Posts from NYC

Mayoral Control Of The Schools

One of Michael Bloomberg’s most important accomplishments as Mayor of NYC was taking control of the NYC school system. In the decade since he did that, NYC public schools have improved significantly including increased high school graduation and college readiness rates. The public school system remains a work in progress and there is much more to do. The system has improved but not nearly enough.

So it concerns me greatly that politics in Albany are playing around with mayoral control of the schools. Mayoral control of the NYC public schools is set to expire on June 30th and there are signs that the Governor and state legislature are thinking about not renewing it.

This would be a colossal mistake. Organizations require accountability to succeed. The Mayor must be able to hire and fire the school chancellor and drive the necessary changes in the system. We tried the other way for many years and it was a disaster. I urge the elected officials in Albany to come to their senses and renew Mayoral control, not just for another year, but for at least the next five years. Longer would be even better.

Disrupt NYC

I am doing not one, but two, appearances at Disrupt NYC today.

The first appearance will be at 9:05am est which is a chat with Jordan Crook. We did not discuss what we are going to talk about in advance (I hate doing that), but I did send her this list of things I think are interesting to talk about:

– robotics (drones, autonomous vehicles, etc)
– machine learning/AI
– VR/AR/MR/etc
– blockchain/bitcoin/ethereum/open bazaar/etc
So hopefully we will cover that stuff. The chat is 20mins long so 9:05am to 9:25am est.

The second appearance will be from 2pm to 2:20pm est. Tim Armstrong and I will talk about Tech:NYC which I blogged about last week.

I believe the entire conference is being livestreamed on the Disrupt website. So in theory you can watch these two appearances from your desk. That’s great.

Tech:NYC

Yesterday was the launch of a new organization in NYC that I have been working on since last fall. This new organization is called Tech:NYC and will be led by Julie Samuels. It will be co-chaired by Tim Armstrong and me.

For years the tech sector has been represented in the city and state and with local civic organizations by a loose and informal group of well known entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, and engaged members of the tech sector. I have been one of them.

Lately, as the tech sector has grown in importance in the local economy, this approach has become unsustainable. The same small group of people keep showing up at meeting after meeting.

We need a formal mechanism that allows the entire tech sector to be engaged with local government and civic organizations and we need to get the right people to the right meetings instead of the same small group meeting after meeting.

Tim and I explained all of this in a blog post that aired yesterday on Tech:NYC’s website.

Tech:NYC will be member supported. We would like every tech company, large and small, to join and be represented and engaged. Membership details are here and startups with less than 20 employees can join for free.

If you run a company in NYC, we hope you will sign your company up to be a member of Tech:NYC. If you work at a company in NYC, we hope you will encourage your leaders to join Tech:NYC.

Video Of The Week: The Nitty Gritty Podcast

Bond Street, a startup company that makes small business loans, has started a podcast to tell stories about small business entrepreneurs and the companies they create and run. They call it the Nitty Gritty Podcast.

The first episode features an entrepreneur who is also a friend of ours, Gabe Stulman.

Gabe is a restaurant operator in the west village of Manhattan, where we live. We started our relationship with Gabe as regulars at his first restaurant and we have gone on to be investors in all of his current restaurants, as well as good friends with him.

Here is Gabe’s story. It’s a good one.

The Flatiron District

In 1996, Jerry Colonna and I decided to call our venture capital firm Flatiron Partners (it was code named Acme Ventures). We named it after the Flatiron Building and decided to locate in the neighborhood with the same name. We moved down there a bit later and I immediately was smitten with the neighborhood. I have made my office there ever since. It’s twenty years now.

The thing I immediately noticed about the Flatiron district upon moving there was that it was unlike midtown manhattan, where I had worked for the previous ten years. The Flatiron district was about half residential and half business. And the businesses ranged from small photo studios to fledgling internet companies to accounting firms and therapist offices. The building that USV is now located in was full of photo studios in 1996. I don’t think there is a single one left.

The other thing that I love about the neighborhood is that it stays open late. The streets are full of restaurants, cafes, and bars. I can leave my office at 11pm and wander into any one of the local spots and they are still humming. That was true when we arrived in 1996 and it remains true today.

Working in the Flatiron district is like working in a residential neighborhood. You have grocery stores, dry cleaners, bodegas, and preschools. When you walk the streets, you see strollers and couples holding hands.

I thought of the Flatiron district when I read this MIT Technology Review article about a follow up study to Jane Jacobs’ seminal work on the vitality of cities by some University of Toronto researchers. The new work is called The Death and Life of Great Italian Cities: A Mobile Phone Data Perspective. These University of Toronto researchers used mobile phone data supplied by our portfolio company Foursquare and a few other data sources to study the vitality of a number of Italian cities.

Jane Jacobs says that for cities to thrive they need four conditions:

The first is that city districts must serve more than two functions so that they attract people with different purposes at different times of the day and night. Second, city blocks must be small with dense intersections that give pedestrians many opportunities to interact. The third condition is that buildings must be diverse in terms of age and form to support a mix of low-rent and high-rent tenants. Finally, a district must have a sufficient density of people and buildings.

The Flatiron district is the perfect example of Jane’s four conditions. I bump into people I know and don’t but should literally every day on the streets of the Flatiron district. It’s a mixed use neighborhood and though it has been gentrified a lot in the past twenty years (rents have gone from $15/sf to $75/sf in some buildings over those twenty years), it remains as vital today as when we arrived. I’d like to see the Foursquare data on the Flatiron district. I suspect it would be off the charts on the Jane Jacobs score!

Become A CSNYC Founding Partner

Three years ago, I co-founded the nonprofit organization CSNYC to address the extreme scarcity of computer science education in the NYC public schools. I am proud to say that we are now reaching nearly 10% of the city’s schools and more than 12,000 students. But our mission is to reach every school and every student.

In September 2015, Mayor de Blasio and I announced Computer Science For All (CS4All), a 10-year, $81 million plan to bring computer science education to every student in New York City public schools. The costs of CS4All will be shared equally between the city and private philanthropy, and CSNYC and Robin Hood have each committed $5 million to get the initiative off the ground.

As leaders in the local technology community, we collectively have the potential to support what will be the largest scaling of access to computer science education in the country. Early, meaningful access to computer science can change students’ educational lives and create pathways to future educational and career opportunities. These students are our future employees.

I am reaching out to NYC tech companies to help fund CSNYC’s ongoing efforts by committing to an annual membership of between $5,000 and $25,000. As a CSNYC Founding Partner, you will support our work in the schools and enable us to connect your company to employee engagement opportunities, internship programs, and more.

csnycpartnersPlease consider joining this distinguished group of companies: About.com, AppNexus, Bitly, Clarifai, Contour Ventures, Etsy, Facebook, HyperScience, Insight Venture Partners, Justworks, Kickstarter, MongoDB, Nestio, Postlight, Resy, Return Path, Simulmedia, Tapad, Techstars, Tusk Ventures, Warby Parker, and Yext. I am hopeful that we can add your company to this list.  

If you are interested in joining as a CSNYC Founding Partner email us and we will follow up with you directly, or you can simply fill out our online membership form.

The CS Opportunity Fair

On April 7th at the Armory inWashington Heights, we will host the third annual CS Opportunity Fair which exposes career opportunities in computer science and software engineering in NYC to over 2,000 NYC high school students who are studying computer science this year.

If you work at or run a tech company in NYC, we want your company represented at the fair. We want you to host a booth and bring colleagues so that the students can see and talk to people working in tech companies in NYC. We have over fifty NYC tech companies already committed to come but we need a lot more. It’s a five hour commitment, 9:30-2:30, but it will make a big difference in our ongoing effort to open up tech jobs to a much broader range of talent and bring much needed diversity to the tech sector in NYC and around the US.

The CS Fair also showcases colleges from around the region and the country where students can continue their computer science education as well as extra curricular programs students can enroll in to further their studies.

I hope I have convinced you to get involved in this fantastic event. If so, here are the links you need.

CS Fair website

To register to host a booth

To email for more information on the fair

To email for information on becoming a sponsor

I plan to be at the fair for the entire event and I hope I will see you and your colleagues there.

And props to AVC regular Kirk Love for his work on the CS Fair artwork and website. Thanks Kirk.

Video Of The Week: LinkNYC

The LinkNYC project has been under development in NYC for years, going back to the Bloomberg administration. At its core, LinkNYC is an upgrade to the public telephone system in NYC. Since all of these phone booths are “wired”, the city’s partners in this project are running fiber to many of them and are running broadband to all of them. They are upgrading them with tablets and charging stations. And they are providing free wifi around them.

Here’s a short (~2min) video about LinkNYC the Verge made this week:

The Brooklyn Queens Connector

As the NYC tech sector grows, it has been moving beyond Manhattan and into the outer boroughs. And the most popular destinations have been the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront neighborhoods like Dumbo, Williamsburg, Long Island City, The Navy Yard and Gowanus. But getting to and from these locations by mass transit has not been easy and has slowed down this movement of tech companies to embrace the outer boroughs.

Mayor de Blasio will announce a very important initiative in his State Of The City speech today called The Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) that will do a lot to solve this mass transit problem. It’s a light rail system that runs along existing streets from the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods to the Queens waterfront neighborhoods. It will look like this:

sreetcar

And here is the proposed route:

bqx

This is a big deal for NYC and a big deal for the NYC tech sector. Fixing the transportation problems into these developing neighborhoods will bring people and jobs and new vitality to these waterfront neighborhoods. This is such a good idea. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for his leadership on this issue and look forward to riding the BQX from a board meeting in Sunset Park to a board meeting on the Cornell Tech Campus in a few years.

Wifi In The Subways

I’ve been writing about wifi in the subways since 2005. Ten+ years later we still don’t have ubiquitous connectivity in the NYC subway system.

On Friday, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo and Tom Prendergast, Chairman of the MTA, announced plans to accelerate the rollout of TransitWireless to all 278 underground subway stations so that all of them have wifi by the end of 2016.

They also announced the addition of USB charging ports on subways cars with 200 getting them this year and another 400 getting them next year. And they also announced plans to replace the MetroCard system with a mobile payments system that uses smartphones and smartcards.

It is great that the MTA is finally getting serious about joining the 21st century. If you live in other parts of the world or the US, or if you are a New Yorker who travels a lot and uses public transportation (like me), you know that none of this is particularly cutting edge. Many transit systems around the world have had this technology for years.

I would like to applaud Governor Cuomo’s focus on infrastructure in the past year. The investments in LaGuardia, Penn/Moynihan Station, the new rail tunnel under the Hudson, the local regional rail systems, and now, the subways, are all critical investments that NYC has needed to make, but has not made, in this century.

But if we can go back to wifi in the subways for a minute, I am pretty disappointed that we are not being more aggressive with the wifi rollout. Why stop at the subway stations? Why not put wifi in all of the tunnels throughout the city. When you ride the subways, you spend more time in the tunnels than the stations. If we want our kids to be able to do their homework and their reading (and their coding) on the way home and the way to school, wiring the stations will not be enough. We need to wire up the entire system.

And the TransitWireless system is too hard to log into all of the time. It should be wide open wifi that all phones can connect to immediately without having to log in. I never use TransitWireless because it’s a pain in the rear to log into and by the time you log in, the train has arrived and you are on your way. Why do these companies who build out supposedly free wifi systems always make them so damn hard to access. If its free, make it wide open and easy to use.

Finally, while I’m on a rant, why don’t we have a single SSID, NYCWIFI, that all of these free and open systems use. So once I connect in one place, I will automatically connect in every place. Then local shops and restaurants could also use that SSID and we’d slowly but surely build a single massive open and free wifi network around NYC.

So, while I am pleased about the accelerated rollout of TransitWireless and the other big infrastructure investments that the Governor is pushing, I don’t think we are thinking nearly big enough yet. Internet connectivity is a requirement to do business, to learn, and to stay connected to friends and family. We need way more of it in NYC and we aren’t getting it fast enough.