Steve Schlafman joined Lerer Ventures earlier this summer as a principal. Schlafman worked recently as vice president of business development for New York-based start-up Stickybits. He’s also worked previously with The Kraft Group/The New England Patriots. Lerer Ventures, started by Huffington Post co-founder Kenneth Lerer and his son, Ben, is based in New York. The firm also added Eric Hippeau to the team this year. Hippeau served as HuffPo chief executive after joining the company in 2009.
Only a year ago I decided to leave my dream job at The Kraft Group / The New England Patriots to jump head first into the NYC startup scene. During my time at The Kraft Group, I focused on early stage investments, strategic partnerships and digital media strategy. While I enjoyed living in my hometown of Boston (Go Sox!) and working for a highly respectable and influential company, I recognized something special was happening a few hundred miles south. The NYC tech community was heating up, and I was itching to join a startup.
That opportunity came when Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein of Stickybits (now Turntable.fm) made me an offer to join the company as their VP of Biz Dev and first business hire. I arrived last summer and worked out of DogPatch Labs. Immediately I realized that the startup culture here had a distinct energy and momentum, different than anything I had experienced in Boston, Seattle, Austin, New Orleans or LA.
After spending the last twelve months entrenched in the NYC tech community, I’m now convinced that we are witnessing a tech renaissance – and in less than a decade, the tech industry will certainly be as influential (if not more) than any other sector in NYC.
Here are my top 9 reasons why I think NYC has all the elements of a world-leading tech ecosystem:
Talent: Startups in New York City are attracting talent from cities across the country, well-established companies in NYC, and world-class universities. New York has always been known for creativity and innovation in the arts. For the very first time, the creatives in NYC are shifting their focus to digital.
Co-Working Spaces: Co-working spaces like General Assembly and DogPatch Labs are helping entrepreneurs get their business off the ground and get plugged into an instant network. For a comprehensive guide to NYC co-working spaces, see A Hitchhikers guide to NYC.
Meetups: Meetups are critical to our ecosystem because they physically connect the community, facilitate new relationships, foster collaboration and encourage discussion. To stay on top of the latest events, subscribe to Charlie O’Donnell’s weekly email and the NYC Startup Digest.
Hackathons: These are essential to any thriving tech community because they provide developers and designers with an opportunity to improve and showcase their skills, build and test new products / ideas, and meet other members of the community. A handful of recent hackathons include: TechCrunch Disrupt, Startup Weekend, Music Hack Day, News+Gaming Hackathon, and FourSquare hackathon. To catch details on the latest hackathons, follow John Britton on Twitter.
Strategic Partners: NYC has a treasure trove of strategic partners including large financial institutions, advertising agencies, and media companies. Even the tech titans have established and grown their offices here over the past decade to take advantage of the talent and innovation that is taking place.
Customers / Users – NYC has the largest population and highest population density of any city in the US by more than a factor of 2. Additionally, there are tens of thousands of large, medium and small businesses. Because users and customers are everywhere, it’s arguably the perfect petri dish to test / launch new products.
Government Support: Mayor Bloomberg’s office has made a commitment to the local tech industry and he recently hired Rachel Sterne as NYC’s Chief Digital Officer. Additionally, the mayor’s office recently released NYC’s Digital Roadmap outlining the path to embrace NYC’s potential as the world’s leading digital city.
Breakout Companies: The city now has more than a dozen breakout companies such as FourSquare, Etsy, BuddyMedia, Tumblr, Gilt Groupe, and Kickstarter. And there are some super innovative newcomers like Turntable.fm, Skillshare, GroupMe, Lot18, Canvas and Kohort.
Venture Capital: It might be the best time since the 90s to raise money as an entrepreneur. Capital is abundant and the terms are favorable. West coast firms like Accel have set up shop here in the city. Others like SV Angel have partnered with Lerer Ventures to gain access to the many great entrepreneurs here in NYC. Even investors from Boston are spending more time here than ever before.
That said, I’ve decided to go all in and bet the house on NYC. I’m extremely bullish on this amazing city and I’m thrilled to announce that I have joined Lerer Ventures as a Principal to help Kenny, Ben, Eric and Jordan partner with and support this world-class community.
Here’s 6 reasons Lerer Ventures is getting me out of bed in the morning/and keeping me up late at night:
Team: Companies are only as good as their people. That said, I’m most stoked to join Lerer Ventures because the team is first class. Everyone here has built, operated, sold and invested in startups. And each person has a high degree of intellectual horsepower and a strong moral compass. Additionally, the firm has expertise in media and entertainment, technology, publishing, e-commerce, and finance, which aligns with my experience.
New Fund: During TechCrunch Disrupt in May of this year, the firm announced a new $25M seed fund, which will be used to back even more awesome companies in NYC and elsewhere.
Value Add Investor: Working at The Kraft Group taught me that all money is not the same and entrepreneurs should always strive to find smart money. I’ve already witnessed Lerer Ventures working tirelessly for our portfolio companies. Whether it’s making high value introductions or helping our entrepreneurs think about their business strategy, the firm is continually helping entrepreneurs grow as business leaders and build special companies.
Portfolio: I absolutely love our current portfolio because they are run by awesome entrepreneurs and have innovative products and business models. Some of our partners include BirchBox, WarbyParker, GroupMe, Greplin, BankSimple, Pulse, and OnSwipe. I’m very much looking forward to helping our existing (and future) portfolio companies any way I possibly can.
Investment Focus: The fund has a heavy emphasis on the core competencies of New York and many sectors that I’m particularly passionate about. This includes, but is not limited to, social commerce, media, ad tech, gaming, and mobile / social broadly speaking.
Co-Investors: Lerer Ventures has a strategic relationship with SV Angel and we regularly invest alongside some of the most respected firms including Union Square Ventures, Founder Collective, IA Ventures, First Round Capital, Accel Partners, and Softbank.
I love nothing more than learning about new companies, meeting passionate entrepreneurs, and helping them succeed, so don’t hesitate to connect with me.
I’m looking forward to working you all in the coming years and supporting NYC as the premier digital city on the globe.