New York City is a tremendous place to be an entrepreneur. For a pursuit that largely revolves around silent time spent at a computer by one person then, slowly at first, a few more people, a bit more talking, and on and on until failure, acquisition, or IPO, it may seem inconsequential to consider where it all goes down. There are, of course, many necessary considerations, emotions, and excursions beyond a laptop and wifi along the path of starting up and so place does matter. In the waning days of summer, when we are all either sweating it out or out of it all together until Labor Day, it seems appropriate to reflect on a city that deserves your every consideration to occupy ________ (City) _________(State) on your startup’s mailing address.
“New York, it was an adult portion. It was an adult dose. So it took a couple of trips to get into it. You just go in the first time and you get your ass kicked and you take off. As soon as it heals up, you come back and you try it again. Eventually, you fall right in love with it. ” – Levon Helm
The grit, the grim, and the struggle are all very real. The city is a cold smack in the face when you hop off the Bolt Bus for the first time into a churning sea of people at the 34th Street subway stop, all of whom couldn’t care less about you … or when your apartment building door clangs shut behind you in the morning and you’re three steps from lanes, lights, horns, and cars that may or may not slow up if you step into the street. The City does not coddle, cuddle, or spoon, with the unsettling exception of morning commutes on the L train. You have to start your day running or get out of the way of thousands of others who will go right over you.
As a founder on Day One, you are at zero. Your company is an idea that exists in your head and nowhere else unless you’re willing to do anything possible to make it pervade a consciousness beyond your own. My colleague Rob recently wrote about sprinting at the brick wall as a strong pace and at times necessary strategy for a startup at founding or seed stage. What better place to realize the fragility of your state and the need to sprint forward then the city where you have no other option?
Stark reality pervades the streets, avenues, and alleyways here. Entrepreneurship is an endeavor that often requires a suspension of reality to clear mind-space for contrarian ideas, possibilities on the edge of their time, and creation of something that has not yet been (more on NYC’s role in that effort shortly). However, situational reality pairs well with the expected result of a directed vision. Titans of industry whose buildings dominant the city skyline and who’s omnipresence has helped make New York the lasting power that it is help cement a layer of the city in reality. Finance (Exchanges, Services, Banks, Accounting), Media (Publishing, Broadcasting, Digital, Gaming), Fashion & Retail, Advertising, Insurance, Global Governance, Law, Real Estate, Professional Sports, and Telecom all have industry leading firms headquartered in New York City.
At some point in your company’s life, you’ll likely encounter at least one of the above – you’ll be pitching them, competing with them, or being acquired by them. Along that path, these big companies can be your harshest and most valuable critics. They can provide insight into the problems to be solved in their worlds, echo the merit of your concept to a current market, and give product feedback as what you’re building evolves. Should you listen to every word? No, often established industries reject a startup concept exactly when it is most valuable. However, the ability to stroll down the street to Corporate America is unquestionably valuable as a real-world testing ground for product-market fit and answering the question, Does or will someone want this thing? Coincidentally, these incumbents will also become your flagship customers and very likely provide a stellar pool of local talent as you begin to staff up.
“I believe in New Yorkers. Whether they’ve ever questioned the dream in which they live, I wouldn’t know, because I won’t ever dare ask that question.” – Dylan Thomas
Often overlooked in the effort to stay heads down and fully immersed in your company’s existence is the value of a break. Not the vacation kind, although those are important too, but the kind where you direct your mind elsewhere, spend time outside of entrepreneurship, and think and talk and be social about other things. New York is a city that invites escape from whatever it is you do. Statistically the most professionally diverse city in the United States, NYC is home to innumerable people and places that don’t know what an API is, aren’t hosting MeetUps, and will ensure you never feel like you’re in a startup snow globe or coffee shop pitching clusterfuck. It’s good and healthy to have non-tech outlets in your life and in New York City, walk around the block or turn around in your barstool and startup life can disappear for as long as you need.
Perhaps because New York’s startup world is relatively young and condensed and the city itself is a breakneck backdrop for a founder, the camaraderie, honesty, and welcome attitudes that the majority of participants display is profound. Just as there’s an all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude within a founding team, so too does New York Tech rally around and support the entrepreneurs that have created it. Most everyone will find time for coffee with most anyone else, no agenda required. Walk into any startup space – incubator, MeetUp, venture office, company office, co-working space, lab, or school – and you’re more likely to be offered coffee, a desk, and a wifi password than shown the door. As an industry, New York Startup may someday live long enough and endure enough scars to reach a point of cynicism with new people with new ideas, most of which won’t work. For the now though, you’ll be met with enthusiasm and encouragement from an incredible group of people who want you to win.
“I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” – Joan Didion
Such universal desire for collective success from all corners of the New York startup community is an outstanding asset for any entrepreneur just starting out. We dream of a future where crazy ideas make life better, solve problems, and then do it all over again. We see potential and unearth possibilities in every train delay, cup of coffee, art gallery, every neighborhood, every borough, every delivery menu, and every frustrating experience at Duane Reade.
The chaotic, hardscrabble, overstuffed, raging, romping, intoxicating, alluring, terrifying melting pot that is New York City inspires. There’s a history of creative disruption here that casts a brilliant shadow down Broadway and the Bowery and over more than three centuries. In a place this competitive, innovation is the necessary tool for progress. Those committed to it recognize and root for it — the sheer, indelible thrust to make something out of nothing our way — it’s one part entrepreneurial and one part native New York.
If that’s what you see in the mirror, your fellow dreamers are here, in the streets and coffee shops and bars and studios, hard at work on what’s next to come and eager to meet you.
Editor’s note: Tim Devane joined NextView as a principal, based in New York, earlier this year. Say hi @tdevane or read his bio below.