Bus In the Hackers: NYC Startup Weekend

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After two months of the SpeakerCave in Pittsburgh, I now officially live with my co-founders in Silicon Valley. But most of my friends and part of my heart is still in NYC’s startup ecosystem. It was with a heavy heart that I left her.

Recently, Charlie O’Donnell of First Round Capital wrote a blog post entitled Maximum Impact where he asked aloud for suggestions on his next career move: “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.” This was my response, with some content added:

Hi Charlie,

Believe it or not, I have given this idea much thought. My co-founder––a recent Carnegie Mellon CS grad––loved NYC when he visited and commented aloud how awesome the city is. We even seriously debated moving SpeakerText back to NYC after our summer of swelter in Pittsburgh.

Here’s the thing: NYC has plentiful BD talent and legions of world class designers, but the city needs more hackers. They’re out there in (godforsaken) cities like Boston and Pittsburgh, just looking for direction––for a bandwagon to jump on, for a startup to join.

If you wanna be king of NYC, then you gotta figure out a way to pipe more hackers into the NYC startup ecosystem. And I think it’s doable if you go to schools where the banking sector has less influence and draw than it does in Manhattan.

Here’s how I think you get them: Organize a NYC “startup weekend” during those 3 weeks in the spring when NYC weather is perfect and short skirts start popping up across the city. (Hell, maybe do 2x a year, once in Spring, once in Fall.) Get NYC startups and startup-related peeps to host visiting hackers––ask people to just volunteer a couch or bed for peeps to crash on.

To get the hackers, you advertise at hardcore CS schools like Cornell, MIT and Carnegie Mellon, then literally bus the hackers in. Make it a gigantic party.  You could easily get talent-hungry entrepreneurs and startups to volunteer and organize events like walking tours of the NYC startup scene, visits to startups and throw huge parties at Shake Shack. You’d get tons of media coverage and could probably even finance the whole thing with Kickstarter.

The end goal here is to ease the chokepoint around technical talent and to sell elite hackers on the idea that: a) NYC actually has a startup scene (believe it or not, not everyone knows this), b) NYC is awesome, and c) they’d actually know some people if they re-located to the Big Apple.

If it works, you increase the chances that NY creates the next Google and, long term, you change the game in terms of the available labor supply. (Oh yeah, and you’d probably piss some people off in Boston too––suckas!)

At least that’s what I’d do.

Cheers!
-Matt

As a sidebar, I wrote this post sitting outside on the patio of our new apartment in Mountain View, Ca, overlooking our swimming pool, and  enjoying the 62 degree and no humidity weather. New York is a great town, but here in Cali we can live like kings on a pauper’s budget. No regrets.

Addendum: Most hackers––in fact most people––choose what city they move to after college based on what job they get offered. This drives young hackers to cluster around cities with large, established technology companies, because it is only the big, established companies like Google who hire on a regularized, prospective cycle that lends itself to university interviews and job fairs and the like. My hope is that a startup weekend would prospectively foster connections between startups and students in way that would make it much easier/less risky for the students––once graduated––to move to somewhere strange.

  • Fred Wilson

    I’m working on this exact idea mattnnYou are totally rightnnWhy would a single 21 year old hacker want to live and work in suburbia when they could live in Williamsburg and work in flatiron?

  • chris wiggins

    A great idea! Please note that student-hackers from CMU, MIT, & Cornell are encouraged to join NYC student-hackers at hackny’s spring and fall student hackathons. Signup via http://hackny.org/a/f2010_hackathon/students/ for the fall 2010 hackathon Oct 9-10, at the Courant institute, in NYU, in the village, in NYC.

    Best,

    {hilary,evan,chris}@hackny.org

  • http://www.thisisgoingtobebig.com ceonyc

    I also think they need mentoring and some additional education… Not every CS kid out of college is useful right out of the gate to a startup. Programming in a commercial environment is different than taking java classes in college, no matter what school you go to… but still, awesome idea.nnI’m also glad that “What I’d do if I was Charlie O’Donnell” didn’t include NSFW things I could to do myself in the privacy of my own home. :) Peacetime is nice!

  • chris wiggins

    @ceonyc : agreed. student-hackers (not just CS majors) are also encouraged to apply for the 2011 class of hackNY Fellows, which aims, as @hmason puts it, to teach them the things they need to know that they won’t learn in school.nnalso agreed that peacetime is nice. esp. now that it’s an east-coast west-coast thing, which i think the 90′s pretty much empirically established is a suboptimal use of creative resources.

  • http://masshightech.com Galen Moore

    The thing is, Matt, there are already plenty of startups in Boston. And more every day. Outside of a few industries in which New York excels (namely, ads, fashion and finance), I’m not aware of too many brilliant Boston software engineers trading the comforting environs of Somerville and Cambridge to live in a city where the ramen and the rent are priced for bankers, not hackers.

  • http://www.metamorphblog.com Matt Mireles

    Agreed, although it is worth noting that CMU (amazingly) actually teaches a course on Ruby on Rails!

  • http://astatespacetraveler.com/ Carter

    “Why would a single 21 year old hacker want to live and work in suburbia when they could live in Williamsburg and work in flatiron?” nnhaha this is a core part of my sales pitch to west coast engineers when trying to lure them to come work with us in NYC.

  • http://GirlDeveloper.com Sara Chipps

    The issue with the NYC startup community is that there isn’t the level of respect for developers as there is on the west coast. Developers are few and far between at NYC tech/startup events, I believe the reason for this is because they are viewed as a dime-a-dozen commodity. Frankly, I’m sick of having people ask me to work for free or equity, I hesitate before telling people what I do. When you have a web startup, a good developer should be your primary investment. This community views them as an after thought.

  • Cody Brown

    This needs to happen. Willing to help in whatever way I can. Maybe we can put together a video.

  • http://GirlDeveloper.com Sara Chipps

    PS The party idea is a great one, and would go far with raising morale. I would be completely on board.

  • http://columbusholdinggroup.com Mark Birch

    Matt, really good stuff. I would also comment that there are a lot of other schools in the NY region that get ignored. Some of the brightest programmers I have met went to SUNY and CUNY schools. Stevens in Hoboken is solid as is Rutgers. Even places like Buffalo, Albany and Binghamton graduate a good number of Computer Science majors from the NYC metro area and would gladly stay if they could afford it and find good opportunities with start-ups.nnMy point is to not ignore the talent that exists right under our noses. The next waves of killer tech companies in NYC may not come from kids that graduated from the usual suspects. If means giving them quality internships and an interconnected community that is funded by the NYC start-up ecosystem.nnMind you, this is not a classic incubator, simply a resource (probably a non-profit organization) to foster and build up the tech community. Let’s face it, there are a ton of meetups and groups around the city, but it is still very helter-skelter.

  • http://www.metamorphblog.com Matt Mireles

    Yeah, I noticed this myself. ‘Tis a bad trend, but one easily cured by natural selection.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    Great suggestion Matt, I’d propose a startup focused “university”-> but break out the entire degree process into a hackathonic/network frenzy that ends in a business or bust.

  • http://www.metamorphblog.com Matt Mireles

    True, but those schools are more hit-or-miss. What you really want is a consistent supply of world class dev talent getting funneled into the system, which is what the SF Bay has. A targeted approach would build more buzz amongst the college/grad school population and ensure a longer term steady stream.

  • http://twitter.com/nicholasbs Nick Bergson-Shilcoc

    I’ve long thought that the NYC startup community should respond to the Lisztomania brat pack mashups ;) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1ywFh2AZLg)nnIn all serious, I’m on board to help as well. My cofounder and I are in Mountain View right now but will be returning to NYC in late September or October. We’re both hackers, so we’ll bring the count up by at least two.

  • http://twitter.com/blackrabbit Ali Shah

    I agree with the sentiment, but I think there is a huge amount of talent at schools that are already in the city that are being ignored. NYU and Columbia have both turned out amazing hackers, and I think start-ups fail to market to them currently. So most of them end up at a big back on Wall St.

  • Brittany Laughlin

    Yes! I think NYC could easily rival the energy level of SXSWi parties.

  • http://GirlDeveloper.com Sara Chipps

    That is an encouraging thought, hopefully sooner rather than later. I love this area, and would really like to see it become a hotbed for new talent.

  • http://blog.jwegener.com Jonathan Wegener

    Could start with a series of free AirBnB listings intended solely for hackers — i’d offer the spare bed in my place if some developers wanted to visit NYC. I’d give them a good taste of the startup scene too.

  • http://www.metamorphblog.com Matt Mireles

    This is an excellent idea.

  • http://blog.jwegener.com Jonathan Wegener

    I’ve thought a lot time about making housingforhackers.com or something similar (maybe HackerHousingNYC.com) as a market for finding startup roommates, but it might be great to build out a mini site to do something like BigAppleGreeters (http://www.bigapplegreeter.org/) except for technology. Anyone?

  • Scott

    Why would a talented software developer want to live in NYC?

  • http://blog.jwegener.com Jonathan Wegener

    Because it’s the best f***ing city in the country, if not the world.

  • Anonymous

    Are you talking about the Stu-co (student led course?)? That was my old roommate’s class.

  • Anonymous

    I’m down to help get more CMU kids out here. Still am connected to the CS department out there and they are very willing to help students know more about opportunities for students upon graduation. There are a few channels that are CMU specific that have to be explored to truly get “in” with students there though.

  • http://twitter.com/oline73 George Haines

    I think recruiting talent from M.I.T. is a great idea and 75% of the coolest things I have seen in my life come from that place. There are so many established hackers out there who might not realize how cool it is to wake up every morning and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to work– in either direction. However, there are tons of even younger people in and around NY who could be inspired to BECOME the next great core of hackers if you exposed them to the manic startup ecosystem.

    Think like cigarette companies do- get them hooked early. What is the startup equivalent of the candy cigarette?

  • Marocmcbean

    fuck the bus. Or see if you can get PG to show up in his pervy gym teacher towel.

  • Spanky McBean, American

    Fred. writing as a native midwesterner who was once a single 21 year old hacker, i cannot help but notice that you have a very low-dimensional view of other people. That’s nice Williamsburg. That’s all nice, MTA to the flatiron. Been there. Will live there within 3 years. But it’s not for everyone, and not everyone should be there. This attitude that there’s only one place to get things done, that these smelly hipster kids who can bang out craptacular code while texting with their other hand and playing foosball with their OTHER free hand… are some kind of demi-gods… is just, well… it ain’t right, mister.

    - guy who can make code and other bangass shit, loves NYC, but knows that big empty place between the atlantic and the pacific done got some shit goin’ for it, too.

  • Spanky McBean

    gimme a call then, byetch. nothing wrong with the west coast if you can overlook the cars and the tie dyr.

  • PZ

    you’re missing out on Princeton…

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