At the first of what promises to be a series of events at the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill in Boston, Doug Levin conducted a "fireside chat" with Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner on the topic of how Boston's high-tech scene differs from that of Silicon Valley from which Scott recently returned after a two year stint. The comparison mostly favored the West Coast, with a lot of familiar gripes about Boston: VCs who won't fund consumer products, employees who won't leave their "velvet coffin" jobs, employers who sue over non-competes, lack of places like Bucks where deals are struck over drinks. Kirsner wrote about some of these in a piece on the front page of today's Boston Globe business section, Why Facebook Went West. He describes how a senior associate at Battery Ventures (not named in the article but identified by Levin as Larry Cheng) met Mark Zuckerberg at a Harvard Student Agencies event back when Facebook was looking for $1- $3 million on a pre-money valuation of $15M. Battery passed, and Zuckerberg went to California where he met Peter Thiel. Thiel agreed that same day to invest $500K for 10 percent of the company which Bear Stearns Internet analyst Robert Peck estimates may be worth as much as $6 billion today. Both Battery and Thiel had been investors in Friendster and had been disappointed in how that turned out, but Thiel, and later Accel Partners didn't let that stop them.
Kirsner's wife Amy Traverso had another theory: that in Silicon Valley, Internet entrepreneurs are treated like rocks stars. She said that while woman in New York want to marry investment bankers, those in San Francisco want entrepreneurs. She recounted one event in Pacific Heights where scores of attractive woman attended in the hope of meeting "their Sergey."
Kirsner did point out some advantages of the Boston area. For one thing, Cambridge is probably the best place in the world to start a Biotech company, and there are exciting possibilities that may come from the cross-fertilization of information sciences and life sciences. Also, real-estate is 30% more expensive on the West Coast, which was a factor in his family's return to Boston.
Finally, David Aronoff implored everyone to stop whining about the problem and go do something about it. He reminded us that while Boston will never be Silicon Valley, we have plenty of talent and plenty of capital on the East Coast. Of course he did say that plenty of Boston VCs were on UA 179 each Monday to San Francisco. (A quick check of my PDA revealed 4 "UA 179's" myself in the first half of this year - Boston entrepreneurs need to get out there as well.
One thing everyone agreed on was the need for more events like this one. Doug is planning a series every month for the rest of the year and there are other ones starting to happen. Some that I've attended or plan to attend:
- TECH Cocktail took place last week and was well attended.
- Web Innovators Group is meeting on Monday in Cambridge.
- Informal entrepreneurs every Thursday morning at the Andala Coffee House in Central Square.
- Bill Warner's BBQ for Entrepreneurs which I hope he does again.
- The MIT Enterprise Forum which is a very active resource for start-ups
- Mass Technology Leadership Council - mostly larger companies but lots of good events
- Mass Network Communications Council - ditto
- Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange - lots of local events
- Nantucket Conference -every spring
- Future Forward - same organizers as Nantucket Conference, every fall
Update 10 Sept 2007
Other blog coverage of the event: