The Empire Strikes Back: New York & Boston Are Unstoppable Tech Hubs
No doubt, the New York tech scene has had its ups and downs this year — but Sarah Kesller’s unfair article looks back over the last few years particularly grimly, starting with the title: “New York’s Unrealistic Dream of Rivaling Silicon Valley Should End with Etsy’s Collapse”.
In it, she reviews the punditry from 2010, declaring that all New York needed were a few anchor companies to breakout to become the next Facebook or Google.
Part of the Problem: Selection Bias
Unfortunately, that hasn’t played out due to a litany of missed expectations that she chronicles in detail. She notes that the stars of that period — Etsy, Foursquare, Gilt, Kickstarter, Meetup, Tumblr — have not proven to become the mega-unicorns that many hoped.
They have either sold or gone public at good but not Valley-level prices — like Etsy’s $1B public market cap, Gilt’s $250M sale and Tumblr’s $1B sale — or still exist at an uncertain point on their journey with unfulfilled expectations, such as Foursquare, Kickstarter, Meetup.
Kesller misses the more subtle but larger point that it is very hard to pick winners in StartupLand. While those six companies may not have been massive winners, there have been a few amazing companies emerge out of New York in the last few years that were not on anyone’s “top six” radar in 2010 (or even founded!).
Reality: New York is Cranking
Examples of emerging breakout companies based in New York include:
- WeWork: worth $20 billion in their latest round
- Vice: widely reported to be worth $4.0 billion
- Jet.com: sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion in cash and stock
- Oscar: widely reported to be worth $2.7 billion
- BlueApron: widely reported to be worth $2.0 billion and preparing an IPO
- MongoDB: widely reported to be worth $1.5 billion in its last financing*
* Which I can neither confirm nor deny as we are major shareholders having co-led the Series A.
In aggregate, that’s over $33 billion in value and presumably growing.
I remain very optimistic about the next 5–10 years in the New York tech scene. Through our work (led by my partners David Aronoff and Jesse Middleton), I am seeing ambitious entrepreneurs pursuing amazing and diverse market opportunities every day.
The recent IPO of Yext (trading at $1 billion) is a solid step forward for the New York tech scene and there are dozens of private companies worth +$500 million that are growing fast and have tremendous potential. Flatiron Health is pursuing the ambitious goal of fighting cancer with data. Buzzfeed has dramatically changed the way media companies think about information dissemination.
Others like Appnexus, BetterCloud, Compass, Sprinklr, Warby Parker and Zocdoc are an amazing cohort worth watching.
And Don’t Forget Boston!
Interestingly, in contrast, the Boston tech scene has seen the reality run ahead of the hype. Boston’s historical strength in life sciences, enterprise software, cloud, big data and artificial intelligence are all proving to be very fruitful.
For the Boston tech scene, it has been an amazing few years for some very valuable, emerging anchor companies.
I did a quick analysis of what has happened to the value of today’s top six emerging anchor companies (measured by market cap) in the Boston innovation scene from 2010 to 2017. I used Crunchbase’s data to estimate the private valuations in 2010 by using a simple rule of thumb regarding ownership sold in their last round of financing or the initial market cap at the time of their IPO if it happened close to 2010.
The results in the chart below are pretty dramatic. This cohort of Boston companies — Demandware, Hubspot, Logmein, TripAdvisor, Vertex and Wayfair — was worth $15.6 billion in 2010 and are now worth $51.2 billion in 2017.
That’s a 3.3x increase! This increase compares favorably to the Russell 1000 index, which increased only 2.0x during this same period.
The conclusion? Sarah needs to be careful about selection bias, I am still very bullish about the New York tech scene (where Flybridge continues to invest roughly half our fund) and the Boston tech scene has had an unheralded strong run.
Like everything else, it just takes a bit longer than we all might have anticipated. Hang in there, New York — and keep pedaling!
Special thanks to Rashana Lord for helping me collect and analyze the data