Posts from NYC

Commercial Real Estate

With new Covid cases down 30% in the last two weeks and partially vaccinated people approaching 50%, NYC seems ready to start getting back to work.

I have been going to the office several days a week for the last two weeks and will be there again today. As my USV colleagues get fully vaccinated, they are joining me and our office is starting to fill up.

But our Flatiron neighborhood still feels empty and there is not one good restaurant open for lunch during the week.

As we head back to work, what will the new normal be?

That is a huge question looming over the commercial real estate sector in NYC and around the country.

According to this NYT piece from last week, the vacancy rate in commercial office space in NYC is almost 20% and that number is north of 15% across the largest cities in the US. And in the face of these historically high vacancy rates, more new office buildings are coming to market increasing the supply of space.

We have surveyed our portfolio companies and we understand that many will reopen their offices this summer and fall, but most will not expect their employees to be back in the office five days a week. Some will not expect their employees to be in the office at all.

I think this Jamie Dimon quote I read in the NYT piece is about right:

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest private-sector employer in New York City, wrote in a letter to shareholders this week that remote work would “significantly reduce our need for real estate.” For every 100 employees, he said, his bank “may need seats for only 60 on average.”

We used to have 10,000 square feet in our old office that we left last month. We moved into 6,000 square feet and it feels like plenty. I think many/most companies will feel that way too.

Many of our portfolio companies let their leases expire during the pandemic, as did we. And they are now thinking about what to do going forward. I have a few suggestions:

1/ Take something temporary for the next year or two. Figure out what the new normal is before entering into a long term lease. This is what USV did. We took a nine month sublet to allow us to figure things out.

2/ Shop around and be aggressive in your offers to sublet or lease space. Many landlords will not engage in your bottom fishing. But some will, particularly in the sublease market.

3/ Avoid expensive office buildouts and focus on spaces that are extremely flexible. We have invested in office and conference pods in our sublet to reduce the need for expensive office buildouts. And the Gotham Gal and I made an entire co-working space in Brooklyn with office pods.

4/ Figure out how to integrate remote workers into your office environment. We have been investing a lot more in our conference rooms/video setups. I even suggested that we put some webcams in our office so our remote colleagues could see who is in the office at any time. I am not sure we will do that. Some feel it is creepy. But I think it’s a good idea.

5/ Offer perks to encourage your employees to be in the office. We have been ordering in great food for everyone in the office the last few weeks and everyone seems to appreciate and enjoy that.

I think occupancy expense will be a smaller percentage of our portfolio companies’ P&Ls in the future and those savings can be invested in our teams instead. That feels like a great trade and one that will lead to better companies and happier employees. And that is a very good thing.

#Current Affairs#management#NYC

My New Metrocard

For years, one of my prized possessions has been my MTA EasyPayXpress Metrocard.

It’s a little worn down from a lot of use because it auto refills itself. It is a Metrocard that is connected to a “card on file” and it automatically refills itself so that it always has money on it and you never miss a train because your Metrocard has run out of funds. I’ve had one of these for something like twenty years. And yet many NYers don’t know that this product exists.

But last week, I realized that my Metrocard’s days are numbered. I walked into one of the subway stations I use the most and saw that the turnstiles now accept Google Pay and Apple Pay.

You just wave your phone and the turnstile lets you in.

This has been in the works for a while and I knew it was coming but seeing it in place and using it was great.

When we moved to NYC in the early 80s, we used metal tokens. Then we moved to Metrocards. And now we use our phones.

It is exciting to see NYC adopt technology in ways that makes life in the city a bit easier.

#NYC

Tech:NYC's Mayoral Forum

Tech:NYC is the industry association for NYC’s tech sector. I am the Chair of the organization. I am excited about Tech:NYC’s work to bring the ongoing NYC Mayoral race to the tech sector.

On Thursday, April 8th (tomorrow) at 4pmET, Tech:NYC will host a webinar with the top mayoral candidates that is open to all NYC tech employees. The candidates participating are Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang. The forum will be moderated by Josh Barro. The NYC Mayoral Forum is hosted by Tech:NYC and Warby Parker and is co-hosted by AT&T, Bowery Farming, Etsy, Harry’s, Via, WeWork, Zola, and more.

Tech:NYC did a poll of NYC tech employees earlier this year and it showed that the New Yorkers who work in tech largely care about the things that all New Yorkers care about. People are attracted to NYC because of its diversity, cultural institutions, subway, etc. – the things that make NYC NYC. And they care about their neighborhoods, schools, parks, quality of life, etc.

The poll also showed that lots of people in tech care about the mayoral race – 87% said they plan to vote in the primary.

So the NYC Mayoral Forum is a great way for tech employees to get engaged in a race that really matters to the future of our city as we look to recover from COVID. If you work in tech in NYC and want to attend the Mayoral Forum tomorrow, you can register here.

#NYC

Taxing Airbnb Stays In NYS and NYC

I guess the theme of this week is taxes. But today’s post is about something completely different. A Company wants to collect and remit taxes to NYS and NYC and lawmakers don’t want the money. I’ve written about this sad tale before but the story continues.

Back in February, NYS Governor Cuomo put a provision into the NYS budget that would allow/require Airbnb to collect NYS and NYC applicable taxes when Airbnb hosts collect revenues from their tenants.

If NYS and NYC were able to fully collect taxes on these Airbnb stays, it is estimated that a total of $130mm would be generated in new revenues; $75mm to NYC, $45mm to NYS, and about $10mm to various other counties in NYS.

Given that the NYS State Legislature wants to raise around $7bn in new tax revenues in this budget session, you would think tapping into this source of tax revenues would be a slam dunk.

But no. NYS legislators who are friends to the hotel industry and sworn enemies of Airbnb have pushed for the removal of this provision and it is likely to be out of the final budget.

It is time for everyone to grow up, recognize that Airbnb is never going away, treat them like the important service provider (to hosts and guests) that they are, and tax this process appropriately. I encourage NYS legislators to do that in this current session. The budget issues are too important to play silly politics anymore.

#NYC#policy#Politics

Stockton's Basic Income Experiment

I have been interested in the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI) since first hearing about it from my partner Albert years ago. I’ve mentioned it on and off here at AVC a bunch since then.

NYC will get its own UBI experiment if front-runner Andrew Yang is elected Mayor. Yang proposes to spend $1bn a year (out of an almost $90bn annual budget) providing $2k a year to 500k of NYC’s neediest citizens.

The theory of UBI is that giving people direct cash payments is more efficient and more effective than providing services to them via third parties. For example, if giving someone $2k a year keeps them in their apartment, the cost of operating homeless shelters and other housing for the homeless goes down. There are many more examples.

Skeptics of UBI point to the welfare system of the “Great Society” and other efforts to suggest that it won’t work and can’t work. They believe it will lead to idleness, drug use, gambling, and other societal ills.

So I read with interest of an experiment the city of Stockton CA did where they gave 125 randomly selected individuals making less than $46k a year a monthly stipend of $500.

The results are interesting. Researchers at the University of Tennessee and University of Pennsylvania concluded that this sample group saw many benefits including helping people get better jobs, better living situations, and better self worth. There was no evidence of increased drug use, gambling, joblessness, or any of the other concerns expressed by opponents of UBI.

I look forward to more experiments with UBI. One of the reasons that Andrew Yang’s candidacy for Mayor of NYC interests me is the opportunity to do a much larger experiment in a city that has a massive social infrastructure and lots of diversity. If UBI works in NYC, that will be very telling.

#NYC#policy

Return/Hybrid/Remote

With vaccinations topping 90mm doses in the US and upwards of 75mm doses likely to be injected into arms in the US in March, many companies are starting to think about what a return to the office might look like this summer and fall.

I read two great posts this weekend talking about what this all means for knowledge workers and the companies that employ them:

Imagine Your Flexible Office Work Future – Anne Helen Petersen

We’re Never Going Back – Packy McCormick

They both reference the writing of Dror Poleg on this topic so I will link to his blog as well.

What Anne and Packy are writing about is the future of our work spaces and whether our employers will require us to come back to the office full-time or will something else emerge.

Anne opens her post explaining that while the pandemic has proven that knowledge work does not need to be done in an office filled with all of our co-workers, what we have been doing in the last year is not what we will likely be doing in the future. As she observes, we have simply been working from our homes in the last year and that is not necessarily the future.

Packy asserts that employers don’t really have control over the decision of where we will all work going forward, employees do. The war for talent will determine where all of this lands.

Both are extremely thoughtful posts. I have been thinking about this topic for the better part of a year, for USV and for the 150 portfolio companies that we have invested in and advise. Anne and Packy’s thoughts line up pretty cleanly with mine. I think the change in venue for knowledge work is likely to be one of the biggest changes that we will see this decade.

Last summer, the Gotham Gal and I decided to make a co-working space where people living in the Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy neigborhoods in Brooklyn could work when they don’t want to go to the office but also don’t want to work from their kitchen or bedroom. We call it FrameWork and it will be opening next month. The tagline is “Your Home Office Away From Home.” We are very excited by the possibility that many more people will work most of the time in the neighborhoods that they live in and commutes will be an occasional thing versus an everyday thing. I think the quality of life improvements and the quality of neighborhood improvements that will emerge from this will be dramatic.

FrameWork is just an example of the many ways that knowledge workers will choose to work going forward. I expect the innovation around work spaces will be fast and furious once we can actually start working somewhere other than our home. And I expect that to start to happen in the second quarter of this year as I explained in my Jan 1st 2021 blog post.

So if you are an employer, what do you do? This suggestion by Packy is interesting:

instead of mandating a certain number of days in-office, companies should view employees as customers who they need to convince to come in with a great product:

Re-design the office to facilitate things that employees can’t do at home: whiteboard rooms, podcast and video recording studios, screening rooms, maker tools, etc… 

Take less space on more flexible terms in order to adapt and evolve as employees’ needs do.

Make the office feel more like a social club, with more focus on spaces for employees to share meals, have spontaneous conversations, and take in work-related programming. 

Hire hospitality and flexible operators to help them figure it out. Alma does hybrid work/social well, so Carlström set up Another Structure to bring that expertise to companies that want to build the right spaces for this new world. 

Infuse the space with technology to facilitate communication and collaboration with remote employees. 

https://www.notboring.co/p/were-never-going-back

But it is this observation by Anne that I think is maybe the most powerful of all:

The idea of “boundaries” has become so porous when it comes to cultivating work/life balance that it’s lost all meaning. People don’t respect boundaries. You don’t respect them. Even when the pandemic is over, it’s going to be very, very difficult to try to rebuild them. What we actually need are guardrails, big and sturdy ones, to protect us from the runaway semi-truck of work.

In our current framework, boundaries are the individual’s responsibility, and when they’re broken, it’s because the individual failed to protect them. But guardrails? They’re there to protect everyone, and they’re maintained by the state, aka your company. There are a lot of ways to actually build guardrails around employee’s lives, and we discuss them at length in the book. But the larger shift has to be away from all of this worthless “personally-maintained boundaries” bullshit.

https://annehelen.substack.com/p/imagine-your-flexible-office-work

As Anne correctly points out, working from home has meant working non-stop for many of us. I am guilty of this and I feel it after a year of working this way. Employers will need to figure out how to constrain work hours for their employees because it turns out we can’t do that for ourselves. Office hours (9 to 5) did that for us. What will be the new office hours? We will need to figure that out.

We have the possibility to fundamentally change the way knowledge work is done and how we who do it experience it. The opportunities around this are almost endless and I am personally very excited by it.

#employment#entrepreneurship#NYC

Funding Friday: The NYC Mayoral Race

In less than four months, the Democratic Primary will effectively choose the next mayor of NYC. For those of us who live here, this will be a very important choice. Though the race is partially funded by NYC through matching of small donations below $250, the candidates need more funds to get out their message, connect with voters, and help us make the best choice we can.

If there are candidates you like and want to support, here are some links to the donation pages of the most popular candidates. The Gotham Gal and I have financially supported most of these campaigns.

Andrew Yang

Maya Wiley

Eric Adams

Kathryn Garcia

Shaun Donovan

Ray McGuire

Scott Stringer

Dianne Morales

If you live in NYC and have the means to support the political process, I encourage you to do so and get behind some of these candidates.

#NYC#Politics

Funding Friday: Hex & Co

I am really into the NYC coming back stronger than ever theme and want to support efforts to make that happen.

Today, I backed a project on Kickstarter to support NYC’s largest “board game cafe” called Hex & Co to move into a larger space a few blocks away.

Doing something like this in the midst of lockdowns and social distancing is a bold and optimistic move and I support it wholeheartedly. If you agree, you can support it here.

#crowdfunding#NYC

Funding Fridays: Agi's

This project has a bunch of things that interest/excite me:

1/ Entrepreneurs committing to building new things in NYC during the pandemic

2/ Young chefs going out on their own

3/ Brooklyn

4/ Jelly donuts

I backed this project just now and took the jelly donuts reward because how could I resist?

The video is great and the project has one more day and is about 10% away from its goal. Check it out. You might like to back it too.

#crowdfunding#NYC

The NYC Fintech Innovation Lab

The NYC Fintech Innovation Lab is a program which accepts fintech entrepreneurs to develop their businesses with the assistance of senior execs at the leading NYC banks and insurance companies.

The key priorities of the CTOs and CIOs of the Lab’s partner organizations include:   cloud, cyber-tech, data, digital engagement, enterprise IT and sustainability.

If you are building a fintech company and are focused on one or more of these areas, you should consider applying.

Applications are due on December 1st. You can apply here.

The Lab will be hosting a virtual info session for interested applicants on November 10, featuring a panel discussion with alumni and financial institution partners.

#entrepreneurship#NYC