If you talk to startups anywhere in New York, the number one issue is hiring. We're a fast-growing tech sector, and even though our institutions are producing great students, and there's the promise of more home-grown talent as the Cornell-Technion project on Roosevelt Island comes online, the need for more raw talent isn't slowing down.
There's been plenty written about education, and our new mayor has a clear plan to focus on broadening the base of technology education within the CUNY system. I applaud him for that, and think that certainly education is part of the equation to keep the tech sector alive and growing.
But my concerns, and the concerns of other startup CEOs I've spoken with, are in some ways far more urgent, and potentially more easily addressed in the near term.
It's easy to call them 'lifestyle' issues, but broken down -- they're hardly little things. I've tried to find a way to turn issues into ideas, and this is the best I've been able to come up with. For startups, there are three areas that need our immediate attention. Sleeping, Connecting, and Enjoying.
Here's what I mean.
Sleeping. We all need to sleep. Let's face it, startup employees and founders probably sleep less than average folks. One of my earliest mentors was famous for telling tired employees; "Sleep is little slices of death." We can debate that another time. But here's the issue -- affordable housing for the newest members of the tech community is almost impossible to come by. NYC rental properties are impossible to navigate, real estate brokers are scammy, and real-estate ads are downright lies. If you're just out of school, on your first job, and tired of couch surfing, finding a place to put your head down and stash your stuff can be daunting. And, the further away you get from Manhattan or Brooklyn's tech corridors -- the harder the commute, and the risks go up. One young person I know has had his bike stolen three times in one of the boroughs. Affordable housing matters. It matters now. And it matters for more than the blue collar workers who are often the face of gentrified neighborhoods. If startups can't afford to live here, hire here, and grow here -- we will lose them.
Connecting. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio raised this concern in the primaries, and I applauded him for it, New York is a world class city -- with a third class technology infrastructure. Our subways, our offices, our homes, are all served by a stranglehold of low quality broadband offerings. When de Blasio was in his role as Public Advocate in April of 2013, he famously said of the now five-year-old Verizon deal: "There was a lot of fanfare when this deal was struck about reaching young people and entrepreneurs in struggling neighborhoods. But here we are in 2013--and it's clear where Verizon's priorities really are. We can't accept a city where a family's income dictates access to something as fundamental to the 21st century as high-speed Internet." Under the 2008 Verizon franchise agreement, all NYC residents were promised access to high-speed fiber optic networks by June 2014. Now is the time to open access to competition and jump start the NYC tech infrastructure build out.
Enjoying. Part of what makes New York the thriving tech/startup world is that it's a remarkable mix of cultures, industries, and ideas. It's vibrant, diverse, and delicious. So it's important that we think about the things that are making New York a place where startups want to launch, and remain. Those things aren't always what you might expect. For example, the CitiBike program, which has taken hold in a way that I didn't ever expect it would, is something that startups tell me they find very appealing about NY. Making the city bikeable hits a number of cords. It's healthy. It's environmentally sustainable. And it feels more connected to the community than LA's car culture, or SF's office park environments. Bikes matter. Walking on streets that used to be clogged with cars creates a sense of a new urban adventure that startup cultures flock to. But don't think that transportation is all about walking and biking, the subways and buses matter too -- public transportation is more than a service, it represents freedom for a new generation of New Yorkers. Making our streets more livable is a goal that aligns the mayor's election promise of closing the gap on a "Tale of Two Cities" and that's good for all New Yorkers.
New York has had remarkable tech growth, and there's no reason to think that will slow down. But like all things that are driven by a mix of momentum, opportunity, and the magical elixer of buzz and promise -- New York would be wise not to take the startup sector for granted. With a little concerted effort -- we could see the growth continue to foster economic growth and prosperity for the next generation of New Yorkers.