Maximum Impact

Sounds like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie doesn't it?

Despite the fact that I'm a blackbelt in Tae Kwan Do (haven't practiced in a few years though), what I'm referring to has nothing to do with kicks or punches.  I'm talking about innovation in New York City and a very basic thought exercise.

As you may know, when I joined First Round, I was given the EIR title to kind of figure out what I wanted to do--while helping First Round get a better foothold in NYC.  There are a number of things that could possibly convert into, and it's been an active dialog since day one to figure out what that would be.  In the meantime, I've been mostly focused on deal stuff and have been super excited to get as many deals done as I have--four assuming this last term sheet closes. 

What I definitely don't want to do is to do another startup--I think I'm much better at helping other entrepreneurs and being generally "entrepreneurial" than actually running a company.  That leaves a wide range of other things to do that I'm currently considering.  What's really important to me is that I fulfill whatever potential I have to help build NYC into a lasting innovation center--the best it can be.  I think there are a number of ways to do that, but picking one isn't that easy.  It's admittedly a pretty high class problem, but my challenge nonetheless.

So, I figured, why not ask the community?  The question is, if you were me, and you wanted to do the have the maximum possible impact on pushing NYC forward as a center of innovation, what would you do with yourself over the next few years? 

Would you stay on the venture capital side?  The positive is that you gain much more prominence and sway when you can back things up with a check.  Plus, it's something I really love doing.  I'm super excited about the four entrepreneurs I've been able to back while at First Round and can't wait to announce the last three all soon.  The potential downside is that, as a Principal, you're not really as front and center as you'd like to be on decision making and board participation.  So, the idea that you're going to be behind the building of great local companies as a Principal is somewhat idealistic.  However, that's where I am at this stage in my career... and it's unlikely that I'll be fielding any partnership offers anytime soon.  :)   

Run an accelerator/incubator?  There are at least three groups that I know of in the YC/Techstars vein that are eying New York City.  These are great opportunities to work with early stage companies and help get them off the ground.  Being point on a program like this would certainly be a great challenge and opportunity.  The interesting thing is that it isn't a full-year job, so I'd have lots of time to do other things as well.  The downside is that you're only dealing with a limited set of companies.  None of the NYC deals I've backed at FRC would have considered such programs, because they were very experienced founders or already had fundraising momentum to move forward without the standard 6k deals.  I like being able to do a wider variety of deals.

Help recruit talent?  While I wouldn't want to be a recruiter, but the human capital issue in NYC is something that I'd love to tackle.  Qualified people don't know about the opportunities that startups present, kids coming out of college don't have the right skills--there's so much to do here, but I just don't know how best to address it and get myself fed.

Educate?  See recruiting.  Love the problem, don't love the solution set of positions.  I like teaching, but it's not something I'd want to do fulltime, nor would I want to limit myself to just one school.  I've been toying with the idea of open sourcing some kind of startup education program or making it a multi-school thing, but again, not sure how I can feed myself with that.

All of the above?  Maybe the best solution is a portfolio approach--to do a number of different things and invest my time with a number of programs?  Not sure.  

A few people have suggested that the NYC government should have a role for someone like me--and certainly I've called for that--a single person tasked with driving innovation forward in NYC.  The problem is, then you'd have to work for the city government, and good luck getting anything done in there, despite how much progress Mayor Bloomberg has been made.  The fact is, the resurgence of the NYC tech scene in the last five years has been largely bootstrapped by the direct participants in it, without help from the government.  Could they be effective agents of change?  Sure, there are lots of smart people in there.  Is it the environment I want to work at?  Not at all.

So what, then, NYC innovation community?  I'm at your service.  What do you want me to do?