Life of FBi | Non-Tech Start-up Founder

Looks like a Chinaman, Sounds like an Aussie, Utterly Confusing

Boston Lost the Sex Battle

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Healy Jones recently wrote a great piece on 8 Tips for Building An Internet Company Outside of San Francisco. If you’re in Boston and starting a company, you should read it. But if you’re under 27 and thinking about starting a company, it’s not going to keep you in Boston. I recently was invited to dinner with some local consumer web CEOs and we largely talked about how Boston is falling behind (or failing) to retain college grads interested in startups. Boston has an image problem. It has no sex appeal.

Jules Pieri of Daily Grommet talked about how her son (soon to be rockstar college grad) wants to work on products he can tell his friends about, or even better, that his friends are using. Now far more than ever, young startup folk want to get into startups because it’s incredibly sexy. Caused largely by Wall Street’s failure and Zuck’s incredible success, young people want to get rich AND famous doing startups. But as Niraj Shah said, Boston sucks at promoting itself, ergo young people don’t think you can get rich and famous doing startups in Boston. There is no PG or YC, there is no NYTimes, there is no Fred Wilson, no TechCrunch. Who outside of Boston actually cares about Boston?

Boston will continue to bleed talent. It’s not just the ThredUP’s, OnSwipe’s, RelayRides’, WePay’s, etc it’s also the hundreds and thousands that go to Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, that probably won’t come back to Boston to start their companies. Of the dozen or so close friends of mine (all under 27) working on startups locally, I expect 75% of them won’t be in Boston within a year. Of the other couple of dozen young people in the ecosystem I’ve met in the last few weeks since I’ve relocated back, they say they are largely here for personal reasons. The best quote of last week’s dinner came from Bill Warner who said Boston first has to admit there was a problem, and then go and try to fix it. I still don’t think most of the establishment thinks there’s a problem with losing the next generation of risk-taking, passionately driven entrepreneurs.

There are going to be a couple of things that will reverse the trend and get Boston sexy again;

1. Gemvara and SCVNGR need to have huge exits. Credit to Highland for backing a couple of young guys (23 and 19 respective when HCP invested). These will create mini mafias (this has actually already started to happen), where others have tasted the drug of success and want to replicate it for themselves.

2. BostInno really needs to get bigger and better. There needs to be a publication that largely focuses on new and shiny tech startups that provides said startups its initial early adopters.

3. Young smart folk need to be encouraged to leave companies like VistaPrint, Microsoft NERD, TripAdvisor, Constant Contact, etc after a few years to break out on their own. There’s already a large support network through events that these people can already engage in so now it’s really just cultural.

Best of luck Boston, I’m rooting for you 😉

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Written by Fan Bi

March 7, 2011 at 12:14 am

Posted in General

7 Responses

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  1. Fan,

    Great post. You hit the nail on the head.

    One thing that does encourage me is all the activity at all the local universities towards entrepreneurship. We have amazing incubators and e-clubs as well as hackfests going on all over the city at schools.

    If you’re a CEO at a startup you should absolutely be setting aside one evening or one piece of your afternoon once a month to stop by and talk to these kids. They’ll be really excited and you might just recruit talent for you (WAY cheaper than a recruiter). It just might take awhile; Russ Wilcox spoke at Northeastern and 5 years later I applied for a job there and still remembered his presentation and mentioned it in my cover letter and interview.

    As for BostInnovation, I really hope they can get a journalist on staff as they really need to up their content quality; I love em and want them to become the sounding board Boston lacks, but the SEO-link/bait posts and grammar issues are holding them back. They need to find their identity and crush it instead of placing links to TechCrunch articles.

    We should think about how we can get louder and noticed by more than just our own ecosystem. We have a very loud ecochamber, but it’s in a silo. How can we make it so those not in the “tech scene” know we exist? It’s disturbing when I talk to MIT kids that are within shouting distance of Microsoft NERD and the CIC have no idea what’s going on here.

    I’m happy to help in any way I can to make Boston sexier!

    -Jason

    Jason Evanish

    March 7, 2011 at 3:01 am

    • Better to talk about this in person; think GHC should really be that central place where anyone interested in knowing what’s going on in Boston web should be able to go. I’ve said this before but I would slow down on the content, invest in an cleaner layout/design, where the value to your readers is really events and maybe one content piece a week, reblogged from Onstartups, BostInno, etc. Then you have the job board as the partnering piece. High quality events curation + central job board for Boston web scene = killer.

      Fan Bi

      March 7, 2011 at 3:58 am

      • Interesting thoughts…have a few opinions on that concept but definitely would love to hash it out.

        Let’s grab beers when I get back from SXSW.

        Jason Evanish

        March 7, 2011 at 4:25 am

  2. Damn, I am upset if there was a “Sex Battle” and I missed it!

    Agree with you that a consumer company having a big exit would go a long way to reversing The Curse. (Meaning to write up the parallels in a blog post: Sox traded Ruth, Boston lost Facebook, etc.)

    One area where I think Boston lags relative to it’s position is lack of bloggers that people outside Boston (specifically SV/NYC) are focused on. In terms of bloggers I can think of Dharmesh, David Skok/Jeff Bussgang/Rob Go, Cancel/Porter, Nabeel, others? We could use a better hype machine. I like where BostInnovation is going but don’t think they are there yet (although they can be a funnel up the chain).

    Phrases like “young folk want to get into startups because it’s incredibly sexyy” make me think there is some reality to the bubble talk 😉

    Mike Champion

    March 7, 2011 at 3:35 am

    • Thanks for the comment Graysky. I try to organize monthly sex battles and will let you know about the next one 😉 Re the blogging, yes I agree that’s a big part of it but I also think it’s being two-way; i.e. it’s not about just pushing content out there, it’s about engagement through replying to your commenters, being at events and being open to chatting to new people rather than just hanging out with your buddies.

      Fan Bi

      March 7, 2011 at 4:02 am

      • Fan,

        Love the points on “engagement through replying to your commenters, being at events and being open to chatting to new people rather than just hanging out with your buddies.” It would be great for us to find our Fred Wilson, and find ways to get people “outside Boston” listening in.

        I see the beginnings of this as a guy from Sequoia came through Boston last week and I think if we keep heating the ecosystem up, more will take notice from outside.

        -Jason

        Jason Evanish

        March 7, 2011 at 4:27 am

  3. […] as the day he had just had, he definitely would. On considering location, I still think Boston has lost the sex battle, but the small clusters happening around the non-startup events scene is pretty awesome. No […]


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