Since I launched Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, a lot of people have asked me why I put the fund in Brooklyn. Even to those who said it was "obvious", all of them seem to have different reasons why they believe that was a good idea.
To me, there are a couple of basic reasons:
1) If nothing else, it's geographically closer to more startups than midtown firms like RRE, Greycroft, and Firstmark...so, *why not* put my office here? I'm not limited to making events geographically and being here won't stop me from doing deals in Manhattan, Boston, Toronto, DC or even SF.
2) There's a trend towards wanting to work closer to home. You're seeting it in Downtown SF. Why spend time commutting if you don't have to. Eighty percent of Etsy's employees live in Brooklyn and I'd venture to say that half the startup community in general lives here. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the companies in the fund wind up being Brooklyn based--not because I was only looking here, but because I met them when they didn't have an office and, after introducing them to spaces here, it just made sense.
3) There's a big opportunity for "community arbitrage." With so many of the entrepreneurs and other professionals living in Brooklyn, there's an opportunity to reach them by building community out here. For example, there are two technical meetups in Brooklyn (now three, based on my knack for nudging people into starting Meetups) compared to the 50+ in Manhattan. That's disproportionately skewed towards the little island and gives me the opportunity to get in front of more entrepreneurs and more top tier talent earlier--buy creating events and community in their own backyard.
None of these reasons stem from the idea that Brooklyn is where better startups will be born. To me, that just don't make a lot of sense. Even if it was true, you're not *that* far away from lots of capital who will be willing to invest in you. RRE, for example, has invested in three of the borough's best companies: MakerBot, Pontiflex, and HowAboutWe.
To me, the question of "why" isn't the right one. Geography doesn't make a fund or a company. The question is "How?"
How is Brooklyn going to play a roll in the startup ecosystem?
That's the most important question to answer to figure out how to take advantage of what Brooklyn has to offer as a seed fund. It's something I've been thinking about a lot--how startup communities get created, and more recently, what roll will Brooklyn play.
This is what I've come up with--and what role I'd like Brooklyn Bridge Ventures to play:
1) If you believe Steven Johnson's theory of creativity, that creativity comes from lots of disconnected little half-ideas that need to bounce off other seemingly disconnected ideas, you come to realize that Brooklyn and Manhattan need each other if New York City is going to give birth to the next generation of great ideas. Brooklyn startups need to hear that skinny jeans swap sites aren't nearly as big of a market as some other opportunity--and Manhattan startups need more design DNA and better community tools if they're going to go mainstream. Make no mistake: The mindset of the average startup professional who has broken from the pack to live in Brooklyn is different. To some extent, they're hacking their life--seeking out more raw spaces or opportunities to piece together a more balanced and diverse life. NYC startups need that perspective if they want to avoid the Silicon Valley groupthink that sometimes plagues the West Coast venture world. We're better as one community where lots of different ideas get mixed together in one pool--so one of my goals for the fund is to erase the mental barrier known as the East River. Part of that is just a ground war on the idea that Brooklyn is a far away, inconvenient place. I take most of my entrepreneur meetings here, and most people are actually surprised at how quickly they can get to my office. I'm also trying to bring over some Manhattan based events. This Thursday, I'll be the March speaker for Entrepreneur's Roundtable 45.
What people might not realize is that, for example, if you lived on...Havemayer and North 7th in Brooklyn and worked in Union Square, going to ER 45 is only going to take you a total of 14 minutes more than the previous midtown location of ER--and that's including both ways!! Brooklyn Law School is 22 minutes from Union Square, which adds on 11 minutes to your trip. Then, on the way home, it's only going to take you 3 minutes more via the G than it will switching trains from the M to the L from midtown.
Brooklyn Bridge Ventures can help break down that mental barrier by expanding the footprint of what we consider to be the tech community and where we're willing to go to learn from and connect to others.
2) The NYC startup community has been fueled, in many ways, by it's Meetup culture. Every night, thousands of professionals gather in bars, law firm conference rooms, incubators and co-working spaces to share best practices and connect with capital and talent--and it's been going for over seven years. It's becoming harder and harder to scale these meetups. People are scalping tickets to the NY Tech Meetup because of the lack of larger spaces, and some meetup organizers are just burning out--having managed their meetups for three or four years and just wanting to find ways to pass the torch. What the fund can do is to help bring more space to the picture--since Brooklyn has plenty of it, and help pass on the wisdom of best practices in technical communities. I've already become the virtual marketing arm for many of these meetups through my weekly newsletter. I'd like to take more steps to organize the organizers and help them create the community where startups have thrived.
If you're looking for free or super cheap space to run your meetup, please let me know. Most of our spaces even let you bring your bikes right in the front door and we don't have ornery anti-terrorist security guards giving you a hard time in the lobby.
3) Perhaps one of the most important features of Brooklyn and what it can bring to the tech community is lifestyle. Lifestyle is the reason why a lot of people come to NYC, but it's also the reason why a lot of people don't. They don't think they can raise their kids here, or afford to. They want more space to be outdoors. They want a supportive network of people who live in your neighborhood and friendly local storeowners, not just a doorman.
I've seen a lot of experienced startup professionals make the move to Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Fort Greene, etc. as they get into their thirties and look to settle down. We're not all a bunch of just out of college hackers burning the midnight oil. Our community is built on the experience of a lot of folks that have important facets of their lives to come home to--and Brooklyn provides that in a big way. We need to make sure that our best and brightest don't burn out in our fast paced city life or leave when they want kids. Making the community more familiar with places to live a balanced life will only attract more talent in the same way that having better bars, music shows and restaurants is quickly becoming a way that Brooklyn is attracting younger talent.
At the end of the day, the role of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures will not be to make Brooklyn the centure of the NYC tech community--it will make the NYC tech community the best place to build a company because all of it's best assets, especially the ones Brooklyn brings to bear, will be integrated into one, cohesive, thriving community. We will not make it to the next level if the East River is our Berlin Wall.