The Death of the Fameball and the Evolution of the NY Startup Scene
Entrepreneurship in New York City is evolving. Everyone is talking about it -- at meetups, at conferences, at drinks with friends. While there's a lot of (warranted) concern about the venture community as a whole, there is a feeling in New York of inevitability; when the dust clears, the City will no longer be playing second fiddle to Boston and Silicon Valley in the world of tech entrepreneurship. Having a NY office is the new hot thing for any east coast VC, and tech startups are increasingly looking at New York as a better place to set up shop for the long term. One could easily claim that NYC owns the hottest VC (Union Square Ventures) and the hottest tech company to launch in the past year (foursquare). But there's one symptom of the coming of age of the NY startup scene that people haven't really been talking about. I was having a conversation with a friend at Gawker Media the other day, haranguing her about Gawker's lack of coverage of the web celebrities that it lent such weight to just a year or two ago. The Julia Allisons, Jakob Lodwicks and David Karps of the world. Where are they? Yeah, I know, Gawker has been clawing its way into the mainstream; to do that, is has to cover mainstream celebrities rather than NY media darlings. But at the same time, no one has taken Gawker's place. Even The Awl shies away from the kind of webutante-centric coverage that Gawker became known for.
Most may write this off as a simple shift in new media's focus -- or haven't even noticed. But I think it is extremely relevant and symptomatic of deeper trends in New York. After all, bloggers write about the topics that get pageviews.
In other words, it is indicative of bigger things. It means that the NY startup scene is maturing. It means that we are focusing less on the media-crowned personalities driving "the tech scene" in New York City and (hopefully) more on the awesome things that tech startups are creating. It's a democratization; It means that tech in NYC is coming out of media's shadow. It means that Richard Blakeley's Webutante Ball last summer wasn't the debut of the NY web celebrity but its timely demise.
Two years ago, there were essentially no high-profile tech events in the city that weren't dominated by "new media" (and even quite a few old media) brands and individuals. New media became synonymous with New York Tech. Even the well-known New York Tech Meetup was throwing events at IAC, in the belly of the media beast. Now there are too many tech events to count, headlined by the burgeoning Hackers and Founders -- an event that came out of the Valley's YCombinator and a refreshing alternative to NY Tech Meetup's cliquish lecture class. New York Tech is growing up.
Of course, you still have celebrity entrepreneurs in California. But their coverage has been focused on -- or at least cognizant of -- what they've accomplished professionally. Even on Valleywag during its heyday. And I can't really name any big California celebrity entrepreneurs without reasonably sized companies to their names. A year ago, the same could hardly be said about the NY scene.
Still, personalities are important, and it will be interesting to see which (if any) individuals emerge into the roles of successful celebrity entrepreneurs you find on the west coast. Some of the old guard, such as Karp (if you can possibly call a 23 year-old a member of the "old guard"), are good entrepreneurs in their own right. And I can see at least a few investors who are rising to take more prominent and vocal positions in the NY tech scene.
Then again, it is quite possible that I'm suffering from some sort of observer bias, as I'm reasonably integrated into the startup scene. What do people think?