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New York vs San Francisco in fight for tech start-ups (bbc.co.uk)
93 points by PStamatiou 1931 days ago | hide | past | web | 51 comments | favorite

The conversation at the next table in NY is usually about real estate, hedge funds or some wild combination of the two. In SF, it's about the next Dropbox... for cats... on Facebook. Either way you are screwed. Every city is an echo chamber in its own right.

If this is a fight, I'm pretty sure only one side is fighting it. I don't remember the last time I had a conversation about NY startups or NY vs SF with anyone who wasn't from NY.

I find all the coverage of NY vs. SF rather strange. For the most part, we don't really compete for the same money or for the same talent. Quite often we don't even compete for the same users.

I'm particularly annoyed with the synonymization of "San Francisco" and "Silicon Valley". They are not the same thing.

Having grown up in Silicon Valley, I can honestly say that what people consider to be Silicon Valley today was not anything close to what it was 20 years ago. So I don't take it so seriously anymore.

Since San Jose went from the gateway to Silicon Valley to the Heart of Silicon Valley, I feel like San Francisco, which is actually part of the Peninsula, can be part of SV.

I've only been here six years, and truth be told I avoid SF at all costs, but all I have to do is look at the job listings. SF listings are full of every Social Web Media Infinity-point-Fad known to man.

South Bay -- Platforms, infrastructure, embedded systems, established technologies, emphasis on availability and reliability. This is what the San Francisco startups rely on to make sure their new web startup doesn't fall over at the first sign of traffic.

One might see this as the traditional Silicon Valley maturing and even stagnating in comparison to San Francisco's young, hip, fast-moving culture, but I don't think it's reasonable to treat them as a unified entity.

I agree there is this trend (the hip Social Media whatever startups are loss prominent in SF), but you do see some lower-level silicon valley startups in SF. Salesforce, Riverbed Technology, BitTorrent, Heroku, Dropbox, Square - just to name a few known ones. Admittedly there is few electronics stuff here (outside of biotech).

That said the Bay Area definitely has an OSI model going, with the lowest levels in the SE extreme (santa clara, san jose), higher levels NW (Mt View, Palo Alto), and software applications all the way to SF.

@thomas: Salesforce is actually bigger than Facebook by heads and HQ'd in a few skyscrapers in SF. (soon to move to a dedicated office complex in Mission Bay.)

Well I think it has to do with how difficult it is to find affordable office real estate for businesses that outgrow their space. I can't imagine a company as big as Google or Facebook having their HQ in SF without having to build a giant skyscraper in the Financial District.

Zynga's new HQ in SOMA houses upwards of 3,000 employees, which is probably about on par with Facebook.

I think its important to keep in mind this is very tech specific and generalization and doesn't refer to the life style or atmosphere of either being the same.

Many of the engineers/designers tend move around all over the bay area. Also, the investors are the same for a great portion of these companies as well.

It's just easier to refer to it as "The Valley", although it's technically not correct.

It's just one of those things where people not close to the subject get a distorted opinion, sort of like Chinese whispers. Like the (probably totally exaggerated) idea of some Americans thinking that people from the UK are from London. Like when tourists stop you in the streets of Oxford or Cambridge (presumably other places too, I just haven't lived in them..) and ask "excuse me, can you tell me where the University is?".

When I was first aware of Silicon Valley I literally pictured a road running through mountains, with big company X on one side, Y on the other, next door was Z... then after that I just thought of Silicon Valley as the techy nickname for SF. Then when I cared more, I grew to know more about it.

Having grown up in the midwest, now living in SF, and commuting daily to SV, yeah, most of the world thinks it's the same thing. SF is just a suburb of SV.

As a New Yorker looking longingly westward, I have a question. Is the Valley the only place it makes sense to be, or is it feasible to live in the East Bay?

I know the real answer is that it doesn't matter where you are if you're the right person working on the right project.

That said, I want to be somewhere that the social environment is a positive one for someone living off his savings while trying to build a product and a company. Things like a good coworking space and people who keep you motivated and inspired can help a lot, in my opinion.

The only thing is, I want to move west for a nicer home life and standard of living, I just don't want to leave city life altogether. That's why I'm thinking of living in Oakland or Berkeley, and working in SF.

Bay Area residents, what do you think?

If you're going from the East Bay to the South Bay every day, the trip will make you insane. I did this for far too long, and it was a terrible idea.

Even in the best of circumstances, it takes half an hour to get from Oakland or Berkeley into San Francisco, making it unlikely that you will go to anything without advance planning.

Oakland has some bright spots (particularly Rockridge) but you are still unlikely to have serendipitous encounters with anyone. I've never lived in Downtown Berkeley, but it is the one place in the East Bay where the streets are full of people.

> The only thing is, I want to move west for a nicer home life and standard of living, I just don't want to leave city life altogether. That's why I'm thinking of living in Oakland or Berkeley, and working in SF.

A "nicer home"... in Oakland or Berkeley, that's the hills. Expect about $1MM or so: http://www.redfin.com/CA/Berkeley/938-Spruce-St-94707/home/1...

I hear you can get a fixer in Oakland's hills for around $500k though, an old coworker did that. You might consider going further east to Pleasant Hill or Concord -- PH if safety/schools are a concern (more $), Concord if you can deal with the hoodrats and older homes (less $). Both are fairly inexpensive in comparison to anything closer to the City, and both are on the BART line... ~45 min on the train to SF.

Don't count out south SF too, for example a pretty nice place in Daly City for $600k: http://www.redfin.com/CA/Daly-City/392-Bay-Ridge-Dr-94014/ho...

Personally I've found that commuting drains a lot of the get-er'-done energy from me. If I had the dough, I'd live closer to the City or the valley. YMMV. San Jose has lots of nice areas, but it's an urban wasteland... block after unending block of houses and strip malls in many areas. The nicer areas are $$$$$.

When I was working at a startup fresh out of college, I got a 400 sqft studio in the middle of the city, which was perfect. It was an ungodly $1k/month, but I walked nearly everywhere and spent all day coworking or at a cafe anywhere. If you're unattached, I'd highly recommend a setup like that, since proximity to the things you need (people like you, cafes, etc) is more important than living quarters. If you've got a family... well... I hope your savings account is large.

I live in Berkeley and work in SF. To make this work you'll probably want to live near the BART and work somewhere on Market, or if you're OK with a little more transit time, in SoMa.

BART from Downtown Berkeley to Montgomery Street is 20 minutes in ideal conditions, but around 30 more typically due to waiting or a transfer at MacArthur. Expect to add to that 5-10 minutes for somewhere on Market and 10-15 minutes for somewhere in SoMa

Housing in Oakland is probably the cheapest you can get, at least within the proper bay area. If you are trying to "leave the city life, while not leaving the city life", unless you are aiming for the Berkeley or Oakland hills, you will still find yourself in fairly urbanized environs.

If you don't mind the fog, think about SF's sunset district. It's cheap(er) and a little out of the way, but still within earshot of SF proper.

The thing about Sunset (at least Outer Sunset) is that it's still a 45 minute muni ride to downtown. Yeah, there's a lot of "city stuff" (the park is right there), but man if you're going to spend 45 minutes on public transit, live in walnut creek and take bart or something.

Most of the tech companies are in the South Bay or on the peninsula. If you need city living, I suggest you look to SF or San Jose.

Avoid Oakland. It has all the negatives of cities, and none of the positives. The exception is if you live in a non BART accessible place like the Oakland Hills, but then you just have none of the benefits of a city, and few of the positives.

Berkeley is ok in some areas, but basically I'd choose between SF and Palo Alto/Mountain View if you want to do startups. SF if you want something closer to NYC, and PA/MV if you want something more suburban/small town and different.

Not sure about Berkeley, but when I moved out here I was told one consistent thing about housing, "don't live in Oakland"

Oakland is gentrifying and isn't so bad. Richmond (the city, not the district), that's one place I'd stay away from.

I just saw today that Oakland is in the top 5 of the most dangerous cities in the US. I know those Top Anything lists have to be taken with a grain of salt, but Oakland seems to be in the (local) news constantly, and it's mostly not good news. After having lived in the Bay Area for 4+ years, I've been to Oakland only once, and that was to help someone move out of Oakland. I think I'd rather move to San Jose if I wanted some city life, real estate prices there have come down a bit. Avoid the east side though.

Ugh, live in San Jose? Never. Statistically, Oakland may be dangerous, but it's also physically a large city. If you are in the right parts, you'll certainly be as safe as if you lived in Berkeley, and safer then a lot of parts of SF. Just stay in the nice parts of the City.

I haven't actually ever lived in Oakland though, but I've lived in Berkeley for 5 years, live in SF now, and have many close friends who live in Oakland. Parts of it are very nice!

There are lots of great areas of Oakland. Rockridge and Temescal are totally fine and near the BART, for instance.

Am I the only one who thinks this video is silly?

... you need to roll your sleeves, work hard, and don't give up. It's not the city that makes startups, it's you.

In pg's words:

"The best one can say is: if you're in a startup hub, unexpected good things will probably happen to you, especially if you deserve them.


I'm not saying it's impossible to succeed in a city with few other startups, just harder. If you're sufficiently good at generating your own morale, you can survive without external encouragement."

The reporter/camera man was surprised I stopped for coffee 3 times during the day. Maybe that's why I talk so fast..

The NYC v. SF/SV debate might be a headline grabber, but frankly there's no data supporting the fact that NYC is catching up tp the west coast. A more interesting discussion can be found when comparing NY to Mass when it comes to tech:


We haven't published the updated figures through Q3, but the trend continues: NY is consistently outpacing Mass in venture tech investment and has been dating back to 2010. We don't publish a similar comaprison of NYC vs. SF/SV for obvious reasons: it's not very interesting. But NYC has made recognizable strides in building a tech ecosystem over the past couple years nonetheless.

Every few months for the past decade or so I've seen articles like this comparing the bay area to New York or Seattle. It seems that the New York and Seattle companies all fall off the face of the earth a few minutes after I read the article, never to be heard from again. I think that Seattle just isn't large enough to really matter in the start-up world, and New York has too many bankers and too few engineers. Bankers don't create value or innovate, they just arbitrage. How can you innovate in a culture filled with young, aggressive alpha male frat-boys entirely lacking in empathy who would rather snort coke and go to strip clubs than stay up all night brainstorming or .. working with hackers?

Fun video. I want some coffee.

I think there is something to be said about being in the valley and being part of the collective. But, I also think being in other places (ie: LA, ATL, etc) gives you a different perspective on what you're working on. And, for me, having everyone in the coffee shop be part of startup is a bit of a burnout. No escape.

It's not clear whether by San Francisco this article is referring to Silicon Valley, but assuming that's the case - NYC has nowhere near the tech ecosystem that the Valley has in place. In the Valley you have the full gamut of software and hardware companies and everything in between. In NYC, you have a mix of pure software startups that have had some success, combined with the typical industries which have deployed technology in a unique way (like Gilt Groupe - where, apparently, only 5% of the employees actually work in tech: http://gigaom.com/2011/11/22/gilt-groupe-ipo/ ), and the majority of software engineers in NYC still work for banks. It's going to take another decade to realize whether or not NYC has any real potential here.

That's only the case if you NYC intends to follow in Silicon Valley's exact footsteps. IMO, it would be stupid to.

As you say, NYC's tech ecosystem isn't as big. But its finance ecosystem is bigger. Also media, and fashion. I'm pretty confident that NYC can map out it's own path, playing to the city's strengths. I don't think it needs to have the same tech ecosystem that SV has.

When I see these location discussions I'm always curious how much of an impact non-compete clauses play in starting or recruiting for a startup.

California has "16600. Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void." and without such employee protection in place I would be very nervous about trying to start a company which might compete with a former employeer. Similarly it seems hard enough to find talented designers and developers already without having to consider that the individuals with the most relevant experience might be barred from completing with their current employers.

Is that Malcolm Gladwell in the coffee shop at 2:53?


and Nat Turner at the office

There should be a startup that has versus wars between 2 startups everyday, decided by fans.

Sounds like PR hit for New York venture capital.

Even in the video, they're both talking more about Silicon Valley than NYC = )

Blablabla... we are all fools, thinking it's on our hands to decide where the hub is.

It's the VCs that decides that, if they want you in fuckin' Kansas (no offense to Kansas) I bet you all would move there.

We could spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what city is the "coolest" for startups and produces the most innovative new social photo sharing app.

Or we could simply spend all that time and energy on building our businesses from wherever we are.

I'm doing the latter (from Chicago).

It's funny how little press Austin gets, considering the size of the tech community out there.

We don't mind. We're doing just fine without more west coast transplants complaining about the heat :)

The one thing I didn't quite like when I heard PG speak at one of YCombinator's events in NYC was his insistence that you need to move to the Valley in order to launch a successful startup. Even at a seed-stage, there's great funds out there (TechStars Network among others) that happily invest in people all over the country.

you need to move to the Valley in order to launch a successful startup

pg didn't say that at YC NYC. He said he thought that the Valley was still better than New York, but that New York was now good enough that startups could succeed there. He also said he no longer tries to convince founders to stay in the Valley if they're planning on moving back to New York after YC.

Meanwhile, those of us continuing to succeed in the "tech backwaters" of the US will be forever amused by the smug self-satisfaction coming out of the "cool" cities. This little spat being just one example.

You might want to give the following a read:


Yep, there's nothing cool about either of these cities. It stinks here. The nightlife is poor, the people are stupid, the pay is low, the food terrible, and there is no culture. The amount of successful startups is overly exaggerated. There's maybe one. I think most are in Iowa or Austin. Rent is expensive so please no one come to NY or SF.

What fight? There's an abundance of tech personnel.

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