This post has been a long time coming, but with today’s latest twitter conversation, I thought I’d share my thoughts on Boston’s Innovation District(@IDBoston) and more importantly, why we just moved here from Cambridge.
First the news: Buzzient just signed a lease for 5000 sq. ft. on Farnsworth Street. We’ve taken over the entire 4th Floor below Skyhook Wireless. Not only are we psyched to be a subtenant of such a cool company (Thanks, Skyhook!), but we’re really happy to be in the Innovation District. I’ll enumerate:
1. Pattern Recognition: As a native of the Bay Area, this has EXACTLY the same feel as South of Market (SOMA) just prior to the internet bubble. In my opinion, it’s better than that, as there are already a number of great places to eat(Menton anyone? ;o)) and entertain in IDBoston. Back in the day in SOMA, you only had a few choices, and most of those were quite, let’s say “authentic”. The infrastructure is in place, the timing is right, and the price is nice. Just like SOMA right before the boom. What was once a wasteland in SOMA now has companies such as Salesforce.com, Organic, Twitter, Zynga, Rapleaf, CNET, and tons of others. IDBoston has the same “bones” as SOMA, and IMHO, the same opportunity. From the Ferry building to Potrero Hill and the REAL Dogpatch/India Basin, the SOMA area is more like IDBoston than it is different.
2. Geography is destiny: Proximity to downtown financial district, airport, south station, bus lines, 93 and the Pike mean that this is a natural concentration point. To use a military analogy, think of this as Gettysburg or Bastogne for geeks. All the roads converge here, so there’s an opportunity to concentrate forces quite easily. From my office, I can walk 100 yards to the Silverline and be through security at Virgin America to SFO within 30 minutes. I can likewise use one of the ubiquitous parking lots and drive to Waltham in the same time or less,without having to cut through the character-laden cobblestone streets of Cambridge. It also means that customers and partners in established companies who drive to/from work can visit my company easily.
3. Customer access: Boston has a handful of world class industries where startups can get traction. One of them is financial services, especially buy side/asset management. The proliferation of “suits” nearby means that not only are we surrounded by other startups in IDBoston, but horror of horrors, potential customers. So, as opposed to operating in the echo chamber that is Cambridge, of “startups talking only to other startups”, in IDBoston you can develop ongoing relationships with people who might actually buy something. Go figure. I have meetings now with Fortune 1000 prospects who I can walk to within 10 minutes. There are restaurants here which cater to business meetings, and multiple hotels and a convention center where prospects converge who can walk a few minutes to visit Buzzient.
4. Cost: We’re paying 1/2 to 1/3 of what we’d be paying in Cambridge for much better space. Honestly, the space we’ve got is the best I’ve seen in the Boston market after several years of looking, and is the cheapest.
5. Ability to recruit other people: Contrary to what some might believe, there are a number of schools that you might want to recruit from in addition to MIT. With 25% of MIT’s graduating classes going into finance anyway, any startup with serious growth ambitions needs to tap into other talent pools. By virtue of being in IDBoston, we’re able to recruit from not only MIT, but also UMass Boston, WPI (those people who drive in on the Pike and use the evil parking lots), Northeastern, Wentworth, and other institutions. A bigger tent and a more diverse talent pool adds up to better companies in my experience. We can also enable students to work PT/FT while still in school, since we’re so accessible via car/MBTA.
6. Political Backing: The involvement of the Mayor and the Innovation District team is a key reason why we’re here. For a guy who regularly gets calls from the west coast as to why I’m “still wasting my time in Boston”, a key reason we stayed was the level of involvement of Mayor Menino and this team. Mayor Menino has actually been down here, shaking hands and encouraging development.
So, all in all, moving to IDBoston was not only a no-brainer, but was the BEST choice for our company. If we were a university spinout that required an MIT professor to have ongoing access across the street, this wouldn’t be the place, so different courses for different horses. We’ve made our bet though, and it’s on IDBoston.