Bill De Blasio’s historic win this week in the NYC Mayoral election puts the Brooklynite at the helm of Silicon Alley amid a thriving digital renaissance. The startup community has responded to the incoming leader with cautious optimism.
De Blasio has been hailed as an excellent listener. Given the large digital footprint Bloomberg created, expectations for support of startups run high and we hope de Blasio has his digital and analog ears open to this deeply talented and motivated community. Here are three meaningful pillars to startup community as it relates to de Blasio’s incoming term:
1) Bloomberg’s Big Shoes: the legacy: Bloomberg’s impact on the NYC startup scene is undeniable; his legacy hard-coded into the infrastructure of the city’s network. With over half a million Twitter followers and over 6500 tweets, @MikeBloomberg’s digital presence is formidable. He led New York City into an age of digital renaissance, marked in details through the 417 NYC-based location tips he left along his journey of 1407 Foursquare check-ins.
On his social media profiles, Bloomberg lists “Entrepreneur” before “Mayor of New York City” and “Philanthropist”. [BBG:Mike Bloomberg] understands that technology and the power of business innovation is the key to our city’s competitive advantage, and through this lens he created a global model for urban revitalization through technology and supporting the startup community.
During Bloomberg’s tenure, Silicon Alley enjoyed a greater rise in venture funding than anywhere in the United States. The tech sector rose to be NYC’s 2nd largest employer after the financial industry, accounting for over one quarter of a million jobs. Bloomberg ran NYC like a company, commenting recently, “I always tried to be the first one in in the morning and the last one to leave at night, take the fewest vacations and the least time away from the desk to go to the bathroom or have lunch,” said Bloomberg. “You gotta be there.”
The outgoing Mayor’s list of list of tech industry initiatives is remarkable: from establishment of the Chief Digital Officer role, to city-sponsored hackathons, to pioneering the now World-Class Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-tech). In an aesthetic juxtaposition, Bloomberg has left gigantic footprints in technology and startups across the boroughs – ones that will require the towering de Blasio to grow in order to fill – and we certainly hope he does.
2) A few questions: Scale or fail?
The largest organization de Blasio has managed is 0.004% of the population of New York City. The startup community understands, appreciates, and thrives on the David-and-Goliath type challenges that de Blasio will face in his tenure as Mayor. In building our startups, one of the biggest questions is always: how will this business scale? Is this a million-user idea? A billion-user idea? Will my concept scale across demographics and regions? Technology enables scalability. Can Mr.de Blasio, scale his leadership? In a world that is increasingly high-tech, we have an incoming Mayor who is extremely high-touch.
The affability factor has been sorely missed over Bloomberg’s term and will undoubtedly be a refreshing change. Nevertheless, from historical lessons on business success, de Blasio will hopefully embrace a higher tech approach to his leadership, as it may prove difficult to scale his Mayoral demand to reach over 8 million New York City residents.
One of my favorite classes in business school was, Innovate or Die, in which we studied not only the challenges of innovation, but the great results reaped from great risks taken. “Disruptive” has become a buzz-adjective, but the notion of creative disruption carries much promise for the private and public sectors alike. Collaborative consumption, also known as the “shared economy”, has experienced much success in the Big Apple and provides benefit to residents, governments, guests and service providers.
Uber. AirBNB. Both companies create a democratic platform for efficiency of underutilized resources, in car services and rentals of private apartments, respectively.
Rachel Botsman notably commented in Wired (2011): “The notion of connecting trustworthy strangers is an untapped market. Social, mobile and location technologies are coming together to make efficiency and trust. Technology creates the social glue for trust to form between strangers.”
These companies experience ongoing controversy in the state of New York and in New York City. De Blasio has taken a soft stance with tepid warmth toward Uber (which he and his staff used actively throughout his mayoral campaign) and a negative-but-still-neutral position on AirBNB.
De Blasio’s tale of two cities theme and push for equality is aligned with the concept of the shared economy. De Blasio wants NYC to “spend smarter,” and to his credit has fought for use of the 370 Jay Street building for the technology community. Both Uber and AirBNB drive consumption, they drive people to move throughout the boroughs, they drive tourists to New York City and they keep them here longer. Why stifle that benefit? Uber and AirBNB represent two of today’s most progressive and democratic business models. As such, innovation does not negate equality.
3) Big, Bold Ideas? Help us, help you.
De Blasio touts the importance of big, bold ideas- truly the lifeblood of a startup. Nevertheless, the technology and startup communities embrace de Blasio with nervous arms. De Blasio champions grassroots movements, but repeatedly vocalizes support of CUNY tech talent without mention of the grassroots programming movements created by local initiatives like General Assembly, Flatiron School and Codecademy.
Bloomberg made unprecedented strides for and with the startup community, but more work can be done and more angles can be tackled. The incoming Mayor spoke last month at a New York Tech Meetup, and provided generic answers to the approximately 75 attendees. In his favor, de Blasio likely will stimulate community support through his efforts to increase broadband access across the five boroughs, by increasing the availability of lines of credit for small businesses, and importantly increasing the ability of small businesses to bid for government contracts.
The engagement of government agencies, entities, large corporations, and “the powers that be,” with innovative entrepreneurs and early-stage companies is a fascinating and transformative phenomenon. I believe that support of early stage companies will greatly dictate the landscape of the future of corporate America as well as in government. It is in this area where de Blasio has a chance to continue to support the startup sector, which simultaneously helps New York City as a whole.
The organic growth of NYC’s startup community has created a deep pool of talent. Startups are formed out of great need and great passion. I hope de Blasio leverages this community’s remarkable resources to support the greater community of the City of New York and beyond. Help us, help you. (And please, please, let New York tech companies bid for any “.gov” site build.)