The latest class of early-stage startups is busy preparing to crush it at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that the goal of every company there is to scale fast, and most have committed to or are thinking of doing so in New York.
I was born and raised in New York City and my dream was always to build a company here. I can’t imagine a better place to be. So in the spirit of recognizing New York as a destination for disruptors, I’d like to share my perspective on what it takes to build a company here.
Leverage and Retain Qualified Talent
The best, hungriest and most competitive people in the world come here to make it in NYC. That said, making it here doesn’t mean what it used to a few years ago. More college graduates now aspire to join a tech company, as opposed to law firms or banks. Even people who are already working at law firms and banks are looking for a new challenge.
Part of this is generational where there is just a different drive, and more excitement about creating something and being part of a growing company. There is also a higher sense of loyalty here. If you’ve ever spent a summer morning commute on a jam-packed subway car without air conditioning, you understand the “we’re all in this together” mindset.
Talent abounds in more established segments like e-commerce or consumer tech, but for others for which there is less of a history of success, such as enterprise tech, it’s challenging to find the talent that understands the space. When you do, you need to give this group of hungry and excited workers the opportunity to really make an impact when they join your company. More specifically, you need to keep teaching and keep giving people the resources to become subject matter experts and make sure they understand the future value of that understanding.
Think Outside NYC When Raising Capital
There are amazing investors in NYC, but it’s important to broaden your horizons and realize that venture capitalists all over the country are clamoring for unique and interesting deals with NYC-based companies.
We’ve seen a number of investors who want to build a critical mass of investments here to position themselves for the growing number (and size) of exits that makes this a tech hotbed that finally rivals Silicon Valley. This includes the most well-known Silicon Valley investors who want to diversify their portfolios and are making a real effort at looking for good companies in other market segments such as enterprise tech.
Stay Focused While Interacting with the Growing Community
While we’re lucky that NYC isn’t as over-saturated as San Francisco with meetups and happy hours, change is coming and there is nothing we can do to stop it. The key is to be very selective about the events you attend, as it can be easy to get sucked in and that isn’t how you want to be spending your time.
Look for events that aren’t overhyped, such as the enterprise tech meetups that Jonathan Lehr puts on, and see the kinds of people who attend and the conversations that take place. As much as New Yorkers are arrogant, the tech community realizes that it still isn’t the industry that runs NYC, that there is so much going on in the city, and there seems to be a different level of realist thinking.
Manage Costs Obsessively
Everyone knows the cost of living here is crazy, but so is the cost to start and run a company. In reality, the cost of an apartment in Brooklyn or a house in Westchester is no higher than comparable properties in San Francisco or Palo Alto, respectively.
As far as office space, my advice is to squat wherever you can for as long as you can while you’re small. Ask to borrow a desk or two at a friend’s or an angel investor’s space to avoid paying rent for as long as possible. Co-working spaces are good but relatively expensive, and they are for you when you have a little money in the bank. Try to look for short-term sub leases in the downtown financial district and Wall Street, as they are the cheapest if you can find space.
As the Etsy IPO just showed us, the opportunity to build a tech company in NYC is better than ever. That was a milestone for New York and we will see several more in the next year and beyond with companies like AppNexus, Gilt and MongoDB in the pipeline.
I agree with what many pointed out about how it is a sign of a virtuous cycle that will fuel the startup scene here for years to come. I’m looking forward to following Disrupt and getting to know the emerging companies that will be a part of it.