Originally posted here.
The New York Tech Meetup is holding an election to choose two board members for its newly formed nonprofit organization. I am running for one of these seats. My platform is below, and focuses on the some of the critical things the NYTM can influence to make NYC a more technology-friendly place to be.
Before we get started, I should note that I refer many times in this post to things like the “NY tech community” or something similar. What I am referring to is an amorphous and ill-defined group of people who, in some way, are interested in or involved in the development of new technology in NYC. There is a lengthy and ongoing discussion about the proper definition of this group, which I won’t address beyond this point, aside from saying that the NYTM is in a position to help address this ambiguity in the future.
With over 16,000 members, the NY Tech Meetup has been the de facto hub for people building new technology in NYC. Founded by Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman in 2004, the monthly event has been selling out increasingly large venues for over six years running. Outside of the NY Tech Meetup, no other group is better poised to represent the tech community’s interests as a collective group.
Roadblock #1: Awareness
Why the hell didn’t I know about this until now?
That was the first question that popped into my head when I walked into my first NY Tech Meetup nearly four years ago. If you live in NYC and are involved in some way with developing new technology, odds are you’ve asked yourself the same question at least a few times.
NYC, in case you didn’t know, is the greatest city in the world. When it comes to tech, however, the common perception is that NYC isn’t the best place to be. ITAC, in 2007, released a report entitled “Buried Treasure: New York’s Hidden Technology Sector,” (PDF) and three years later, the headline still largely holds true, despite the city’s expansive and growing array of people, organizations, departments, services, mentors, investors, and more.
The result is that too many people who might have started their businesses in NYC are doing so elsewhere. That sucks for them, and for us.
The NYTM has been growing, along with Meetup, into increasingly diverse and mainstream markets. The event has attracted tons of press and word of mouth, and as such is the first entry point into NY’s tech scene. As it grows, the NYTM will be crucial in shaping public perception.
To this end, I’d like to see the NYTM focus on efforts to increase the visibility of all the great things happening in NYC that the general public might not be aware of. This means outreach to media, universities, and other local and national organizations, something its already begun to do and should continue to do in a more deliberate capacity.
When something important happens in the tech scene, somebody should be making sure that the people and the press know about it. The NYTM has both resources and connections to do this more effectively than anyone.
Roadblock #2: Internal Connections
The room for improvement on visibility isn’t just external; it’s internal as well. Within the loosely-defined NY tech scene, there are dozens of events, bloggers, city departments, workspaces, and communities just waiting to help people develop their kickass new technologies.
One of NYC’s advantages (being big) is also a weakness. Two amazing groups, whose members should be talking to each other, could be meeting in adjacent buildings at the same time and have no idea the other exists.
It is here that the NYTM is also in a position to help. As a central gathering point for people from a wide variety of backgrounds, the NYTM can raise awareness about what else is out there.
This is a wise direction to go, as the NYTM’s monthly event can only grow so large. At 850 seats per month, the event still sells out almost immediately, with a black market threatening to form around selling extra tickets.
The solution to this isn’t necessarily to get a bigger venue. As it is, some people regard the current NYTM as something too big to be considered a single cohesive community unto itself, so plans for growth should take this into account.
Instead, the NYTM can channel this huge level of interest into other events that are produced by either the NYTM itself or by others in the community. It has already started, with an exciting and successful program for college students. These sorts of efforts should be encouraged and expanded, giving more other groups and resources the chance to get in front of the masses.
Hey, this is an election right? I’m supposed to promote myself, I think.
Roadblock #3: Advocacy
Simply put: no organization is better poised to represent the collective interests of the NY tech community than the NYTM.
As a sector of increasing importance to both the city and state of New York, and to the country, NY’s tech sector increasingly needs representation on larger stages. As a 501(C)(6), the NY Tech Meetup’s nonprofit organization will have the ability to lobby members of government. There’s huge potential for this to be useful in shaping local and national government policy, starting with an obvious target: the LLC publishing requirement in New York State.
Former Community Committee member Steve Masur wrote in 2008 about why that law is bad for people building new businesses in NY, as part of an early effort to raise public awareness about a law that’s overdue for a chance in Albany. Now, as a nonprofit with the legal right to lobby, the NYTM can take these concerns to officials and, just maybe, stand a chance of being heard.
This is just a starting point, and government is only one part of the picture. This is an organization that can hire people to work in our collective interests full time, and independent from the restrictions of a more bureaucracy-laden government organization. As such, the NYTM will be able to focus on enacting change that no one else would have the time or resources to tackle.
This is a huge part of what the NYTM must now focus on. Nobody else can represent the people of this community in this capacity.
All of this should be considered with the proper perspective. These are first world problems of the first order, and should be viewed as positive opportunities to make good things better. We’re not curing cancer, or world hunger, or ending war, but as one of the most diverse, driven, versatile, and ambitious cities in the world, we are in a position to build things that no other city’s residents ever could—and who knows, perhaps the things we build together might make a dent in the fight against hunger, cancer, or for world peace.
I just cited world peace, which means it’s time for me to quit my grandstanding. There are a lot of great people running alongside me for board seats of the NY Tech Meetup, enough that I’m confident whoever gets elected will do good things for the NYTM and for all of us.
I’m not going to ask for you to vote for me, but if I do ask for you to do something, please participate. If you’re eligible, vote. If you’re not eyeballs deep working in your startup, maybe write up a little blog post with your thoughts on the future of the NYTM and NY Tech as we know it.
Either way, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. And I’ll keep planning the NYTM afterparty as long as the NYTM folks let me. If this community has voiced one thing in unison, it is that you can never have enough opportunities wear cheesy nametags and meet new people while drinking in a crowded bar.
Speaking of which, see you there?