I love New York City. I grew up 10 miles away. I left for college and came back. I left for YC and came back to build Tutorspree with Ryan and with Josh. We have more New York City tutors than we do San Francisco tutors. I came back because I honestly believe that this is the best place for us to build our company. But that doesn’t mean that NY has caught up with Bay Area tech scene. Silicon Valley, for many reasons, is still far and away a more conducive environment to build a technology company.
Now, Paul Graham said as much about a month ago at YCNYC. In his typical, brutally honest fashion, he laid out all the things that the Valley has that NYC does not yet have. He talked, most importantly, about the undeniable and unmeasurable impact that serendipity has on the potential success or failure of a startup. There were a lot of shocked and offended tweets that came as a result of that speech. Articles were written complaining that PG had been invited to NYC only to dis it. Personally - I think that those writers missed the essence of what PG was saying, and how deep a complement he paid NY. Passing Boston is no small feat. Being number #2 is a huge leap forward. Getting to #1, that’s the real challenge, and, having just come back from Startup School, a few seemingly small things reminded me of just how much NY has to do to catch up.
Reading the Signs
First, and most immediately noticeable sign of how much work we have to do - billboards and the logos on buildings as you drive down the 101. Imagine driving the West Side highway or walking through Midtown or the FiDi and seeing ads for Hipmunk and WePay, or huge buildings with Oracle, eBay, or even Microsoft emblazoned on their sides. I can’t see it happening in my lifetime.
Walk into a coffee shop in Palo Alto (say…Coupa). Pull out your computer, open your gmail or git or twitter. Now leave and try another shop. And another. Go try that in NYC before researching exactly which shop has WiFi. That doesn’t charge extra for it. That can hold the connection all day and has enough bandwith to deliver the internet at something faster than the movement of a glacier. Make it a place where 75% of the people have computers open and are coding or pitching or tossing around really awful ideas. Found the one? Good, if you can create dozens of those all over the city, then we might be able to get started on the serendipity problem.
On stage at Startup School we had - Marc Andreesen, Ron Conway, Paul Graham, Jim Goetz, Drew Houston, Mark Zuckerberg…those are the absolute tops of the early stage tech scene in the world, and they all live and work in the Valley. We have some really amazing people in NY - but right now, we certainly don’t have that high calibre in that high of a concentration.
I could probably go on with that list, but, ultimately, the question of whether NY or Silicon Valley are a better place to start a company is irrelevant. What matters is that there is a place that is the best for your company. Much as I want to be a NY patriot, my first concern is building a better Tutorspree. If I had to fly to Timbuktu - I’d do that. The decision should be made on data, not pride. If you realized that your product had taken off in Japan even though you hadn’t devoted any resources, while it withered in NYC, would you hesitate to fly to Tokyo to figure out why and establish yourself there if necessary? Of course not, you’d be on the next plane.
We have an incredibly large amount of work to do in New York to make it great. It’s work that sometimes comes with flash and big press items, but is more often handled down where nobody is watching all that much. It’s what goes on inside companies all across the city every day. Companies that care about making products for people. It happens inside Tutorspree non stop. It’s what people like Matt Meeker push consistently and quietly. And, the truth is, it’s rarely about consciously pushing New York vs. the Valley. It isn’t about boasting or about pissing contests between coasts. We love what we do because what we do is what defines us. And if what we do is amazing then our city will be as well. And if that leads to “beating” Silicon Valley, then cool. And if it doesn’t? Then we have one more thing to work for.
P.S. - Cheap and accessible fiber. Come on NYC, we need that if we’re going to win.
P.P.S. - And if you find yourself working on your company and needing some extra cash as you bootstrap, now would be a good time to sign up as a tutor on Tutorspree.