(Photo by Brian James Kirk)
My term as the lead reporter for Technical.ly Brooklyn ends today, after nearly three years. It’s been a pleasure for me to get to learn about the seriously fascinating companies and projects going on in the Brooklyn tech world and an honor to get to meet the interesting people starting and creating them.
I’m heading off to work at a blockchain startup, which won’t surprise anyone here given the amount of coverage I’ve given the space over the last two years.
I was asked to offer some reflection on the Brooklyn startup scene for this column and I wasn’t quite sure what to write, but since ideas are really the spine of why people are interested in technology and the future, I’ll focus on some of the most interesting ideas I’ve learned in my time relentlessly asking people questions here.
One of those ideas is that startup life isn’t actually easy, and can be quite hard.
Most people in startups fail at what they intend to achieve, most investments are lost. There is a tremendous amount of stress and uncertainty. This would seem to be obvious except for how super not obvious it is. Because raising money and gaining traction depend in part upon appearing successful i.e., “killing it.” A lot of people in this world seem to be killing it. They’re not, and that’s OK.
Probably my favorite story published here was that of Anonymous_Founder, the anonymous startup founder with a Ph.D. in computer science who told me the story of him going on social assistance and having his bank account hit zero in pursuit of making it work.
In Brooklyn, @BradyDale and now @Woods_TylerWL have consistently been thoughtful balances to a big and fast-changing place. One of my favorite @Technical_ly stories of all time is this from Tyler https://t.co/jf8xzfumaW
— Christopher Wink (@christopherwink) February 9, 2018
Anonymous_Founder told me about the anxiety and depression that would linger with him during his hours of coding and of the awful, cramped, living arrangements he had to accept to be able to stay on budget. (I never wrote a follow-up, but he’s doing better now and even moved into a real apartment.)
More recently, there was the story of the founder Gabe Batstone, of Contextere, who built his startup after his daughter was murdered. How? He just did, one day at a time, without slogans or hashtags. He’s a bit more subdued than the WeWork crowd, for sure.
And those are the ones who would talk for articles. I’ve talked to many other founders who spoke candidly in private about their worries, fears and toll the stress of this world has taken on them. All of this is not to inspire sympathy for startup founders, after all, this is the life they’ve chosen and it’s a cool one, way cooler than shuffling files somewhere behind a desk. But it has stuck with me that in a world where everyone is killing it, almost no one is killing it.
Another idea has been whether Brooklyn’s success will be its undoing?
Rent is a perennially hot topic of discussion in New York. When it’s cheap it allows people who don’t make much money, like artists and musicians, to live in a place. When it’s expensive, they can’t. And when it changes from cheap to expensive, a lot of people have to uproot their lives and move.
If you’ve lived here for any amount of time greater than, oh, about four months, you will have noticed that the rent in Brooklyn continues to climb. You’ve seen that the creative class that built the borough’s reputation over the past few decades has moved into neighborhoods further from the water, and that people who grew up here increasingly can’t afford to live here.
Brooklyn’s comparative advantage over Manhattan or San Francisco is the creativity of the culture here. The writers and artists provide a really different environment and experience from the suits of Manhattan or the hoodies of San Francisco. But if what’s happened in Williamsburg and Dumbo continues to expand to Gowanus and Red Hook and Bushwick and Bed-Stuy and Greenpoint and Crown Heights, then what exactly is it that Brooklyn holds that’s an advantage over anywhere else? It’s unclear. And the truth is, it might be a fait accompli. I would not want to bet against the power of the real estate market to reshape places.
There’s plenty more ideas.
In the last two years, Brooklyn has become the epicenter of the cryptocurrency and blockchain waves that shook the world this winter. A bumper sticker-covered office building in East Williamsburg sprouted up as home to ConsenSys, which grew from just a handful of people in 2015 to dozens in 2016 to hundreds in 2017 and continues to hire at an outrageous pace. If the decentralized economy takes off, it will have been in significant part to the work done on Bogart Street these years.
— ConsenSys (@ConsenSys) January 31, 2018
Will coliving continue to grow? We called 2016 the Year of Coliving, which was early but not wrong. (Editor’s note: “Early but not wrong” was a perennial theme of ours.) In a city full of zoning laws and loneliness, Common leapt out to the forefront in solving both by putting more people in the same square footage and making them share a living room. Is it an adult dorm? Kinda, yeah. That doesn’t seem to bother people. It’s exciting because it’s a truly new way for people to structure their living conditions.
There’s plenty more: podcasting companies and autonomous car maps, coworking for retail spaces, 3D printing. Our realLIST this year of our top 20 startups to watch is so full of promising companies, it will really be something incredible to watch.
I’m running up against my word limit here, but I just want to say thank you to my editor, Zack Seward, for making all these articles readable, and to Technical.ly’s cofounders Chris Wink and Brian James Kirk, for starting this family of news sites. And I want to say that I’m grateful to have met all the founders and workers who talked to me, all the people who came to my Technical.ly IRL events these last few months, the interesting people doing cool things, the tech artists, the scientists, the researchers and even, I have to admit, the flacks who relentlessly pitched me stories and organized interviews.
It’s been real. I’ll see you around. 🙂
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