For the first time ever, Y Combinator held an event in New York, YCNYC. Y Combinator is the most prestigious startup accelerator in the world, and New York welcomed its founder, Paul Graham, with open arms.
There was a line one block long of at least 1,000 entrepreneurs, press, and investors waiting to bust down the event’s doors. Inside, the crowd was packed shoulder to shoulder, networking and anxiously awaiting Graham to take the stage.
But what followed was, well, weird.
Graham, who is extremely smart, personable, and even funny, began a 30-minute speech titled, “On the Other Hand.”
In it, he debated the New York and Silicon Valley tech scenes. While there were redeeming parts and some excellent advice was given, the overall message was, “New York will never be as great as Silicon Valley.”
Graham threw a jab at Gilt Groupe, one of the New York startup scene’s greatest success stories. He even made fun of the weather, saying that no one would ever choose to build a city in a place like New York. He joked about having a “damp philtrum” (the area between the upper lip and nose) from all of the east coast humidity.
While he said New York was a solid #2 startup hub ahead of Boston, Graham concluded his speech by saying New York will never surpass Silicon Valley. He likened it to an irresistible force (New Yorkers’ need to make money) meeting an unmovable object (Silicon Valley).
“Founders in Silicon Valley are concerned with quality of products over money…no place in the world cares about money like New York,” Graham said. “You can’t fix [that mentality] with a couple of meetups.”
“New York is a good enough place for a startup, but it is not going to catch the valley,” he concluded. He said New York’s strengths, not weaknesses, will hold it back. There are too many other competing industries, like finance, that will take startup talent.
Graham’s speech confused a lot of attendees.
- “Wait, is Paul Graham dissing NY?” tweeted Change The Ratio founder Rachel Sklar.
- “This is feeling slightly weird,” wrote Jessica Lawrence, Managing Director of New York Tech Meetup.
- “…dissed Gilt Groupe, now is dissing the weather for humidity on the philtrum. For real. Why you gotta hate, bro?” said Foursquare’s Tristan Walker.
- “Judging from the twitter commentary, I think #ycnyc is the best thing that could’ve happened to Techstars NYC [a competing startup accelerator],” tweeted Union Square Ventures analyst Christina Cacioppo.
While most found the event to be both fun and beneficial, it was because of the crowd that gathered there, like Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson, and the Y combinator alumni who spoke, not because of Graham.
Graham’s portion was disheartening — like an older sibling saying you’re not cool enough.
“These are great people giving great advice, but the set-up rankled,” Sklar tweeted.
Jordan Elpern-Waxman, a self-proclaimed tech and media guy, summed up the overall sentiment nicely. “Some startups fit NYC better, others SV. When will folks realise that it’s not about who’s better?”
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