Is NYC’s Tech Scene Just Hype?

Hype or Not?

Fortune’s Dan Primack recently set tongues-a-waggin by cutting down to size New York City’s normally ebullient tech community with a piece titled “Are we done yet with New York tech hype?”

The Boston-based Mr. Primack, a Red Sox fan no doubt, keeps close tabs on the deals and deal-making that fuel today’s techonomy. He based his sobering assessment on the exit valuations of the city’s most “successful” startups as compared to those claiming heir apparent status as the next Silicon Valley, such as Seattle and Boston.

“For years, I’ve been hearing from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and journalists that New York is America’s next great market for tech startups. But the reality is that the Big Apple has been more talk than show for quite some time now, with just a single venture-backed startup that has been sold or gone public at a valuation in excess of $1 billion.”

It’s a fair point, but one that misses so many others that justify New York City’s #2 status in the tech startup ecosystem, Tumblr notwithstanding. To rub salt in the wound, Primack wrote:

“In terms of big exits, New York is actually much closer to Chicago than anything else, except that even a weakened Groupon continues to be worth around four times what Yahoo paid for Tumblr. Or perhaps Atlanta, where AirWatch was acquired earlier this year by VMWare for more than $1.5 billion.”

Hence, I take issue with measuring the vitality of our tech startup scene solely “in terms of big exits.” There are so many tangible and intangible barometers that point to the Big Apple as the next Silicon Valley.  Among them:

  • How many tech startups are there in the five boroughs (versus these in other cities)?
  • How many workers do NYC’s tech startups employ?
  • How many private, public and non-profit programs exist to support NYC’s tech community?
  • How have New York’s educational institutions rallied behind the city’s tech startups?
  • What are the intangibles that bind NYC’s tech scene into a cohesive “community?”

Then, of course, there are the NYC startups whose brands resonate quite loudly in spite of not having a billion dollar exit valuation. Some that come to mind include: Etsy, Warby Parker, AppNexus, Kickstarter, Meetup, Makerbot, Gilt Groupe, Barkbox, RapGenius, Plated, Charity: Water, Loverly, Buzzfeed, Foursquare, not to mention these promising entrants.

The New York Tech Meetup

Angel Investor David Rose Intro’ing
Angel Investor David Rose Intro’ing

One should look no further than the New York Tech Meetup’s always sold out monthly gatherings to fully appreciate just how vibrant and inventive a community the city’s tech denizens have become.  With 41,000 members, NYTM ranks as the world’s largest meetup group. The demos at the October event, held at NYU’s Skirball auditorium and remotely at Joynture Work Habitat and LaunchPad Huntington, didn’t disappoint.

To warm-up the audience, angel investor David S. Rose offered a rapid, but comprehensive peek at Digital.NYC, the new dot-nyc repository of all things anyone needs to know about New York City’s multi-dimensional tech start-up scene. It launches this week. (Try to match that, Atlanta!)

We then dived into the demos. Of the ten presenters, I was especially taken in by PowerToFly, which has created a marketplace to vet then connect women in tech to great jobs at high growth companies. While there is no shortage of companies seeking to bridge the gender gap in the tech-oriented companies  mostly “designed to perpetuate college for the 26-year-old male geek,” the founders of PowerToFly astutely recognized that many women need greater flexibility in where and how they work. Their platform offers full-time opportunities that do just that (and the pay tends to be better too).

Power to Fly’s Milena Berry (l) & Katharine Zaleski
Power to Fly’s Milena Berry (l) & Katharine Zaleski

I also liked Shyp, which seeks to disrupt the package delivery business.  It will pick-up at your NYC residence (below 96th street and a good swath of Brooklyn) what you wish to ship, package it up with a custom-fitted box, and then find the lowest-cost shipping company.  It once picked up and delivered a $7000 3D printer. My question (for the commodity-minded among us): what is the net cost to me after using Shyp? Is it cheaper or more expensive than simply dropping off a package at USPS or UPS? It’s certainly more convenient. Update: Shyp’s Joan Touchstone weighed in: “We charge the exact same price you pay at the post office, just $5/pickup. Professional packaging is free!”

Custom Box-Maker at Shyp’s Factory
Custom Box-Maker at Shyp’s Factory

For couples, two cool startups graced the Skirball stage. The first is Glimpse, which lets users create an Instagram profile, so to speak, for meeting like-minded (or rather, like-pictured) people.  Someone asked whether the app will eventually allow its users to embellish their profiles with more info.   The founders said yes, but I personally feel that a carefully curated set of Instagram photos can speak volumes about a person (and distinguishes the app from the many other hook-up apps out there).

Glimpse Profile
Glimpse Profile

For couples, roommates or co-founders, the folks at Partake have developed a seamless solution for splitting expenses. Users simply register their credit card, bank card or debit card on the 128-encrypted app. When an item is purchased, the purchaser sends the bill to whomever he/she wishes to split it with.  The recipient accepts and the monies are deducted from their account with no added fees. Eventually, Partake will offer the option to unevenly split the cost, i.e., 60-40. Shades of Venmo?


Another favorite was theScaffold, a short, online assessment of one’s work/management skills in relation to others around them.  It was selected by NYTM-sponsor IBM for a competition against other startups on the west coast.  Then there was Fly, which I first saw demo’d at the NY Tech Meetup in 2012. Back then, the founders showed how easy it was to create and edit video captured by multiple iPhones into a a single cohesive video clip.  The company has pivoted a bit since then, by focusing on what one iPhone owner can do. Here’s the tutorial to give you a greater sense.  Very cool stuff. Sorry, Android owners.


Edit on the Fly – Split Screen Video


Finally, for the Hack of the Month, Brandon Diamond was able to corral at the very last minute the very brilliant Yindalon Aphinyanaphongs, M.D., Ph.D. who coded a way to mine Twitter data to pinpoint at a 94% accuracy rate when and where people are imbibing. The answer (in NYC at least): weekends in Hell’s Kitchen and, for everyone, during the Super Bowl. He used Python and Y to code, and expects the data to be useful to anyone concerned with public safety, especially at public events.

Where Twitter Says New Yorkers Like to Drink
Where Twitter Says New Yorkers Like to Drink

All in all, a great evening, and one that portends a very bright future for New York City’s tech community with or without the designation of the next Silicon Valley. Hey, maybe Boston could be the next Silicon Alley?