NY Tech Meetup

It's not over, but boy am I proud to be a member of this community... by Nate Westheimer

Photo Credit: Scott Heiferman The fight to stop PIPA and SOPA are far from over. The word we're hearing from Washington is that PIPA's supporters are trying to double down their pressure and make this bill sail through the Senate even faster than before.

We can and will stop this bill, but before we get back to work I want to say how incredibly proud I was to be a part of the NY tech community yesterday.

We did something that's never been done before, in any tech community: Over 2,000 of us -- developers, investors, entrepreneurs, designers, salespeople alike -- came together physically to protest something that we universally agreed would damage our industry and therefore our lives, our City and our World.

No doubt, this is a turning point for us as a community. This won't be the last time we come together and this won't be the last issue we're willing to fight for.

Until the next Meetup, keep hammering away on the phones. MobileCommons has set it up so that you just need to text "PIPA" to 877877 to be connected to the Senators' offices. I called this morning and a Gillibrand staffer said she had no plans of changing her mind. It's not an acceptable answer and so I'll be calling back every day until that answer has changed.

What Senators Schumer & Gillibrand Need to Understand by Nate Westheimer

Next Wednesday, we are holding an Emergency NY Tech Meetup in front of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand's offices to demonstrate our opposition to PIPA and SOPA. Together, as a NY tech community, we need to come together, so please take a long lunch next Wednesday, bring your co-workers, and let's stop this thing.

Senators Schumer and Gillibrand need to understand that with a single vote in support of PIPA, and without publicly condemning and trying to stop the legislation leading up to the vote, they would be dead to the NY technology industry for good.

Why so harsh?

On patent reform, we understand that we can't get everything we want. We understand that there's a process. We'll press you hard, but we'll also be patient. We understand.

On immigration reform, we understand we can't get everything we want either. While our companies are starved for talent and our Country turns away job creators (who happen to be from a different country themselves) dying to grow the US economy and employ Americans, we will be patient as you try and navigate the political waters on this tough issue.

On capital gains reform, we understand that what's in our best interest as entrepreneurs is not always fair or easy to shoulder for the rest of the country. Again, we understand the process is difficult and ou are doing your best job.

But PIPA is wholly different. We will not understand. We will not accept anything short of public condemnation of the bill in its current form and pledges to vote "No" as long as damaging structural changes to how the Internet works exists in the legislation.

And without that condemnation, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand need to know they will permanently damage any credibility they had built as innovation-friendly representatives. PIPA is an appallingly damaging piece of legislation. Show us you get that.

See everyone next Wednesday. Together, let's stop this horrific bill.

Cory Booker's Big Opportunity by Nate Westheimer

These are exciting times in NY Tech, and one of the most exciting projects / debates is the City's "Applied Sciences NYC" project. If you want to brush up on the subject, Anil Dash has a fantastic summary of arguments about the project here, and I wrote a little about my opinions here.

Nothing has excited me more in recent months than hearing about the extraordinary interest the City's initiative has generated in the academic community. From what I hear, Standford, Cornell, Stevens, and about every other top-tier engineering school has submitted a proposal to the City. As one City official said to me, "It's like we sent out an invite to a party hoping for a least one person would come, and now we find out everyone wants to come."

This is exciting, but it also makes me worried: I'm worried that despite all this interest in building bigger engineering departments in NYC, this proposal will go to one school and everyone else's passion and interest will be wasted... left on the cutting room floor.

And this, I believe, is Cory Booker and other leaders in neighboring areas' big opportunity. If NYC can't accomodate more than one of these great institutions opening up shop in NYC, than New Jersey should find matching resources to welcome the runners up.

While we are "NYC tech" and the "NY Tech Meetup" and all of our energies end up focused on promoting and investing in the "New York tech ecosystem," the truth is that ecosystem goes beyond the municipal walls of New York City and extends to Long Island, Upstate New York, and Northern New Jersey.

NY Tech is bigger than New York City. Aviary was founded and spent its critical early years in Long Island. Multiple HackNY Hackathon winners have come from Rutgers' computer science labs. Dozens of our best VCs commute from upstate NY. The Hoboken Tech Meetup (now the NJ Tech Meetup, and a closer train ride than much of Brooklyn) has over 1,000 members.

While our City government understandably has to worry about jurisdiction, we do not.

My hope is that, stemming from our City's forward-thinking and important project, our entire region steps up to the plate and works with these fine engineering schools to find them a home in the area, even if that home isn't in the City of New York. While I can't speak for the rest of the community, I know I would do whatever I can, as an entrepreneur and as the leader of the NY Tech Meetup, to welcome new great schools to the area, wherever that is.

Where NY Tech's Culture Comes From (and why we owe Amit Gupta our bone marrow) by Nate Westheimer

As the NY Tech scene has gained momentum over the past few years, I find myself talking to a lot of journalists who are trying to understand what's going on here and how we arrived at this point. In these interviews, I always highlight NY Tech's unique culture, and in so doing I point out that this culture is both native to New York itself, but also cultivated and defined by folks in the tech community 5 to 10 years ago, before this Great Boom showed up in Gap ads and magazine covers.

In my opinion, the culture we have here has been defined by three people:

Scott Heiferman, the NY Tech Meetup, and the culture of building "interesting things."

Let me be clear, I'm talking about the NY Tech Meetup I became a member of, not the one I run now. Scott created a culture, from the very beginning (2004) of "show the demo, not a PowerPoint." Scott set the tone in this City that building amazing software that did amazing things was more important and intellectually interesting than who your investors or partners are. When Scott picked people to demo at the NY Tech Meetup there was never a question of "is this a business" -- it was always, "Is this interesting?"

Charlie O'Donnell, nextNY, and the culture of coordinated, decentralized community.

When I was elected to run the NY Tech Meetup, it was on the platform of supporting a decentralized community, not creating a traditional, monolithic trade association. Saying "no" to doing more, and instead using the NYTM platform to nurture and support other groups (hackNY, TechiesGiveBack, NYHacker.org, etc) is the thing I think we've done best at NYTM. That idea and those values came from the community in nextNY, the non-incorporated, non-hierarchical Google Group-based "organization" Charlie founded in early 2006 and which served as the back-channel conversation and organizational tool for many of the leading entrepreneurs in NYC from 2006 to 2009.

Amit Gupta, Jelly, and the culture of working together.

And this brings me to Amit Gupta. When Amit started Jelly, there were no co-working spaces or hacker spaces or Barcamps or people hosting office hours in NYC. If you wanted to jam out with people about what you were working on you had to show up to a meetup and talk about it, but you'd never just open your laptop, show a stranger some code, and ask for help. Jelly created the idea in NYC that literally opening our homes (or offices) and having other people come work along side us could make us better at what we do and that in turn we could help others do what they do better. We owe the culture of working together to Amit...

AND SO, this brings me to another matter. Recently, Amit was diagnosed with Leukemia.

This Friday, there's a big event in NYC to get people swabbed to see if there's a potential genetic match to donate bone marrow to him. I can't make the event, but I've already followed this link from Seth Godin's blog post on the matter and requested a free home-swab kit.

You see, while chances are slim that I'll be a genetic match for Amit (chances are higher that a South Asian person would be a match) there's absolutely no reason not to get swabbed yourself in honor of Amit, especially given his incredible role in shaping the NY tech community -- a community which supports my career and likely supports yours as well.

So, please, if you're appreciative of what Amit has done for us, do something for him: either attend the swabbing party on Friday or order a kit for yourself today.

It's a super easy way to send a big thanks to Amit for all that he's done and I know you'll feel good doing it.

What the NYC Startup World Needs (and Doesn't Need) by Nate Westheimer

Chris Dixon wrote a post a few days with the same title as this one. Fred Wilson has chimed in and there's a larger debate on the NY Times. Chris is a well respected guy who obviously thinks about this stuff a lot, but I think he got one or two things wrong in his assessment. Anyway, I wanted to respectfully counter a few of his points and add a few points to the conversation.

The first thing I want to counter is his notion that spending $100M on "Expensive projects like big engineering universities" is a bad idea. As I said Tuesday night at the NY Tech Meetup, I think this project is the first large, truly disruptive, outside the box plan I've seen from the NYC government. I've always advised the City to do things that truly leverage its unique abilities (i.e. stay away from incubators and incremental investment funds, which the market can and is taking care of just fine). Getting a major engineering school to move itself to NYC would return over $100M in value to the greater City in very short order -- we're talking only one big startup coming out of this -- and would change the face of the City in a big way.

Chris also mentioned he thought of other ways to spend $100M. I think he and I would agree that the City should only spend resources on what they can do uniquely and that provides leverage in the market. This plan fits that squarely. I would love to know what suggestions Chris has that also fit that mold.

Lastly, I think Chris may be underestimating the impact the students of a major engineering school will have here. In other places (hi Boston/Stanford culture!) innovation seems to come from the researchers and professors. Two years ago I was also on the record saying how much I hoped innovation would come from our researchers and public/private relationships between startups and universities.

But today it's clear: HackNY has been the single most important thing that's happened in NYC over the past two years. Single most important thing. University-based innovation in NYC will be lead by its students. Hell, startup innovation will be lead by its student interns! And a school the brings in hundreds of new engineers a year to NYC will make a big big difference. I think it's a great investment.

Past the university issue, I totally agree with Chris on what we don't need. On the front of "what we need" I think he left out one huge, huge issue: we need a plug for NYC's leaky M&A bucket.

Much more than "More marquee tech companies opening large tech offices here," we need A marquee tech company to actually be headquartered here -- to be a real NYC company. I wrote about it last year and I still think it's the single biggest vulnerability for our tech ecosystem: when a company gets bought -- and despite this IPO market, that's still what happens for 95% of startup "successes" -- there is not a single TECH company that could buy them in NYC. This is a huge problem.

How huge? I think losing Justin Schafer and Sam Lessin to Facebook was damaging to the NYC startup ecosystem. Sam was making super smart seed investments, driving its culture with Y+30, hiring amazing developers; Justin too was building a world-class team (some of whom are already back out in the market building great companies).

Now Sam and Justin are gone and while we're a vibrant and diverse community here, I feel there was a real hole left behind. And they're just two examples. I'm still worried about what happens when/if Foursquare sells. In 2011 NYC tech is bigger than any one person or company, but these are all damaging, and in the long-run its a problem.

So what to do about it? Our media companies -- for their own sake, not ours -- need to become tech companies. Real exit opportunities for NYC's startups are those that allow them to stay in NYC doing interesting technical things. Last year I wrongly suggested that IAC could be the most-likely-yet-still-unlikely saving grace here. Sadly, and with almost no more faith that I had in IAC, I think AOL is the more likely hero. They say they want to be a media company and so, again, I have very little faith here, but if they would somehow pivot and embrace their technology roots and choose to be a world-class technology company then I think NYC would finally start plugging its M&A hole.

Lastly I should point out that while I have little faith that AOL or IAC will make this shift, despite being the closest of the media companies to being that big tech player, I actually have a lot of faith in the market that SOMEONE will emerge.

Soon enough? We'll see.

But, if you've been at the last few NY Tech Meetups you will notice that Conde-Nast, Hearst, and yes, AOL, have all demoed great skunkworks projects. As Marc Cenedella pointed out at Tuesday's NYTM, Idea Flight isn't your father or mother's big company skunkworks project -- it's elegant, simple, not over-thought. I'm officially on the record with Marc (and smart folks like Anil Dash are too) that this is a very good thing for NY tech (and I think the wider world -- but that's another blog post).

So will it be IAC or AOL? Probably not. But the NY Times has an incredibly impressive R&D team and I'm quite certain that if Conde-Nast and Hearst are smart and 1) keep giving these skunkworks teams as much leeway as they want; and 2) compensate the heck out of these entrepreneurs with serious equity in their own projects, then A big media company could emerge in the next 10 years as a big tech company.

Let's just hope it's not too late.