Dear Mayor Bloomberg, NYCEDC, Department of Small Business Services, City Council, etc...

My name is Charlie O'Donnell and I am the Co-Founder & CEO of Path 101, a site being built to help people figure out their careers.  We were recently selected to be the first company to receive money from NYC Seed--so, first off, thanks for your support of that initiative.

I am also the founder of nextNY, a community group of over 2100 local tech and digital media professionals as well as a former analyst at Union Square Ventures.  I also teach entrepreneurship at Fordham University.  In addition,  I am the EIR at ITAC, which has been running FastTrac in NYC for years (and was noticeably and unfortunately absent from recent PR about the city's 11 point plan). 

I've testified twice in front of the City Council in the last two years on how to support entrepreneurship and innovation in NYC.

In 2007, I said...

"If there was one thing I would want to leave off with for all of those who are interested in supporting the technology community in New York City, I'll tell you simply to join it...Come to the a nextNY gathering, join our listserv, or a New York Tech Meetup.  Start reading the blogs of local entrepreneurs and blogging yourselves.  Get off the email newsletters and get on RSS feeds.  Join LinkedIn.  If you don't use the same tools as the technology community and show up to our events (instead of just inviting us to yours), you are never going to be looked upon as a source of active support and your programs will fail to get traction. "

In 2008, I said...

"More than anything else, though, I think it's important that our local government--the individuals--lead by example and participate in the local technology community.  The local community is hyper connected through blogging, social networking sites, and a quirky but rapidly growing service called Twitter that ties people together one 140 character short form message at a time.  There are currently almost 2000 up and coming technology and digital media professionals on the nextNY listserv--are any of you on it?   Sure, it's kind of geeky in it's content, but you can set it to provide a daily digest.   If you're not on it, and can't spare the time to read the one daily digest e-mail of the group's activities, I'm not exactly sure how you're really going to be able to be supportive of the local tech community.  Communities are growing organically on these sites--like the 500+ people who have attached themselves to the Shake Shack Twitter account, mostly local tech folks, in order to navigate the long lines at our favorite local food establishment.   These communities are growing largely without the participation of local government leaders.  How many of you have a blog on your own websites that gets at least one posting a week, or a social networking profile that you yourself actually login to with similar frequency?   If you're not doing this, you're really not going to be in the flow of the needs of the local community."

A couple of weeks ago, you put out a press release about your 11 point plan to foster innovation in NYC.  Compared to the kind of community idea generation platform we saw with the Obama campaign and transition, the approach to this didn't seem too... well... innovative.  It certainly wasn't very participatory as only a few people knew it was coming, and honestly, most of the entrepreneurs in the community still don't know too much about it.  We tend not to read government press releases.  Seems only fair, as few people in government read our blogs.

The other day, I got an invite to a closed door meeting about building a centralized web presence to support entrepreneurship in NYC.  The invitation reminded me that I was not to discuss the contents of the meeting elsewhere--which, as a blogger, just makes me think of the word "muzzle".  For an entrepreneur whose pitch presentation is up on our site for everyone to see, and who fully believes transparency is the way to go, this seems archaic.  (I'm not the only one who believes in transparancy, btw...)

I can't make it, because I'll be at Union Square Ventures' Hacking Education conference, but what's really clear to me is this:

If you're really interested in getting the best possible feedback on what the NYC entrepreneurial community needs to grow, I'd highly suggest participating in the NYC entrepreneurial community... the way actual entrepreneurs do.

Every time I ever meet with city representatives, EDC folks, testify in front of the city counsel, etc... I invite the folks I meet to join the nextNY listserv, come to our events, or to a NY Tech Meetup--to participate in the very community you say you are trying to support.

To my knowledge, no one has ever accepted the invitation.

Don't get me wrong.  I know Mayor Bloomberg is never going to come and sit in on the Tech Meetup, even though he should.  However, there's no excuse for the junior folks in your organizations not to come mix with us.  That was part of my job at Union Square Ventures--to network with the innovation community wherever they were and whenever.  (So, yes, that includes "after work", which has no meaning to an entrepreneur.) 

This Monday is the NY Tech Meetup. There should be EDC, SBS, City Council reps there every month--500+ entrepreneurs meeting up to see innovative new companies. If you're not there, then how will you know how to help this community? If you're answer is "We don't really want to be a part of the community, we just want to ask a small handful of people that may or may not be representative of it" then your efforts are bound to fail.

As for the website, you're You're looking to build what you call "a key missing component to hold together the community in the City"--but the reality is, we've been holding together pretty well. You just don't see it because you're not in the same places, online and offline, as we are.

In the last couple of months, nextNY has had four events for startups--all free, including an event at Sun last week with about 90 people. Three years ago, I started nextNY and we now have 2100+ members, around two third of which work for startups of less than 10 people. We
average about an event a month and lately even more than that. Last week's topic: Understanding tech if you're a business person with a startup idea. We had two experienced startup CTOs, two CEOs and two tech consultants, as well as representatives from Sun.

NYC Entrepreneurs are regularly interacting in existing digital spaces--the nextNY listserv, Twitter, through blogging. That's how all these people found out about the event--and remember they weren't techies. These were business people looking to understand tech, and they still found it. I posted it to the NY Tech Meetup listerv, to nextNY, it was on Gary's Guide, and I tweeted it.

Did you know about it?

Are you participating in any of these tools?

If not, honestly, I don't see how you'll ever understand the technology needs of the entrepreneur community or how to even evaluate our feedback. By not using these tools, for all intents and purposes as far as the innovation community is concerned, you're not listening--because that's where we are talking.

How much do you think my interest in talking with people who are not listening is?

This meeting should be a *public* discussion. We should invite anyone and everyone who wants to participate--not to have 500 people each attempt to give separate pieces of advice... but to have a small group discussion that is open for others to watch, and then ask questions and
make suggestions during a certain set aside time.

Allow anyone to take video, blog it, tweet it, what have you... because here's what you'll get:

1) You'll build a brand in the community that shows you're interested in engaging, in touch, and forward thinking.

2) You'll start a conversation... a trackable one where you'll get way more ideas afterwards in the blogs and discussion boards than you could ever get in one meeting.

3) We as the community will be able to see whether or not you're open to our ideas... because the public discourse will make you accountable to follow up on our suggestions or provide reasons why you are not. Otherwise, the only people who will know whether or not their ideas get ignored are the ones in the small group of invitees.

That's the kind of discussion I'd be really interested to participate in... not a closed door meeting where I can't blog about the ideas discussed.




Charlie O'Donnell