The little things: Differences between startup life in New York and San Francisco
Though I won’t officially be a New Yorker until next year, I have spent a lot of time in the Big Apple as I start my new company and prepare for my new life there. And, to the best of my knowledge, I am one of the few people to start a company in San Francisco and then subsequently move it to New York. (Josh Miller of Branch is another.) Usually, it goes the other way around.
With that in mind, here are a few observations that I have made. They are based on my experiences, so your mileage may vary.
People in New York actually care what your parents do…
On no fewer than three occasions in New York, I have been part of a conversation that sounded something like this:
“My best friend Jenny just got engaged.”
“Great — what is her fiancé like?”
“He’s ok. Nice enough guy. His dad is a big time lawyer who is super loaded.” That is precisely the type of conversation that one would expect not to hear in San Francisco.
To add some credibility to this claim, not only have I spent the last eight years living in San Francisco, but I spent my entire childhood and teenage years going to a private school in Atherton. Most of my classmates were the children of top VCs or very senior tech executives. There is no doubt that it was an affluent bubble. But the students really didn’t pay much attention to what each other’s parents did. Certainly, nobody got a girlfriend or boyfriend because of it.
A lot of people are moving to San Francisco right now in a concerted effort to get away from the sort of "dynastic thinking" that is rife in New York, and one really feels it when they spend two weeks a month in each city.
People in New York still think that a high salary is the path to wealth
This is one of those things that I encounter all the time, and for better or worse, there is not much that can be done about it. The culture of equity has yet to reach the shores of the Hudson River.
Sure, it’s great to make a banker bonus of $250,000 at age 27, but what is not so great is the fact that (a) you will pay most of that out in taxes, and (b) you will immediately adjust your lifestyle so as to eat up what remains of that fat check.
I have a lot of friends who work in finance in New York, and they really aren’t saving very much money.
Though it is a high-risk asset, one of the best things about startup equity is that it is illiquid. So you can’t spend it on strippers and bottle service at some trendy Soho club. That may seem lame when you are 25 years old and looking to party. But when you grow up and have kids, you will be glad it was inaccessible to a younger you.
One might think that having a tech founder billionaire omnipotent Mayor would serve as a symbolic reminder to all New Yorkers that equity is the way to go... but it doesn’t.
So, hotshot lawyers and bankers can continue to enjoy their plush bonuses... and their 39.6 percent federal income tax, and their 8.82 percent state income tax, and their 3.59 percent New York City tax, and their 6.2 percent Social Security tax, and their 1.45 percent Medicare tax.
People in New York know how to work
Sorry to all my friends in San Francisco, but this one is also true.
There are some very hard working people in the Bay Area, but the culture of "burning the midnight oil" is not nearly as engrained in the Golden State. New York has a strong culture of "paying your dues," ie: You aren't hot shit just because you are in your early 20s with an idea. Industries existed before you arrived.
Having dinner meetings or job interviews that start at 8pm is completely normal in New York, and most people come to them directly from the office. And when people meet with me to consider a job, they normally do so outside of regular working hours... evidently, bosses in New York are onto the whole “I’ve got another dental appointment tomorrow morning” shtick.
As much as I have tried to defend San Francisco over the years, the reality is that this city is filled with people who will make any excuse for not working very hard. Don't believe me? Drive by Dolores Park on a sunny day. Who are all those people? And more to the point: How do they pay their rent?
San Francisco is one of the only places in the world where you can introduce yourself as an entrepreneur with a straight face, even if you don't actually have a company. There are plenty of “entrepreneurs” there who quit their jobs before having an idea of what they want to build. That doesn’t stop them from working at Peet's Coffee three days a week (and the other two days from their "home office").
I don’t think that I would have what it takes to put my heart and soul and 100 weekly hours into a banking job, but I give serious props to New Yorkers for somehow managing to do so. There are a lot of differences between the United States and other developed nations. But our work ethic is probably the greatest asset that we have. And it is on full display in New York.
New Yorkers dress like they give a shit about their jobs and themselves
One time, on a hot New York evening, I almost made the mistake of wearing shorts to a work-related event. Thankfully, one of my employees stopped me in time.
Shorts!? In New York?! In the evening?!!!!
Some of us in San Francisco may take pride in the fact that we can dress like complete shlumps at the office. And we certainly have our share of billionaires who wear hoodies. (You can still count them on two hands.)
But I find that my work ethic improves greatly, when I take the 10 minutes to dress like I give a crap about my job and the work that I do. Some mornings, I even earn bonus points by shaving my beard stubble, an act that was almost unimaginable in San Francisco.
On days when I have three or four meetings, I even wear a suit. That’s right, in New York, one’s suit serves as more than just food for baby moths. People actually wear them. And when they do, it communicates to those around them that they are serious about the meeting.
“But, Bryan,” some San Franciscan dudes will say, “don’t you have bigger things to worry about than investing your time and money into an overly-fancy clothing item?”
Yes, I do have bigger things to worry about, which is why it is fortunate that putting on a suit takes about ninety seconds longer than putting on jeans and a hoodie. And there are better things to spend your money on, which is why it is fortunate that Jos A. Bank will sell you a suit for $99.
Also, guys, let’s remember that all of us are huge wusses in the eyes of our female colleagues, who seem to have never lowered the bar in the first place. Just for fun, try telling them how painfully uncomfortable your laced dress shoes are... and see what happens.
[Image Credit: WIkimedia]