Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paul Graham Missed the Mark on This One

Let me start by saying that Paul Graham is the man...the guy is doing a lot for the start-up community in this country and I truly enjoy reading his essays.

Furthermore, I give all the respect in the world to anyone willing to candidly discuss their thoughts, ideas, etc. in public view. They open themselves up for criticism, ridicule, etc. - so I don't want this blog post to be taken in the wrong way...

I'm NOT "Graham bashing" here, but something has to be said about his most recent post on "Cities".

In his latest essay Graham essentially talks about the "messaging of cities" -- in his opinion, the same way a brand or company projects a message to the public, so do cities. It's his contention that these cities project the following messages:

  • Silicon Valley: Power is important
  • Boston/Cambridge: Knowledge/ideas are important
  • New York: Money is important

This is probably one of the first times I've ever read anything from Graham and thought to myself, "Holy fuck, how did this guy reach such generalized conclusions that show such a clear lack of depth in thought!?"

I mean, does NOT matter in Silicon Valley!? Are you freaking kidding me? I guess Sand Hill Road is known for its charities and its many not-for-profit initiatives. And entrepreneurs only go there to take in the scenery.

And I love this one:
This suggests an answer to a question people in New York have wondered about since the Bubble: whether New York could grow into a startup hub to rival Silicon Valley. One reason that's unlikely is that someone starting a startup in New York would feel like a second class citizen. [3] There's already something else people in New York admire more.
The "something else" Graham refers to here is, of course, money. Hmm...I wonder why New York has been a hot bed for artists, musicians, actors, actresses, writers and various other occupations that are done more out of passion than for compensation for decades now?

While I do agree that it's probably easier to find more people who are interested in participating in (financing, partnering, working for) start-ups on the West Coast, I certainly don't think the "New York only cares about money" message is valid and it's borderline ignorant. Tech start-ups are far from the only industries out there that require boot strapping, ingenuity and creativity.

Arguably, one of the most influential (on ANY level) movements over the last 20 years was born and bred in the streets of New York: Hip-Hop music!

In fact, another guy I really admire, Gary Vaynerchuk, has even compared the web industry to Hip-Hop, circa 1985. And to tell you the truth, I couldn't agree more!

Granted, certain cities maintain a certain culture, but trying to pick a specific message for a city as large, deep and diverse as New York is like trying to say Moby Dick was just about a guy who went fishing.

Paul, not sure where or for how long you lived in New York but next time you come through, we need to hang out so I can show you around a bit. Might teach you a thing or two about a thing or two ;)

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