Why The NYC Startup Scene Needs Sean Parker

Sean Parker

I have never met Sean Parker.

I don’t know if the movie portrayal of him is accurate and I don’t particularly care.

What I do care about is that a person who is long on vision and has a knack for being around big companies early on is now living in New York City

Parker made a huge dent in the web as co-founder of Napster, then built Plaxo up to 20 million users.  Say what you will about either company, they got up to huge userbases and had audaciously big aspirations. 

He spotted Facebook in 2004 and Spotify in 2009.  With Facebook, he is rumoured to be the guy who whispered in Mark Zuckerberg’s ear about the potential scope of the company–which I tend to believe.  It seems more likely that a guy who has made a career of “going big” came up with the idea of taking over the world there than a college kid who had previously built a music app and flipped it.

So what would have happened had Sean met Joshua Schachter in 2005–would Josh have still sold out early to Yahoo! or would he have been convinced to take a financing round?  Seems to me that New York could use a guy who goes around broadening the visions of New York entrepreneurs.

If anything, as far as New York has come, that’s the big knock on us–that we haven’t yet built the billion dollar exit–a huge, hairy, impactful company that is native to NYC.  I’m not surprised, because New Yorkers have more of a trading/investment mentality–thinking that it’s better to take a sure $100 million than go for a home run with a lot more capital.

We’re seeing some exceptions, of course–like Kickstarter, Tumblr, and Foursquare–but that points to another issue.  Companies going for the long ball aren’t discovered–they’re juiced up to go for the homerun, with financing.  Foursquare was in the same position as lots of other companies when they took that first big round from AH, but it was up to a big venture capital firm to decide that this was a company in the first inning rather than the fifth, and to give it a big runway to think much bigger.  Dennis is surely a big idea guy, but I don’t think that when he launched Foursquare he was thinking “Let’s put $100 million of financing in this thing and see how far we can go with it.”

That’s the kind of thinking that Union Square Ventures has–it’s not an accident that the three companies I’ve mentioned were all funded by USV, but we can’t rely on just one VC to think about funding the billion dollar company.   The valley has only produced a small number of those huge exits, but they have dozens and dozens of funds all thinking that way–and looking for patterns of that potential.

Sean Parker is one of those patterns.  He’s in and around big potential companies–or at least is good at telling the story how a company can have big potential.  VCs seem to listen.

NYC needs him not only to wave the flag a bit on the ideas here that could go big, but also to share the steps needed to get here with the local community.  We need to hear that big is an option from someone who was in and around the companies we look up to a big successes–because local NYC companies don’t get enough of that from local folks.

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