Friday, February 19

Can someone tell Charlie the emperor has few clothes?


Enough all ready.

I am a little tired of the hype.

I do not mean the hype of a blind date, a new car or even a new gee-whiz-I-gotta-have-it Apple product.

I mean the PR hype of NYC's bubbling tech scene.

I am sorry - but please. Will someone inform Charlie and Fred that a Powerpoint presentation and a full office hours does not solve the problems of an making a vibrant and long-lasting tech scene?

Oh - and I am certainly not pleased with the way the NYC government is enabling entrepreneurship - I think their reticence to solve other issues like tax liabilities/costs, spaces, infrastructure support and education beyond simple business plans is sorely lacking. But, what about the things that really support ICT hubs?

Waitaminute? Aren't you a NY Tech Evangelist?
Yes - yes, I am. But, as with all of my companies, I am always focused on discussing what is real and what is hype. And while I appreciate the stores of the past in NY (which I love and feel closely connected to - since my whole family are from Brooklyn and Queens, while I make do with Miami), the current tech scene in NY is still with issues.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my focus have been on fast evolving, innovative software companies - not companies that use software to enable themselves (e.g. a fashion magazine, an ecommerce site), what is a challenge is thinking about how we are able to build the fertile ground for this.

People always show Silicon Valley as a model of what is the best in an ICT hub - with its rich ecosystem of companies, academic partnerships, infrastructure - both technological and financial, and the associated human resources that come with these support mechanisms (factoid: 50% of every Stanford graduate lives within 50 miles of the campus). But, 100 years ago - it was not so.

Stanford and the area around it was a college looking for a focus - and President Terman provided it with support from his academic perch and provide companies with support though talented engineers (though his own recruiting efforts), academic programs and degrees (I am a proud recipient of his Engineers Degree - between the Masters and the PhD) and financial support when able to (stories of Hewlett and Packard and Terman seem to be a story somewhere).

Stanford was the seed crystal that helped improve the fertile ground that became Silicon Valley. Coupled with Berkeley and CalTech - the West Coast has focused on technology building/enablement for over a century. Where has New York been in this area?

1999 was a great year for New York Tech? How about NY Tech hype.
In this article on Read/Write Web, they comment on Fred Wilson's Powerpoint presentation and the beginning of Silicon Alley. He says:
1999 was the year that "all hell broke loose" in New York City for the Internet wave; major offline companies flocked to the Web, and dozens of smaller Internet startups went public or were acquired. According to Wilson, over 500 startups were founded in New York between 1999 and 2000; New York was the place to be, and everything was looking up without a hint of the impending dot-com crash. Wilson jokes that the peak of this era was epitomized in a television interview with Calacanis in which he suggested Harvard students take whatever remaining money they had and use it to start a tech company.
Yes - of course Jason said something like this - he was the Founder of The Silicon Alley Reporter, a newspaper reliant on building businesses at that time. And, with PE types moving to create their own tulips to flip and make money off of at the height of the frothy stock market, of course this was the peak. But I come back to the basic issue I have spoken about time and time again: where is the support? Where is the infrastructure? Where are the resources?

What are you babbling on about Sanford?
Actually, at the end of the Read/Write Web article, I was pleased to see Charlie discussing something that I hoped he would have included in his diatribe on the NYC City Council complaint:
"What I'd love to see is for the [New York] scene to more fully develop the bench players needed to support more startups: like product managers, interface designers, etc," says O'Donnell. "And for the educational institutions to catch up and start producing students that have skills that local startups can use."
Okay. Now here is something I can get behind. Build up talent in these areas that help create software products with speed and alacrity.

One of the reasons why I keep speaking about SPICES is that these are the components that make us create the ICT hubs we really want. If I go through them again - there have been some moderate gains in some areas (Charlie points out the Open Forum and the increase in angel activity in this post, and space growth in Sunshine Suites, New Work City, Soho Space and Hive@55), but the two that I think are STILL missing are the two strongest contributors to a thriving tech scene empowered by software innovation. As I wrote in this post about a New York Tech Revival:
  • Experience (2008 - 2.5, 2009 - 2)
    Show me the mentors. As in, I go to every NYTech Meetup every month - and I see bunches of people wanting to be entrepreneurs and people looking to connect to mentors. Who are the mentors? Who has been training the next crop of winners? In the music industry, this happens almost magically (though the economic rationale is there).

    In the Valley, kabals/keiretsus work together to create bigger and better plays (see the Paypal Mafia and their prodigeny of YouTube, Facebook, Slide, Zivity, Yelp - juts to name a few).

    Stop locking them behind panelist's tables and waiting for the mics. Give real entrepreneurs your TIME - like Paul is doing at Y-Combinator, Steve is doing at DreamIt Ventures. They are giving a lot of time - not just one event a month. Give to get.

  • Skills/People (2008 - 2.5, 2009 - 3)
    I think due to the economic downturn and the need to retool and relearn, I think people are learning new skills with new technologies (if they can) since the value is going up the chain, not treading water at the base of the pyramid. The difficulty I see is the the educational system is not teaching people how to be skilled in continual learning. Not the idea of the "one answer", but the fact that every problem has multiple answers and every solution can be right.

    Apprenticeship teaches people how to work with others - and learn from others - gaining skills and becoming even more powerful than before - since the resulting skills and abilities are the apprentices - a melange of many experiences combined with the flavor of their own talents.
Crow about needing access and education - learn from Naomi Wolff
Charlie/Fred - with your megaphones - convince the city to put money into these two efforts: find the mentors and enable them to share their wisdom - not just in parcels, put in energy beyond the once-in-a-blue-moon sightings.

Get the city to find a college that will proactively create a technical program to teach and train technical people in software development and programming. Teach them to learn how to manage a agile product development process - with customers/users at the center, not just engineers showing off their technical skills.

Then - I will feel we have begin more confident with NYC Tech.

Are you listening Mayor Bloomberg? City Council Member Quinn? David S. Rose?

Read more about my assessment 18 months ago on the NY Tech Scene at and my vision for NY Tech Meetup on my Manifesto at


Allan said...

Good rant Sanford.

As you know, I lived in NYC for almost a year and found it to be a place of great opportunity.

I also grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area so I know what a huge concentration of talent and resources we have here on the West Coast.

What if this either/or East vs West thing is the wrong question? What if we're not looking at it holistically?

I think that the best and brightest will be sort of like you. Able to float between both coasts and take advantage of each region's unique strengths and opportunities while adding value only a few talented people can add.

Elliott Ng said...

Good post Sanford. I've always been fascinated by your observations of what is needed to create a great ecosystem of entrepreneurship. We take it for granted here in SV. And I sense a lot of the same things missing in Shanghai these days.