Thursday, August 9, 2007

Demo Day at Y Combinator

I'd heard lots of great things about Y Combinator, a seed funding firm that operates a kind of summer camp for start-ups. And their Cambridge office is right down the street from me, near Huron Village. (Here's a Newsweek story and a USA Today piece about them.)

Today was their "demo day," when the start-ups they help cultivate show off what they've built. Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston was kind enough to extend an invitation, though some of the event was off-the-record. (Jessica is the author of 'Founders at Work,' a really wonderful collection of entrepreneur interviews.)

So this was my first chance to see what Y Combinator actually does.

The good news first.

The audience was amazing: VCs from Matrix, General Catalyst, Atlas Venture, North Bridge, Fidelity Ventures, and Venrock. VC bloggers Fred Wilson and David Hornik. Execs from Microsoft and Google. Avid Technology founder Bill Warner was in the front row.

The start-ups were equally amazing: nineteen of them, all with working demos, all with really great presentation skills. Many of the demos were funny; Fauxto's demo involved turning Steve Ballmer's eyes green, and superimposing the Google logo on his forehead. Dropbox, which hasn't yet launched, made subtle and snarky references to dot-com flame-outs from the late 1990s (like GovWorks,, and Kozmo) during its demo of an online storage service.

Now the bad news... several of the enterpreneurs I talked to who have connections to the Boston area are planning to move their companies out west. The Y Combinator network is perceived to be stronger out in the Valley (the firm does a winter program in Mountain View). The VCs more adventurous. The partnership opportunities more plentiful. The potential for generating buzz better.

Is it hopeless to think about trying to change some of these dynamics?

(Here's Don Dodge's post about the event.)

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Blogger Mike Feinstein said...

There is no doubt that innovation, even in the Web space, is strong in the Boston area. But, until VCs start taking chances on untried entrepreneurs who have interesting ideas, those entrepreneurs will continue to move out West. There aren't enough experienced business people in the Web space in Boston for every start-up to be run by a 'been there, done that' CEO. We're going to have to create some new ones.

August 9, 2007 9:02 PM  
Blogger Todd Cronin said...

Is this the continuation of the Tupac Biggie, East Coast West Coast feud?

August 10, 2007 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Don Dodge said...

It is time for Boston VCs to step up and make the investments. There is plenty of talent, technology, money, and infrastructure here.

Napster started here (Northeatern) and so did AltaVista. I was on the management team of both companies, but I joined them in California where I was already living at the time. They moved from Boston for the same reasons. It didn't need to happen.

Lycos and are examples of web success stories in Boston. There should be more.

Y Combinator is setting a good example. The VCs need to support these companies and keep them here.

Don Dodge

August 10, 2007 1:02 PM  
Blogger Jay Meattle said...

Scott, a few of us are working on bringing TechCocktail ( to Boston. If you’re in the area on 6th September, you should drop by!

August 10, 2007 1:52 PM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...

Jay - sounds good. I'll stop by.

August 10, 2007 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Ben Yoskovitz said...

Having just visited the Valley for a host of investor, client and partner meetings I can completely understand companies looking to re-locate.

We have much of the same problem in Montreal with building out a strong entrepreneurial community. I don't think you can mimic the Valley completely, but certainly we're all trying to move in that direction.

August 10, 2007 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Dharmesh Shah said...

I totally agree with Don.

East-coast investors (VCs and angels alike) need to "step up" and fund the next generation of web entrepreneurs.

There's no reason why a vibrant early-stage ecosystem for internet entrepreneurs cannot be built here.

August 10, 2007 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple years ago Me and my partners were in that same boat of looking for investors out of the Boston VC market and got alot of cold shoulders. We had a great product with sales, and got no positive reaction cause we had never done it before. The west coast treated us so much better.

August 10, 2007 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Mike B said...

Sad thing about the Boston Angels organizations all think and act like VCs. They use to be the ones that would take the chances on new firms. I find them tougher than VC firms to deal with. Especially Common Angels...

August 10, 2007 11:53 PM  

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