Last week, I visited San Francisco & Silicon Valley for my first time as an entrepreneur. I was immediately impressed with the quality of the people and companies I met there: Bay Area veterans simply have stronger experience building massive technology companies and attracting the best engineering talent from around the world. Even the demos I saw at the SF New Tech meetup seemed to convey a stronger underlying layer of technical genius than those I usually see on the circuit in New York.
Yet my gut also told me that the Bay Area’s dominance in technology startups will eventually fall second to New York, thanks to one underlying disadvantage: Urban sprawl.
Huh? Why does this matter?
The Bay Area’s broad geographic coverage simply makes it much more difficult to both work on a startup and be a prolific networker, both of which are critical for creating/retaining a startup’s momentum. In a typical day in New York, I can easily meet with 5 people around the city (from breakfast through happy hour) get a bunch of work done in my office, and attend 1-2 startup events in the evening – all because everything is so close. Even if I’m not walking from meeting to meeting, then I’m at least riding a subway, on which I can get even more work done.
This is a huge contrast to the hours of unproductive driving required to travel between Palo Alto, San Jose, Cuppertino, San Jose, and San Francisco in the course of a day. Sure, SF has Caltrain and the BART, but you’d have to be pretty lucky for all your meetings to be centered around those systems’ few terminals. Being in New York literally allows you to accomplish more in a short amount of time. Given the right confluence of other factors, New York simply has a higher productivity multiplier to increase growth momentum in any industry.
As many Bay Area die-hards would probably argue, NY’s infrastructure advantages over the Bay Area have long been irrelevant compared to the Bay Area’s deeper pool of tech talent, huge tech companies (with their own inner networking machines), and larger venture capital resources. But all of this has been changing in a big way over the past two years. New York has recently been (1) attracting top tech talent faster than ever before; (2) witnessing growth in the NYC offices of west-coast tech mammoths like Microsoft and Google, (3) convincing top tech academic programs like Stanford to open a huge New York campus, (4) reaching new levels of venture capital fund-raising; and (5) building a breathtaking infrastructure of startup incubators (including TechStars, DreamIt, Entrepreneurs Roundtable, Generaly Assemb.ly, and the Varick St. Incubator, among others).
With this perfect storm of momentum – combined with its superior infrastructure and mayor Mike Bloomberg’s unprecedented focus on tech startups – New York is poised to create a startup ecosystem that is bigger, better, and more efficient than anywhere else in the world.
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