 6 train downtown between Astor Place and Bleecker Street, the train doesn’t move for 15 minutes, and it actually ends up going backwards to the previous stop to let the passengers out (something I had never had happen to me when I lived in NYC), you can still run a few blocks to SoHo and be at your next meeting relatively on time :)