Friday, November 16, 2012

Big Decisions: First Thoughts on NYC

As some of you likely know, I've finally finished my travels, landed in New York, and begun the final step in my transition to whatever's next. I've been in New York for the last week, and I feel like I've gotten a good early impression about the tech scene here, life in NYC as a young adult, and what it would mean to be back "home". So here goes, my first thoughts on the big apple, the closest thing I have to a home, New York City.

The Tech Scene: Not Silicon Valley

Over the last week, I've spoken to lots of people who are somehow related to the tech scene here, whether they were in venture capital, a startup, or a larger company like my old employer. The obvious thing to say is that the scene is much younger and smaller than the Valley, though it's growing super fast. The more interesting observation I've made is about what sort of problems NY techies tackle as opposed to those in Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley, the problems people think of seem, to me anyway, to be a product of Silicon Valley's industrial insularity. If you've ever been to the Valley, you know how isolated it can feel; everyone is in tech, and everyone talks about tech pretty much all the time. In New York, there is a much wider range of industries to draw from, and you see that in the types of startups that emerge. In fact, the number of startups you find in different fields pretty closely mirrors the size of the industries in New York; 75% of the companies I've seen fall into one of three categories: (1) advertising, (2) curated and subscription e-commerce, (3) and social and news aggregation, plus pockets of fashion-, art-, health-, and education-based startups. What this means for me is that it's tougher than in Nairobi to find something that I feel like is disruptive and making a positive social impact. There may be the same number of companies that satisfy that requirement in the two places, but here it's much more of a needle in a haystack problem.

Being Young and Unattached in NYC

Maybe it's the fact that just about as soon as I got here, a close friend took off for Brazil and left me  his beautiful apartment in the West Village, but I've really been enjoying life here. (The fact that I don't have any job or any work to do might play into this as well, though I feel like that's at least partially offset by the lack of an income.) New York is full of young, motivated, hungry people (in the "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." sense). There's also a seemingly unlimited number of cool cafes, bars, restaurants, and other cozy nooks to hang out in. I've rarely felt so spontaneously happy just walking down the street peering into the fun shops or drinking a cup of tea at a cozy cafe. On the other hand, New York is expensive. There's no way I'd be able to afford living in a place like the one my friend lent me or that I'd be able to sustain the lifestyle I have now. But I think that would be okay. Just to have all of this at my fingertips, however often or rarely I would get to indulge in it, is pretty spectacular.

Being "Home"

This whole concept of being home has been pretty weird to me. It's been a long time since I've arrived in a place and not had to start everything from scratch. For a change, I actually know people here. I have family here. I know how to get around without constantly getting lost here. What a strange feeling it is! And how strange for that to be strange for me. It's been really nice to be home, and yet, quite a transition too. So many people to see, so many old friends and family to reconnect with, and at the same time, so many new and interesting people to meet. In some sense, I feel torn between different versions of myself: the NY-based Ben and Traveler Ben. It's all a little jarring right now, but I'm sure the conflicts will resolve over time. I'll keep you posted on just how it all works out. Until then...

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