Why Branch Is Moving Back To New York City

By Josh Miller , written on March 27, 2012

From The News Desk

My co-founder likes to say, "Being a startup founder in San Francisco feels like being a banker in New York." Our founding team of three started Branch, a conversation platform, six months ago in New York.

We spent the first few months bootstrapping our prototype from a co-working space in Lower Manhattan, until this January, when we packed our bags and moved to downtown San Francisco to work with Ev, Biz, and Jason at the Obvious Corporation. It has been a wonderful experience – we have encountered incredible people and product advice – but in a few weeks time, the company will be moving back to New York (bringing Jason Goldman with us).

In short, we think it is a better city to build our business in.

San Francisco is just too nice. The nature is too accessible, the architecture is too Victorian, and the weather is too perfect. The quality of life here is unrivaled. But I feel like I haven't earned that yet. One day, I'll bike across the bridge and meet my family at Mill Valley Beerworks.

For now, I miss the grit and grime of New York. It is real and raw, and the commotion of the city is contagious. Startup life is characterized by constant motion and tenacious tinkering, not hikes on Mt. Tam and brunch in the Mission, and the pace of life and breadth of humanity in New York is invigorating. I like to tell people: New York is like coffee. You know it's not good for you, and you don't really like the taste, but you just can't get enough. The rush, the jitters, they're addicting, as are startups.

And for whatever reason, be it its youth, modest size, or proximity to more established industries, the New York tech scene has more of a "let's stick together" ethos about it. That is not a knock on San Francisco tech folk. They are equally compassionate and caring. But there are just so many startups here.

In New York, everybody knows each other and it is common practice to rally together, whether for a New York Tech Meetup, HackNY fundraiser, or a lively SOPA protest. Given the volatility of a startup's life, this camaraderie is a comforting and invaluable resource for any New York founder.

Plus, the startup scene in New York feels like a movement. In San Francisco, tech is just what you do, what you have always done. Thus, the standard coffee question is: "What are you working on these days?" While in New York, the more applicable line of questioning is: "Where are you coming from? What did you do? What inspired you to drop everything?"

That's another way of saying, "What terrible job or aging industry did you defect from?" So although San Francisco has more war heroes and battle scars, New York entrepreneurs have a certain drive and sense of purpose about them. Startups there are more of an awakening than a profession.

Most importantly though, we miss being the underdogs – the weirdos tinkering in the shadows of Wall Street and Madison Avenue. Startup life is that much better when it is so starkly contrasted with the alternative. And being second class keeps you humble and hungry.

I'll never forget it. One night, when we were still bootstrapping Branch (then called Roundtable) in New York, I was high on life because Nick Bilton and MG Siegler had just signed up and posted on our platform. I got off the subway, turned around, and the giant CNN sign that adorns the Time Warner Center smacked the hubris off of my face. So, Josh, you think you have built a next-generation media company? Get a building.

All that being said, I recognize that I am a naive 21-year-old with a lot to learn. So let's have a healthy, open discourse about the differences between San Francisco and New York. MG Siegler is hosting a conversation on the topic, here – ping him @parislemon for an invite.

Image: The co-founders of Artsicle use the subway to ferry their site's artwork to corporate clients in New York (credit: Carter Cleveland)