Brooklyn Beta

Brooklyn Beta
Originally uploaded by Simon Collison.

Yesterday afternoon, I hopped onto the F Train and got off at Bergen Street, my old subway stop. It brought back memories. I love that area of Brooklyn. Court Street between Atlantic and the Gowanus is my favorite street in all of the five boroughs of NYC.

I strolled up Smith a half block to The Invisible Dog to attend an event called Brooklyn Beta. This is my kind of conference. There was one other VC in the room, Charlie O'Donnell, who makes it a practice to be everywhere something is interesting happening. The rest of the room was filled with designers, coders, and especially designers who code. That last group is a special breed and the heart and soul of many of our best companies.

It was a great group, in a cool space, talking about building web and mobile web services. I saw Kevin Cheng (@k) talk about product managing the creation of #newtwitter. I saw Marco Arment talk about building Instapaper on the side while he was CTO of our portfolio company Tumblr. And I saw a bunch of demos of beta services spliced in between the talks.


brooklyn beta

The kegs arrived, everyone got a beer, and then I gave a refreshed version of my Ten Golden Rules For Web Apps talk. And then I took questions for 20 minutes and then the pizza arrived.

This is the way to do a web conference. Fill the room with talented people who are actually building stuff and let everyone show and tell. I loved it. Nice job Brooklyn Beta team. I'll be back next year for sure.

It also bears saying that Brooklyn is the coolest part of NYC by a long shot. It is filled with super talented creative people who live and work in a dense urban environment that is still borderline affordable. I have great affection for Brooklyn and hope to see more companies starting up there in the coming years.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. David Semeria

    Hmm, I think someone’s going to have to change their password….

    1. fredwilson


      1. David Semeria

        Dunno, I thought you’d been hacked.

        1. paramendra

          Ha! Ha! Ha!

  2. Harry DeMott

    I was wondering if this was a highly self edited post!

    1. fredwilson

      just a work in progress. i used a shortcut to post from flickr. come back and read the entire post. it is live now.

  3. timothysykes

    nice post, i get back to NY in december, what are some of the hot new restaurants, especially in brooklyn?

    1. fredwilson

      if you like red meat, go here…

      1. timothysykes

        awesome thanks…we’ve become regulars at your pick of antico arco here in roma, friggin amazing, i’m so fat now i eat so well i dont even care

      2. Pcsanwald

        and if there is a long wait, buttermilk channel, which is just up the street, is excellent, particularly the lamb salad with roasted cauliflower and a hardboiled egg!

      1. timothysykes


        1. Wesley Verhoeve

          Right near Egg I would also recommend Diner and Dressler’s since you probably won’t be able to get into Egg unless it’s a week day morning.

      1. ShanaC


  4. ErikSchwartz

    People who can code are the core of any startup.A pet peeve of mine is product managers who can’t code at all. You don’t need to be able to write “good” code. It doesn’t need to be efficient and scalable code. It doesn’t need to ever be released. But you need to be able to express yourself in the vernacular, and the vernacular of a web start up is code.

    1. Jesse Middleton

      I couldn’t agree more, Erik. I may not be a coder but I consider myself to be a code hacker. I can write up some quick, dirty apps that can demonstrate what it is that I’m trying to do. Then I have enough knowledge to know where I need to stop and where I need to find a great developer to take it to a real product. I wish more people would do this as it leads for better business and better solutions.

    2. Joe Siewert

      Would this be a problem caused by the career path of a typical product manager? I’m guessing a product manager typically comes through a more business oriented track as opposed to starting off as a developer.

      1. ErikSchwartz

        No excuse.Buy a book, learn to program a bit. It’s not that hard to get minimally competent.It’s like saying you’re an executive chef, doing the menu planning, but you can’t even boil water.

        1. Wesley Verhoeve

          I agree with your overall notion. Which language would you recommend?

          1. ErikSchwartz

            Probably Python. But it doesn’t really matter much.

      2. nicw

        I don’t know about a typical product manager, but I’m a heavily technical product manager. I came up from the tech side, but realized that I’m way better at product management then when I was a dev.I can speak any language flavor you’d like – and I know that pays off everyday when I’m working with our dev teams. They feel more open about explaining why a particular feature is complicated to implement, instead of the usual “it’s complicated” answer that scares upper management.That being said, just because I have a technical background doesn’t mean devs get a break – I’m still going to ask for features or designs that I know are technically difficult. Working at a startup means being adaptable, which means new features or new directions on-the-fly.

  5. Cindy Gallop

    Out of curiosity, how many women were there in the room?

    1. giffc

      I was not at this event, Cindy, but to give some other data points: i recently gave two talks on customer development meets product design. One was for NYU undergrad and grad students, organized by Trevor Owens, and the other was a product design conference put on by Ty Ahmad-Taylor and Hard Candy Shell. In both cases it felt like somewhere between a third and half the room was made up of women. When i popped into the Warm Gun conference in SF a couple weeks ago, again there was a healthy amount of women in the room.

      1. Cindy Gallop

        Thanks so much – great to know re both those events.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      It will be interesting to see where this bean-counting trend ends. Right now, folks are asking about women in tech. And some of the folks asking come from fields that aren’t exactly paragons of diversity. What about racial or ethnic diversity? How many African American women or Latinas are there in tech — or in media, advertising, etc., for that matter?Tucked in to the recently-passed financial reform bill were diversity requirements. How soon until these are legislated for tech?

      1. Cindy Gallop

        Completely agree. Especially as a non-Caucasian, half Asian minority member myself (I’m Eurasian – mother’s Chinese), who is also championing the cause of women and minorities in advertising/media as well as tech, making myself generally unpopular all round 🙂 Dave, do email me at [email protected] – love to pool resources and discuss how we can both help make a bigger impact in this area.

        1. mrcai

          Wow! Eurasian. Abstract one more step and you’re an Earthling. Me too!

          1. Cindy Gallop

            Delighted to hear it! We half-breeds have to stick together 🙂

        2. Dave Pinsen

          I checked your site before I commented, so I was aware of your half-English, half-Chinese background (I am curious why you define yourself as “non-Caucasian” though. Aren’t you half-Caucasian if your father was English?). Asians aren’t under-represented in tech however, which is why I didn’t mention them in my comment above. My view is that no qualified applicant should be denied an opportunity based on his or her background or gender. And that happens to be the law too here, which is a good thing. Beyond that, I think we should let the chips fall where they may. “Championing” one group over another troubles me. It can lead to pressure on organizations to hire under-qualified applicants, and to discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants who won’t fulfill diversity requirements. It can also prod individuals to follow career paths for which they may not have the aptitudes, which doesn’t do them any favors.

          1. Cindy Gallop

            Dave – many thanks for responding here. To your first query, I use ‘Eurasian’ as the overall identifier for mixed-race people like me, versus ‘Caucasian’ as an overall identifier – strictly speaking you’re quite right, I could theoretically call myself ‘half-Caucasian’ although we start getting into rather lengthy descriptors then :)And agree with your overall point. However, ‘championing’ is needed when the playing field is not completely level, otherwise ‘letting the chips fall where they may’ and maintaining the status quo can mean the status quo staying the status quo for longer. As per the point I made in my response to Michael Arrington’s ‘women in tech’ post of some weeks back, here:…Curious as to what you mean about ‘prodding individuals to follow career paths for which they may not have the aptitudes, which doesn’t do them any favors’? It’s my experience that that can be a tendency of individuals as a whole, regardless of their gender or race – as employers I think we’ve all encountered a fair amount of people pursuing career paths they are not well-suited for, just as part of the human condition 🙂

          2. nakisnakis

            The status quo was never something that was very appealing to me. –Cathie Black (via _Got what it takes?_ by Bill Boggs)

          3. Adrian Bye

            very true, and we definitely don’t want to go back to the 1950’s. but we need to move past the current state too.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            “Non-Caucasian” seems like a negation of half of your background — conveniently enough, the half that doesn’t get to ask for “championing” (unless you’re a Caucasian woman, that is). And before you respond that Caucasian men are “privileged”, recall that 20% of working age American men (the majority of whom are Caucasian) are unemployed right now. The problem with trying to level playing fields is that efforts to make them level for one group tend to make them more unlevel for others. Yes, individuals from all backgrounds can make the mistake of pursuing paths for which they lack the necessary aptitudes. But there’s no good reason to encourage any of them to do that.

          5. CJ

            How do you assure equality when it doesn’t occur naturally?

          6. Dave Pinsen

            You start by overthrowing the capitalists and redistributing their wealth. Then you establish a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat…

          7. CJ

            and reestablish capitalism with new people at the top of the pyramid…

      2. Adrian Bye

        well said dave. i hope cindy is equally concerned about diversity in teaching elementary education

        1. Cindy Gallop

          Adrian – absolutely. As per my reply to Dave, do email me at [email protected] to discuss how you and I can also pool our resources to make an impact in this area together. We’ve been approached at by a number of teachers and schools networks from different parts of the country, who see tremendous applicability for our platform in schools with students. The whole area of education is something I feel very strongly about on a number of fronts, and I’m hoping we will be able to positively impact this area through our startup as well as through my personal efforts. Very much looking forward to hearing from you.

          1. Adrian Bye

            i appreciate the outreach. however i found this comment you made in an interview and it doesn’t seem to me like we’re on the same page:”I am a self-described feminist because I believe in championing women’s rights and women’s issues, and doing everything I possibly can personally to help make the world a better and more advantageous place for women. Note I don’t use the term ‘equal’ in there – we are so very, very far away from equality with men in so many respects that are not fully realized or acknowledged by either gender, that I find it hard to use that term casually.”http://womensrights.change….women deserve our respect and support. i believe equal rights goes both ways including things like:- reducing false rape reports against men- equal parental rights for dads in divorce- changing the way american society views adult males around children as being dangerous- the draft for women- equal healthcare spending for men and womenthe really enlightened feminists i’m coming across are the ones who are into this stuff as a way of getting better rights for women and they’re the ones i really support.

          2. Cindy Gallop

            Adrian – not sure I understand quite how you feel we differ? – but wholeheartedly support what you say. Especially as I had a relationship some years back with someone who had three kids and was engaged in a highly acrimonious divorce, which has made me feel very strongly about equal parental rights for fathers ever since.

          3. Adrian Bye

            i’m very happy to hear that.since there is a lot of content posted on the web about your views on rights for women, could you point to some where you are talking about equal rights which involve advantages for men?as i’m sure you know, some women use feminism as a way to simply gain advantage rather than seeking equal rights for people in general. i’m sure you’re not like that, which is why i’d love to see some links to your views on this subject.

          4. nakisnakis

            Adrian,Would recommend you read this article: “Mr. Mom–Why women won’t have it all, until men do, too” ->

          5. Adrian Bye

            i appreciate the link, and hopefully the intent behind it.however this kind of article is way off base. men don’t want to be women. we want to be men, masculine men. would any startup succeed that had 3% interest like that policy in sweden?here’s two examples of one example problem men are facing, i’d be interested in your opinion:….

          6. ShanaC

            What does being masculine mean to you?

    3. Cemre Güngör

      There were a lot of women in the room. I think one third of the audience.Check out the attendee list, although it isn’t complete:

  6. William Mougayar

    “Designers that code” A dying breed or emerging one?

    1. Joe Siewert

      Hopefully growing/emerging.In the startup world with tighter resources, I would think it would be beneficial to have a person talented in both areas. Though from an educational perspective, design and programming degrees don’t usually mix. Anyone know of any good ones? ITP at NYU comes to mind.

  7. Senith @ MBA tutor

    The challenge will to keep it this way as it grows in size/fame!

  8. kirklove

    Sounds like a great conference. (Edit: Whoops, saw you can register, sorry).Brooklyn is great to ride your bicycle too as well. Love cruising down the west side bike path (which is awesome) then over the Brooklyn bridge. Will never tire of that.

    1. fredwilson

      i like to ride through soho, into tribeca, and then over the bridge, through downtown brooklyn, up flatbush and into the park. sometimes i’ll do a few loops and head back. sometimes i’ll go out the south end and down ocean parkway to coney island. brooklyn biking FTW

      1. kirklove

        The Coney Island ride is a good one. Of course with a stop at Di Fara’s on the way back for a slice. That’s a must. Any time you need/want a riding partner let me know.

  9. Pcsanwald

    as an enthusiastic brooklynite and software engineer, I’m glad to see stuff like this going on my hood :), wish I had known about this ahead of time. there are several cool meetups in dumbo as well, like the tech breakfast on friday mornings.

  10. Jesse Middleton

    I find these types of events to be the most beneficial. I’ve been sharing with everyone that the best events that I’ve been to in NYC have been the Shake Shack event put on by Charlie (the man who can be at every great event, all the time) and this TechStars Drinks event this week.The Shake Shack event had something special — People mingling from all walks of life. No one there seemed to stand above the rest and everyone was willing to shake a hand, drink some wine and talk about amazing things happening in this city.The TechStars event was great because it was filled with people who are passionate about their projects in a way that only a crazy person should be. Most were super early stage — pre-prototype or even pre-concrete idea — but they were there, seeking advice, mingling and learning from others who had been in the same place in previous years.I can’t wait to get to the next event that really moves me. They’re some of the best things to do on a beautiful fall evening in New York.

    1. fredwilson

      charlie’s events will always be status blind, becuase that’s how he is

    2. anoop

      For those of us who are new the the NYC startup scene, is there a calendar of events like these posted / tracked anywhere? Thanks

      1. Jesse Middleton

        There are a number of places that you can find some of the great events going on but definitely sign up for Charlie’s list that goes out each Monday… It’s a great start.http://www.thisisgoingtobeb…I’ll poke around for some others but I’m in the process of working up a much more comprehensive calendar (community driven), some people lists and some other pieces of information about coming to NY.

  11. Nick Grossman

    It is nice to hear the warm words about this part of Brooklyn. I lived right there for the past 8 years before moving to Boston this spring. The Bergen St F stop has a very special place in my heart, and I always say that that part of boerum hill is the best place to live in NYC. I disagree in that I would take Smith Street over Court, but Court is nice too. Also, as someone who grew up in the neighborhood, it is remarkable to see how much Court Street has stayed the same (in terms of character and actual businesses) over the past 20 years, and how much Smith Street has changed.I was psyched to see Brooklyn Beta announced a few months ago. And there are countless other cool initiatives right around there, from the Brooklyn Brainery, to the Madagascar Institute, to NYCresistor, the Gowanus Art Room, and on and on and on. There are also some great places to work, especially in Gowanus, Red Hook, and DUMBO. We rented a few rooms at GreenDesk, a flex office space under the manhattan bridge, for a few months last year, and it was great.Every time I read a post like this I am sad to have left, though there are nice things abt Boston too – in particular all the interesting and talented people at the universities here. A colleague and I spent the day yesterday talking to engineers and professors at Emerson College and MIT. Great place to build communities around open source projects.A few folks from OpenPlans were at Brooklyn Beta (designer-developers, in fact), so I am looking fwd to getting the scoop from them on Monday.Wistfully,

  12. daryn

    Sounds like a fantastic conference – those are my type of folks too :)Designers who code, as well as entrepreneurial designers, are a tough breed to find. If any of you are reading this and want a more dev-heavy person to hack on ideas with: give me a shout!

  13. Jason


  14. Morgan Warstler


  15. ShanaC

    I think you need to champion the scaling down of conferences. My guess one of the reasons you like this- it’s small, intimate and less “conference” rather than “discussion”That, and who doesn’t love the slowly hottening of brooklyn. Still waiting for flatbush to gentrify in that same way…

  16. lushfun

    Wish I knew how to find out about events like this so I could attend. Just a wanterpreneur for the most part as of yet. Simply want to get out and see in person whats out there and how people think.

  17. Sean Coates

    Thank you for coming to BB and sharing your wisdom with us.It was an honour to have you at the conference.(Thanks for paying attention to our demo (-: )S

  18. paramendra

    This might only be tangential, but this is the fourth time I am going to claim a mind meld with you. You were thinking about a street, I was also. I took 200 plus pictures and posted it on Facebook: My first place to live in the city was also on the F train in Brooklyn, totally random call. Three floors of Estonians and one me. Why me? I asked my Jewish landlord. Because I like you, he said. Mine was closer to Prospect Park though: I have walked every inch of that park. I also think Brooklyn is the most residential of all boroughs. It is special. And I am not sure I ever liked the name Silicon Alley. I prefer Dumbo. Charlie’s events mailing list is really something. I am glad I am signed up. Makes for a swell Monday morning to skim through. The picture is great. Looks like a startup place. Just look at it. 🙂

  19. Graham Siener

    Just moved there this weekend and couldn’t agree more. I’ll be even happier when I get biking.I’m lucky to work with a great UX/Designer and it seems like all of his friends ask if he knows any good designers (this happens at least twice a day). Feels like NYC is starting to latch onto UX as its baby, the same way the Valley is so focused on technology making the startup.

  20. Jason Whitman

    Thanks for the great post Fred. I really miss that old neighborhood. Loved walking from my old office at 48 Wall over the bridge and into downtown Brooklyn to go home. A great commute.

  21. mbone3000

    This is awesome! Hope someone throws something together like this in Los Angeles.

  22. Jon Tan

    Hi Fred, it was great to meet you briefly as you arrived. It was refreshing to hear you talk about speed and URLs, and yours was the perfect talk to end the day on. Thanks for being there and making it such a great day for us.