Small but energetic. This should be the model for every young entrepreneur looking to gain traction. Start small. Think big. Hold nothing back. “Small but energetic.” Make it your creed. And if someone really successful is willing to tell you all they’ve learned, you better make sure you’re there to hear it.
The event, Empire Angels Empire Angels Young Investors / Young Founders Series – The New York Tech Landscape: A Primer was hosted by Christina Bechhold of Empire Angels, presented venture capitalist Steve Schlafman (RRE Ventures) and his crash course on everything he’s learned about the NYC startup ecosystem in the last three years.
“You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come,” Schlafman began, quoting Victor Hugo. It was a message the young VC would frame his entire talk around, “time” being now, and the “idea” being NYC tech.
Small though it might yet be, the Alley has been the driving force behind most if not all of the major changes occurring around NYC these past few years, Schlafman explained. “Tech will help fuel the next chapter in NY,” he said. “There is no question that NYC tech is reshaping the city.” Heralding the arrival of that next chapter is an energized tech scene— an excitement Schlafman admits was not visible in his home state of Massachusetts. “This isn’t happening in Boston,” he said, citing this as the determining factor in prompting him to change residencies.
So why all the buzz? Well, just because you are late to a party does not mean you can’t be the life of it and as the city adapts, it is becoming increasingly more poised to make an impact in tech as never before. “We’re still in the 1st and 2nd innings,” said Schlafman. While other cities might have started sooner and are more technologically established, the city that never sleeps has all the industries and infrastructure needed to foster a great technological ecosystem. Schlafman explained, “NY is very welcoming and collaborative,” and home to a landmark entrepreneurial spirit whose very shores are synonymous with the American Dream.
Supporting that entrepreneurial culture is a multi-billion dollar advertising industry, a diverse range of engineering and talent pools (thanks to its proximity to both universities and agencies), as well as a wealth of capital coming in from of the big banks, hedge funds, venture capitalists, angels and angel groups who also call NYC home. Already established in the city are public tech companies such as Facebook and Google (among others), as well as all of the Big Media entities. Further yet, media buyers, financial institutions, music labels, sports leagues, sports teams, and fashion and retail firms all have home bases located throughout the city and its boroughs. Long story short—if you’re looking for it, NYC has it. “There is something for everyone” Schlafman added. When the resources are good, the entrepreneurship is better. When the entrepreneurship is better, investing is at its best.
Quantifying the potential for growth, Schlafman points to the $8 billion invested in over 1,200 deals since 2009, alongside job growth steadily outpacing the national average. In 2013 alone, NYC saw $2 billion in exits, the most notable coming from the Yahoo acquisition of Tumblr for $1.1 billion. “We need more of these wins” said Schlafman, pointing to the ripples it has had on the ecosystem. Big exits provide employees with a proven win under their belt, and founders acquire the capital to fund more startups—and so the ecosystem thrives.
Schlafman also pointed to the construction of the Cornell Campus on Roosevelt Island slated to begin this year. The project will not only provide the city with another top university, but one equipped to produce the talent and engineers needed to energize an emerging tech super-power. Set to open for classes in 2017, the campus—nicknamed “Silicon Island”—will ensure that NYC will remain a thriving hotspot for tech well into the future. “The Cornell Campus will change New York.” Schlafman prophesized, “Long Island City will become a major tech hub as the campus gets off the ground.”
So what do we take away from this? For one, this makes now one of the most exciting and important times for young entrepreneurs and emerging startups in New York. The resources are available, the talent pools are increasing, the culture is changing and the Alley is growing. What was once the small but energetic and innovative tech scene in an aging city, is finally acquiring enough ground material to snowball into a national leader. “We’re not there yet” Schlafman admitted, “we’re not going to be successful unless we all collaborate.” Fortunately, now more than ever, we have the opportunity to do just that.
So you might be thinking, ‘That’s great, but how exactly can one break into the fast paced and ever evolving scene?’ Simple: start small. Think big. Be energized. Small but energetic . . . remember? “It’s possible to see your way through the woods.” Schlafman said encouragingly. “Don’t think everyone knows something you don’t. Don’t get discouraged.” It might seem impossible to start in to such an advanced and ever-moving industry, but Schlafman advised to find something you are passionate about and take the steps toward making your mark in that area. “Learn to code or design, get coffee with someone you admire, help people you meet, blog about your experiences and engage on social media.” “What excites you?” he asked over and over. “What excites you?” Figure out where your skill set lies and, “don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”
“I believe we are building products together that enable us to experience life better.” Schlafman said. And so we are. Now, together, we can take NYC into its next phase of beta.
You can be the idea. The time can be now. You just have to want it. Start small. Start now. Start here —in the Alley.
“You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”