Stop! Please Stop!

Can we please stop comparing Boston to San Francisco and New York? Please? I’m getting sick of this discussion. It doesn’t mean much.

I grew up just outside of New York City, I went to grad school there and remain a loyal fan of the New York Jets (no, that doesn’t make me all that popular in Newton). But I chose to live in Boston. Two of my three children were born here,

Let me repeat that: I chose to live in Boston. Boston didn’t choose me. Todd is also a transplant (though, I hear he gave up rooting for the Detroit Lions, can you blame him?) and he also chose to be here. There is something about this city that we love, something about the people, the culture and the environment that makes it important enough to start a company here.

Each city has its advantages and different culture. Yes, New York has a 24 hour culture and a vibrant financial market that keeps much of the rest of the city humming (the taxi drivers and Broadway producers all feel the boost when Wall Street gives out good bonuses). Silicon Valley has a vibrant startup culture with great weather and entrepreneurs who become celebrities. But Boston has a quiet confidence that I find endearing. We are who we are, we’re not something else.

The main reason I hate these comparisons is that we look to the companies we lost (Facebook, Microsoft, TaskRabbit, Pixable, etc.) and ask “why! why would you leave us? We could have loved you!” Frankly, it’s a bit embarrassing. Love the one you’re with. But the problem isn’t that those cities are cooler, it’s that the companies (and their founders) were better fits for those cultures. Rather than focusing on that, maybe we should be focusing on creating companies that fit OUR culture.

Many years ago Evernote CEO Phil Libin told me that Silicon Valley is better for consumer-facing companies while Boston is better for research-based companies that feed government and defense contracts as well as enterprise technology. Of course, we also have a vibrant healthcare and biotech community. Why fight that? Why lament when a consumer company leaves and we’re left with very interesting technology that could help create a cure for cancer or change how we get power?

Zigging when everyone else is zagging can be a very good thing. An article in the Wall Street Journal points out that enterprise technology in the Valley has fallen out of favor with VCs while investment in consumer technologies has increased. Sure, fine for them, we can benefit from that by focusing on our core.

As for being “cool,” we shouldn’t feel bad that we lost consumer-facing companies to other regions, we should be trying to point out how enterprise tech companies that innovate, build jobs and build revenue in Massachusetts are cool, even when they’re doing something that seems mundane to the average eye, like helping organizations switch to IPv6. I sat next to a guy on the bus yesterday working on that very problem. No, it’s not as easy to understand as a company that helps you get errands done, but it impacts a LOT more people.

Let’s embrace who we are and stop worrying about who we aren’t.


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  1. Hi Chuck-

    Great post, and I’m pretty tired of comparisons, too. But the one discussion that I think is worth having is how we can be more supportive of entrepreneurs who don’t happen to have enterprise or biotech ideas, and especially how we can be more “magnetic” for young people who’ve just earned a degree here. Improving on those two fronts doesn’t have to be about comparing … just about continual improving what Boston is and does.

  2. “Let’s embrace who we are and stop worrying about who we aren’t.”


  3. I disagree.

    Like you, I’m a transplanted NY-area native (and Jet fan) – so perhaps it’s easier for me to step back since I wasn’t born and raised here. But my family & I have lived here for 20 years now, and have developed a great deal of affection for Boston.

    At the same time, I also just returned from a week in the Bay Area and witnessed that everything Scott asserts in his article is, basically, on target. Much of it is perception, but when you’re falling off the national radar screen, perception quickly becomes reality.

    For another data point, take a look at Mark Suster’s terrific post from this past week – Take a look at all of the regions he mentions, and not a word about Boston. I witnessed that repeatedly this past week – very few if any BAD things being said about Boston – we’re simply not part of the conversation.

    Does our economy have sectors of strength? No doubt.

    Should we celebrate the successes our economy has produced? Absolutely.

    Should we focus our energies on sectors where we have relatively strength rather than trying to play ‘catch up’ with other regions? Clearly.

    I am fully aware that there are many generous, smart & motivated people here – both on the financial side and the operational side – who are committed to working on these issues. But we have to realize that we can’t make progress on fixing the problem if we’re unwilling to admit – or discuss – that we HAVE a problem.

    So let’s talk about it – and keep talking about it – because as the aforementioned Suster post suggests, the path to success lies in working together as a community. If we are unwilling to discuss the problem, I’m quite certain it won’t go away.

  4. Chris,

    I agree that we need to do things to make ourselves stronger. And I’m not opposed to taking a look at how we rank on certain categories. That said, constantly looking at other cities and wondering why we aren’t them is a little like trying to compare my life to my brother’s. We’re different people, we took very different life paths, our salaries are vastly different as are our educational backgrounds and education.

    I can spend my time trying to compare us and try to learn from that, or I can focus on my own strengths, career and family. One direction leads to a lot of therapy bills, the other is a path to happiness.

    It seems as if Mark Suster would agree with what I’m proposing, as he said plainly in #5 “Every region has its advantages and while not limiting innovation to local themes it seems to make sense to at least consider local advantages…. ’m not sure it makes too much sense to have check-in applications for restaurants [in Seattle]. That seems likely to be dominated by a more urban startup from NYC or from San Francisco. But who know? I’m just saying’ … what local assets do you have that load dice in your favor?”

    We need to look at what’s in our favor and focus there, then use that to build. We have a lot going for us.

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