The Importance of Being Native

This is me and my own opinions talking, not the firm that gives me money to eat...   hopefully, that's pretty clear.

In the past, I've heard lots of arguments about how New York City needs its own [insert something national]. 

"We need our own Techcrunch!"

"We need our own SXSW!"

"We need our own Google!"

Honestly, I had never really put much stock in those ideas.  I pretty much thought the Google of the New York tech scene was, in fact, Google.  The world is a global place, made even smaller by technology.  I didn't quite understand what the point of recreating what was easily accessible, just not native.  I didn't mind that Techcrunch did Disrupt here--I thought it was great for New York.

However, I've interacted with a couple of outside groups lately that have pushed me to rethink my opinion on the value of being native to New York City.  More and more, I'm seeing it as important to the process of shepherding local efforts to building great businesses.   

You see, New York is the most infinitely complicated city in the world.  Nowhere else do you have as many industries converging in one place--which creates the best potential for idea cross-pollination on the planet.  Unfortunately, that potential goes largely untapped, since New York is also one of the most siloed places.  

It's not that we don't want to interact with others who aren't doing what we're doing--we're all just pretty damn busy, that's all.  That's why there's a lot of potential low hanging leadership fruit for anyone who cuts across several industries--like Julia Kaganskiy of the Arts & Tech Meetup.  Similarly, it's not surprising to me that Evan, Hilary, and Chris--the founders of HackNY--are either New York natives or have been here long enough to feel like natives.  

New York geography also has it's subtle influences on the social and business dynamic--perhaps not so subtle to natives.  If you live here, you know having an office too far west of a subway is like getting banished to a desert, what it means when people say you can't get to Brooklyn to Brooklyn (you have to go through the city!), and why checking in above 59th street gets you a special badge.  

New York is also a city of aspiration--which is great for the most part, but it also means you get a lot of dreamy eyes getting in the way of the heads down crowd.  Understanding whose stars you want to hitch a ride on is a function of seasoned discernment.  It's not a small town--and you can hide a reputation pretty easily.  Is there a story behind the breakup of that management team?  Did you talk to the co-founders?  Was it really just an intern that got fired from posting to that Twitter account?  What's the real story behind that investor's track record?  Who really has influence and who just has a bunch of Twitter followers--and who's completely under the radar?

People ask me how much time it takes for me to put out my NYC events list each week.  My first response is usually "not nearly as much time as it would if I didn't know most of the people putting on events."  After a while, you get a sense of who's really pushing the envelope to create great experiences and draw in top professionals.  

New York has become a very attractive place for outsiders--venture capital funds, accelerators, etc.  They're all looking to tap the potential of the Big Apple, work with local talent, and help build local startups into great companies.  The question is whether or not these professionals provide nearly as much value as the potential of those who are deeply rooted in the ecosystem?  

I've said before that innovation is a ground war--it's house to house.  You can't fish out the best entrepreneurs without trying to turn over every rock possible--and in NYC, that's a lot of rocks.  It's also a function of building trust--and people aren't going to trust you with their startup ideas unless they see you around, know other people that know you, and hear that you're already out their providing value.  That's what brings the right people together.  If you believe that the best programs are the ones that bring together the most innovative startup professionals, you'd be hard pressed not to accept the fact that there's a home field advantage.  

Owen Davis has done a great job this summer with SeedStart, and there's certainly room for even more supportive programming for the innovation community.  My growing sense is that the best efforts to help the NYC scene are going to be similar to what we've seen over the past five years--natives, like SeedStart, who understand what makes NYC a unique place to build a company helping themselves.  They're also potentially more committed to the long term viability of their programs--because they have nowhere else to go or be distracted by.  New York isn't part of a portfolio--it's home.

Don't get me wrong--there has been and will continue to be lots of value contributed to the community by newcomers, but I think there's something to be said for participating, listening, and learning about what we've got here before you just march in as "liberators".