The best thing about New York’s tech scene is that it’s the fifth or sixth biggest game in town, Dennis Crowley said at PandoMonthly NYC tonight. Tech is the only industry in Silicon Valley. But in New York, the majority of people in the city work in fashion or finance or publishing or music. They are the best test audience for consumer apps, because they aren’t early adopters.
“You can go to a bar and hangout and say, ‘None of you work in tech? That’s awesome!'” he said. Foursquare, and its previous iteration, Dodgeball, became what it was, because Crowley and his team incessantly tested it on their non-techie friends.
“[Silicon Valley] can be a little bit of an echo chamber. I always like to talk about ideas and pitch things to people that aren’t in the scene.”
It’s easier to build stuff tech kids want to use, and it’s harder to build stuff that the masses want to use, he said. As Foursquare transitions from a check-in app to a widely used local search app, it needs to go beyond its “early adopter” user base of 20 million, and into what Crowley called the “Muggle community,” he said. He’s seeing adoption spread to college students and older users because of its new features help people save money and have utility, helping users better explore their cities.
Crowley doesn’t shy away from the role of “poster child” for New York tech. He said that as the CEO of one of New York’s largest startups (with 150 employees), he feels a responsibility to boost the scene and attract investor interest. He did the Gap ad and the Best Buy ad to get attention for Foursquare, but also to show that New York had tech companies. “I don’t mind it if it puts attention on Foursquare, and if it puts attention on the New York tech scene,” he said.
“If making a lot of noise with what we’re doing brings more VCs here and makes it easier for people in this room to raise money and more angels are paying attention, that’s good,” he said.
An interesting thing happened to New York between Foursquare’s Series A and B rounds, he said. Valley VCs started paying attention. Around the same time Foursquare blew up, Etsy and Tumblr also blew up, Silicon Valley VC firms began hiring people to scout out the NYC tech hangouts–the Ace Hotel, Tom & Jerry’s bar, or New York Tech Meetup–to make sure they didn’t miss the next Foursquare, Etsy or Tumblr.
Beyond that, Google’s stake in the ground, with 3000 engineers in its office here, has been a huge boon to the industry. Now, when engineers graduate from Boston universities graduate, they don’t automatically fly to Silicon Valley, they consider coming to New York, too.
The other thing he likes about New York is its proximity to the largest media and advertising companies in the world. “I dont have to get on a plane to talk to an advertiser, I can ride my bike up to Madison Avenue,” he said.