I’m In Cambridge, Not Boston

Over the last three weeks I’ve had numerous people ask me how my trip to Boston has been going. For a while I corrected them and said “I’m mostly in Cambridge” but gave up. Tonight, after hanging out at the TechStars Boston Mentor evening and program kickoff, I got into a long discussion with a Bill Warner and Ken Zolot about Cambridge, Boston, and startup communities. At some point in the conversation I blurted out “I have no idea why we call this program TechStars Boston instead of TechStars Cambridge.” And then something that I thought was important dawned on me.

My entire entrepreneurial view of “Boston” is centered around Cambridge. I’ve been here for two of the last three weeks (I spent four days in New York). I’m staying in a hotel in Kendall Square across from Google and next to MIT. I’ve spent my days walking to meetings at MIT, Kendall Square, Tech Square, Central Square, and East Cambridge including what I refer to as “the old Lotus building”. I’ve had all of my meals in Kendall Square or Central Square. Other than running, I’ve only been physically in Boston four times – first when I arrived at the airport, then when I took the train to New York, then when I returned on the train from New York, and finally when I spent the morning at Fidelity’s FCAT offices at Summer Street.

Now, I know there is plenty of startup activity in Boston. My old neighborhood near Fort Point Channel (I used to live on Sleeper Street in a condo at Dockside Place) is bustling with startup activity. There’s plenty of stuff on 128 and 495. There’s are other entrepreneurs tucked around the city. But that’s not the interesting story, at least in my mind.

The few square miles in Cambridge around MIT is the white hot center of startup activity in the region. One of my basic principles of startup communities is the need for what I call entrepreneurial population density (EPD) which I calculate as the total number of entrepreneurs and employees of entrepreneurial companies divided by the total number of all employees in a region. Then an even more powerful metric is entrepreneurial density, which is EPD / size of region. A large EPD in a small physical region wins.

Part of the magic of Boulder is the entrepreneurial density of the place. And as I wander from meeting to meeting in Cambridge, running into people on the street who I know, or who I met with the day before, or I who I want to know, reminds me of the dynamic in Boulder. For example, I ran into Matt Cutler on my way to Rich Levandov’s office and we walked over together. I bumped into the StartLabs organizers when going to a meeting with Will Crawford. I saw Joe Chung while hanging around StartLabs. I saw 50+ mentors who I knew last night at TechStars and expect to see more today when I’m there. While having breakfast with Michael Schrage at the Cambridge Marriott Joost Bonsen came over and said hello. At Dogpatch meeting with Yesware I saw Dave Greenstein and gave him a hug for his new kid. And the list of moments like this, which happened with 10 square blocks, go on and on. But when I hop on the red line and travel to South Station, the magic disperses.

I remember when the Boston VC community moved from downtown Boston to Waltham. I understood it was an effort to create a “Sand Hill Road” like venture community but the big miss was that an MIT student couldn’t hop on a bike and ride to Waltham like a Stanford student could with Sand Hill Road. And it’s no surprise that downtown Palo Alto, which is even closer to Stanford, is an attractive place for VCs to hang out. The snarky message when the VCs moved to Waltham was that they wanted to be close to their fancy houses and their private golf clubs and the entrepreneurs could come to them. It’s no surprise that many of these firms have relocated to Cambridge, recognizing that they should be in the middle of the entrepreneurial energy.

I’d suggest to the Cambridge and Boston startup communities that they should think of themselves as two separate but related communities. Even within Boston, it seems like there are different startup communities in downtown, 125, and even 495. I think that thinking of it “Boston” is a mistake.

In my world view, the entrepreneurs drive the startup community. Focus on entrepreneurial population density and entrepreneurial density – and make sure your geographic region is small. Over time, linking the critical mass together in a larger region (e.g. Silicon Valley or Boston) is fine, but the real power comes from the startup communities with the largest EPD in small physical regions which are big enough to have critical mass.

  • http://techstars.org DavidCohen

    interesting (yes, i’m still awake in boulder – yeesh). we debated early on and got full agreement on calling it “Boston” instead of “Cambridge” in the context of TechStars. it was very deliberate and, it seemed, a unanimous decision from everyone involved. It made me think of “Denver/Boulder” vs “Boston/Cambridge” – and they’re totally different animals. People in Cambridge think of themselves as Bostonians and have a pride about it. Boulder/Denver folks barely talk, in many cases. And when they do, it’s not often the same language.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Maybe, but I know a lot of people in Cambridge who think of themselves not as Bostonians. And there’s definitely an undercurrent in the startup community about “Cambridge” rather than “Boston”. There’s a similar (I have no idea if it’s equal) undercurrent about “Boston”, but I even remember it from when I lived her 20 years ago. And then, once you get out to the suburbs, it amplifies even more.

      Lots has changed her in the four years since we ran the first TechStars Boston program. It’s fascinating, and awesome.

      Now, go to sleep.

      • Anonymous

        As a midwest transplant, I don’t think of myself as a Bostonian. I tell everyone that asks that I live and work in Cambridge. Even now as we work out of the Harvard iLab across the Charles (just barely), I don’t get into the Boston / Cambridge distinction. 

        When folks come to visit, we mostly stay in Cambridge. Shopping in Porter Square / Cambridgeside Galleria, eating in Harvard / Davis / Central Squares. We occasionally do some touristy stuff in Boston, but even on the weekends we’d rather go up to the mountains or down to Newport to get away. 

        There are a growing number of startups in the leather district and, of course, near Seaport, but it’s surprising how little interaction there is between Boston / Cambridge located startups at times (sans social events). 

    • PDA

      well, Boulder is 30 miles away from Denver! Cambridge is on the other side of the Charles. and I have never met anyone from Cambridge who called themselves a Bostonian. but demonyms don’t really pop up town: Cantabridgian and Somervillain are only used ironically, like “Bay Stater.”

      Also? 128 and 495 don’t come anywhere NEAR Boston. Jussayin.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=20801613 Jay Levitt

      Gotta disagree; I’ve lived in Boston (downtown and Fenway) and when I moved to Central Square, the difference was palpable. Vibe-wise, Boston feels like Red Sox, sports bars, Whitey and Fidelity. Cambridge feels like MIT, whimsical murals, bike lanes and the web. Cambridge is to Boston as the old East Village is to Brooklyn. 

      Hopefully all you startups in the Leather District and the Innovation District can change that, but it’ll be an uphill battle.

  • http://twitter.com/haleyjason Jason Haley

    One small problem when telling people you are in Cambridge – you might have to specify MA versus UK – when you say Boston it is clear your in MA.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – I’ve always had that run through my head. I think that may be part of the reason people refer to it as “Boston” rather than “Cambridge, MA”. Or maybe we should call it 02139.

  • John Mueller

    In regards to the ential community density (which you have been focusing on for several years, but I have yet to chime in on the discussion), how much of that is built around a community where the people sleep / live in the same place they have their office / colleagues?

    I would think that living where one works is a big driver for an ential community. For example, if you are living in LA and are driving 2 hours to get to work, stuck on a highway, your ential community is none existence (your equation, depending on the denominator calculation — the size of the region). Whereas, in Boulder, many ents live in Boulder (they like to have that address on their home and company mantle — until they realize that Louisville and Longmont are cool as well). You allude to this when you are talking about VCs moving out of the community.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I think this matters some, but a lot of people in the Boulder entrepreneur community don’t live in Boulder – they live in the surrounding suburbs like Louisville and Broomfield and Superior. I don’t live in the downtown Boulder – for example – my house is in Eldorado Springs (about 10 miles away). But everyone converges on Boulder during the day.

  • http://twitter.com/dgthistle David Greenstein

    Nice seeing you Brad! I can always count on you to keep it real… this time it was something like, “must feel good to have 18 years of responsibility ahead of you.” :-) Off to my commute into work from my home in the suburb of Cambridge, aka Boston.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Hah! Yes – well – there’s that. Enjoy the commute.

  • DaveJ

    There is a relative specificity issue; if you are in, say, Los Angeles, the Boston/Cambridge or Denver/Boulder distinction may seem odd. It makes a lot of sense when you’re in the metro area. But I like the specificity for exactly the reason you describe – entrepreneurial density.  I also don’t think the Cambridge UK error is one many people will make, and in any case there is also a Boston UK and a Boulder Utah.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup – I think the relative specificity issue is an important one. For example, when people talk about “Silicon Valley” but don’t know it well, they are often conflating a whole bunch of different things and likely drawing the wrong conclusions about what is going on as a result of not really understanding the local geographic.

  • http://twitter.com/jrkelly jrkelly

    Seaport area becoming a hub for industrial biotech & cleantech companies – and MIT students can get here easily. The web scene is definitely in Cambridge though.  I like the different flavors, it’s nice not to overhear ‘gamification’ or ‘check-ins’ when we’re grabbing lunch at Yankee Lobster out here ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/yesware Yesware

    We’ve had our offices in Boston (@Bocoup on Congress and A) and in Cambridge (@dogpatch:twitter). Both areas are full of startups, great restaurants (Sportello, Menton and Clover Truck, Hungry Mother respectively). Both are connected by the Red Line. Both have surprisingly good parking and relatively inexpensive rent. I’d suggest that the best way to create Enterpreneurial Population Density isn’t to cluster in one area or another, but to have more startups in both. If you are in Waltham, however, I can’t help you.  

  • http://www.openviewpartners.com Scott Maxwell

    Brad,  We used to be located in Cambridge and move to Congress Street in the Fort Point Channel (a.k.a., Innovation District) 5 years ago.  I have been amazed by the development of the start-up community in both geographies.  We are banking on the continued build out of the Innovation district and believe that their will be a day when you are talking about this area being the white hot center.

    Btw, perhaps it should be called “New England Tech Stars” like the Patriots have done…

    Scott Maxwell
    OpenView Venture Partners

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Isn’t Massachusetts the capitol of New England? That’s what I thought when I lived in Dallas before I came to school here.

      I look forward to a day where 15 Sleeper Street is the hottest address in town. Then I’ll really regret not owning the condo I used to live in between 1990 and 1993.

      What hotel should I stay in the next time I come here and want to plop down right in the middle of the Boston Innovation Center?

      • http://twitter.com/velospeed j. alain ferry

        The Intercontinental is right between the Seaport (home to MassChallenge) and the Leather District (home to lots of startups & NextView.)

        http://www.intercontinentalboston.com/

  • http://www.goby.com Mark W (ceo at goby.com)

    In the end, I am not sure the Boston/Cambridge distinction really matters that much. There are strong ties between investors, mentors and entrepreneurs that cross the river easily and often. Many of the TechStars Boston mentors really are in Boston, not Cambridge, yet they add a lot of value. Rather than enhancing the gaps between the two, we really ought to be enhancing the relationship – otherwise we’ll continue to have a brain drain to other locations like New York and California.

    Next time you hop the Redline to South Station, wander one block over to South Street, where you’ll find goby, visible measures, mocospace, gemvara, boundless learning, Tashtego, TurningArt, and probably others I don’t know about, in a small 3 block neighborhood called the Leather District. Great spot. Boston startups are alive and well!

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Just to be clear, I’m not making the point that there should be “more” separation, rather than the separation should be acknowledged and that there are two powerful, yet distinct geographic clusters near each other. I used to live on Sleeper Street when there was only a Milk Bottle, bums, a computer museum, a McDonalds, and Thomson Financial back there. And the office of my first company was 155 Federal Street and I was in the leather district all the time (we had clients there and there was a pizza place we used to always eat at).

      It’s awesome to see how Boston’s startup community has really grown in the past few years. I think the density of the activity around Fort Point Channel and the Leather District (I guess it’s called the Boston Innovation District – http://www.innovationdistrict.org/) is awesome to see.

      • http://www.goby.com Mark W (ceo at goby.com)

        Don’t get us started on whether the Leather District is part of the Innovation District – that’s potentially as divisive as the current primary season 8). 

        Acknowledging there are gaps, while working to close them, sounds like the right answer to me. Public Transportation in Boston really is an advantage in that regard. I think nothing of hopping the red line for lunch with an entrepreneur in Cambridge; but if I worked in Sunnyvale, I’ve never meet up with my colleagues in San Francisco (or maybe even Palo Alto) – just consumes too much time! Your point about density is definitely relevant.

        • http://twitter.com/bcarcio Ben Carcio

          Mark, Love the bristle over Leather District vs. Innovation District, its what make us who we are. Like I mentioned above, we rib each other internally, but externally we are part of one movement. 

          • http://www.goby.com Mark W (ceo at goby.com)

            8)

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          The Red Line is a super powerful construct with a little help from the Green Line. Cambridge to South Station is a 10 – 15 minute experience that costs $2. It’s a powerful connector. 

          I have a similar experience in NYC but that’s about the only other place in the country where I feel like multiple “important” clusters are connected. In NYC last week it took me an hour to get from Union Square to Brooklyn via Uber (and $77). It took 15 minutes and $2-something via the R.

          When I lived here in the late 1980’s and I shuttled between downtown Boston and MIT, I lived on the Red Line between Park and Kendall Square. That’s part of why I used the T image in the post – it’s still my standard mode of transportation between the two.

          • http://www.goby.com Mark W (ceo at goby.com)

            cool. now if there was just a good connection between north station and south station 8)

          • http://www.feld.com bfeld

            Indeed. That’s been a miss since – well – the beginning of time, or whenever the T was built.

          • http://www.goby.com Mark W (ceo at goby.com)

            somehow they left that off of BigDig 1.0. *) And let’s hope there isn’t a 2.0 8)

  • http://www.joshrutstein.com/ Josh Rutstein

    Maybe we should use the reference of the two other famous MIT grads in Cambridge (Click and Clack) and refer to it as “Our Fair City”. Cambridge has always been the center of creativity in the area, you move to the Back Bay once you sell out.

    • http://twitter.com/bcarcio Ben Carcio

      Josh, Love “Click and Clack”. See my post above. Keep being proud of your neighborhood, its what makes us different from other places. We rib each other, but to the outside world we’re one. Hippie. 

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  • Anonymous

    It was good to see you last night at TechStars Brad, the EPD there was off the charts!  Thanks again for everything.

  • http://twitter.com/bcarcio Ben Carcio

    Brad, Thanks for posting this. As a TechStars Boston alum, and Boston native, I’d like to weigh in. You make some good points, but your view is myopic, which is so wonderfully Boston! 

    If you look at a map, all roads lead to Boston and its harbor. Its our origin, its who we are. Without that harbor there’s no Boston or Cambridge, there is no Harvard or MIT, no thriving  tech scene,  and there might not even be an America. 

    Boston and its harbor is “The Hub” of our region (Go Pats!), and Kendal Square, like Longwood, 128 or 495 are just amazing extensions of this origin.

    To want to call TechStars Boston, Tech Stars Cambridge is a neighborhoodism that is so uniquely Boston. Never tell a Southie kid he’s from the South End, or a Cambridgian who lives in Porter Square or Huron Village that they’re part of Kendal Square.  I bet for you Brad, Kendall/MIT is your turf, its where your people hang, and you’ve built a comfortable wall around it. 

    This same mentality drove the neighborhoods to protest the forced busing of the ’60’s. It often gets confused as racist, and race was a factor, but it was mostly just parents wanting their kids to stay close to home and be taught by the people they know. 

    Yes, Boston’s tight-nit tech “neighborhood” is Kendall (which just happens to be in Cambridge), but we’re part of a greater Boston movement that started with the first ships that landed in our harbor.

    We may have our own little neighborhoods (or cities) that we call home, and we may rib or even hate the ones that are not our own. But, to the outside world we’re all Boston, and we’re proud to consider you, Brad Feld, “from” here.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      And I’m delighted to be from here!
      For some additional context, I have spent more time living and working in Boston than in Cambridge. I lived in Cambridge for four years and Boston (first in South Boston where the Boston Innovation District is now located) and then on Bay State Road (on the BU side of Back Bay). My first office was in Cambridge in Central Square but from 1987 until when I left Boston in 1995 my office was in downtown Boston. In 1994 and 1995 almost all of the companies I funded as an angel investor (about 30 in the Boston-area) where based in Cambridge – Central Sq, Kendall Sq, and East Cambridge.

      I’m actually more comfortable in downtown Boston than I am in Cambridge. I know my way around a lot better, have much broader range, and often stay in Back Bay when I’m in town. So there were some contextual shifts in this trip for me which drove some of this.

      I think it’s awesome that TechStars is called TechStars Boston rather than TechStars Cambridge. That wasn’t my insight, that was just the random thing that I blurted out. The insight was reinforcement around entrepreneurial density. Hopefully that came through the narrative / rant / post.

      • http://twitter.com/bcarcio Ben Carcio

        Brad, You’re Boston cred is legit, and your post represents what a lot of people are already thinking. Thanks for kicking off the discussion. 

  • William Brah

    EPD is a convienient way to highlight small entrepreneurial enclaves like Boulder. But in fact the entire metro region of Boston in an innovation hub. It is exciting how it is spreading beyond Kendall. I find diversity more energizing that monocultures.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’m not suggesting that these are monocultures in any way. In fact, the really robust communities (like what is in Kendall Square) is a mix of types of companies and entrepreneurs. If you walk around, you see bio, consumer software, web stuff, and enterprise software without looking very hard.

      The connection of tight geographies in a broader regional ecosystem is powerful. And Boston is an example of a regional ecosystem. My point was to try to focus on the dynamics happening in very dense areas (or clusters) and view it from the entrepreneur UP, rather than the REGION down.

      • William Brah

        The greater the density the more the monoculture. Everyone seems to talk, think and look alike. Maybe that is why Kendall feels sterile. The areas farther out have the right kind of vibe, cheap, shabby and odd. It’s incredibly cool to travel in east Cambridge and come across the E Ink and Iggy’s Bread factories, Gypsum Recycling America, AndersonMcQuaid’s saw mill,  Jasper White’s Summer Shack and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals all within a few blocks of each other. 

  • http://twitter.com/velospeed j. alain ferry

    If you read only one comment here, find Ben Carcio’s below; it is spot on.

    Brad, it seems the “Boston versus Silicon Valley” debate is starting to heat up again so your post is timely. Assuming we (Boston/Cambridge/New England) want to be considered (or become) the entrepreneurial capital of the USA, do you think we can get there faster by focusing locally rather than regionally? Could local EPD-based focus lead to a divisive identity crisis for our region? If Techstars expands to Campbell or Menlo Park, what would you call it?

    Regionally, the “Boston versus Cambridge” topic is rarely a debate outside of dealings with government officials. It’s rarely discussed in the startup community outside of the search for office space. Patriots games aside, many events and corporations within a 40 mile radius of Boston identify themselves (not always exclusively) as Boston rather than Braintree or Newton or Waltham, especially when communicating with an audience beyond Greater Boston. 
    Cambridge and Boston are close enough that you can attend a startup event in one and get shit-faced with the same folks in the other.  I’d hope these sister-cities are also close enough to agree that whichever zip code is on your biz card, we’re all part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem which rivals that of any region in the world.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I think the regional entrepreneurial community is “Boston”. But I think the “Boston entrepreneurial community” is made up a series of tight EPD areas, such as Kendall Square. I think long term you need to focus on both – the tight EPD areas as well as the broad integration across the region. 

      If the EPD areas are too large (e.g. “the area in Boston ringed by 495″) then you lose a lot of impact. But if all you do is focus on the tight regions (e.g. Cambridge), you lose the leverage of the region long term.

      Interestingly, if TechStars expanded to “the bay area” or “Silicon Valley”, I’d expect there to be a healthy debate if it was located in SOMA about being called “TechStars San Francisco” rather than “TechStars Silicon Valley”. And – if it was located in Palo Alto, I doubt it would be called “TechStars San Francisco.”

      That said, the TechStars Boston vs. TechStars Cambridge wasn’t the point – it was the random thing that I blurted out that drove what I then started thinking about. TechStars Boston is the right name, but I think it’s important to realize that the Boston startup community is a collection of tight focused startup communities located in places like Kendall Square and Fort Point Channel that are linked together, but have their own unique attributes around their density.

      • http://twitter.com/velospeed j. alain ferry

        Thanks for elaborating, Brad. There is a lot of opportunity here in the Seaport – I mean Innovation District – but there are some hurdles as well.  We will continue organizing weekly and monthly startup-themed events with hopes of fostering relationships within the district (which includes the Leather District – we share the same Boloco) as well as within “Boston.”

  • B Buccio

    Hmmmm. I’m originally from the Boston area though live in Denver area now for the last 17 years. My hearts clearly in Boston but I love Colorado and know it well. I read your entire post maybe spending too much time reading between the lines. Just say want you really want to say. Boulder can and does survive and breaths with or with out Denver. Denver could fall off the face of the earth and boulderites celebrate! Cambridge feeds off Boston’s energy. You remove Boston and Cambridge never happens or you remove Boston today and Cambridge is in a world of hurt because you are not self sustaining. You require Boston’s vitality to survive. Boulder is self sufficient. Boulder built itself on its own merits and ideals. You are an extension of something for which now you want sever? Now that you have clear benefits? Sorry chap, you re no boulder and it would help your cause to understand where your roots are sourced.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I did saw what I really wanted to say – I always do. And I think you are reading too much between the lines. My entire focus is on the creation and growth of a startup community, not about “does one city need the other to be relevant”.

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  • Tim Rowe

    Tomorrow night I’m starting the evening at Venture Cafe (at CIC), winding past an event at the Museum of Science (which is actually in both Cambridge and Boston), heading to the Energy Bar (at GreenTownLabs, in Ft. Point Channel (Innovation District), and ending up for a drink in the Seaport (also Innovation District).  It is definitely one community in that sense, and far closer physically than any of the Sans are to each other in Silicon Valley.  We in Kendall Sq. are hugely benefitting by what Boston is doing to create a more startup-friendly environment.  Cambridge is nearly out of space, and what there is is not cheap.  That said, these places are indeed very different.  Anyone who has lived and worked in both cities, as I have, knows what I’m talking about.  We benefit by a certain amount of friendly competition at the government level, as each municipality competes to be more startup friendly.  And we benefit by cooperating.  Vive la différence.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Well said Tim – probably much better (and more credibly!) than I could. The startup communities are unique, but they reinforce each other and make the region even stronger! What’s the cliche about “sum of the parts”?

    • http://twitter.com/bcarcio Ben Carcio

      Tim, Agree with Brad, well said. 

  • http://twitter.com/BetoIII Beto Juarez III

    Great post and insight here. I’m a first year at MIT Sloan and you’re certainly correct about the entrepreneurial density in Cambridge being very different in Cambridge vs. Boston. However, I still tell people that I currently “live” or “go to school” in Boston. The reason is simple – when people say they go to school in Cambridge it sounds like they’re fishing for the “do you go to Harvard / MIT?” question. I can’t stand that. And so I say I live in Boston.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’m curious about the “fishing for do you go to Harvard / MIT” thing. Do you think that’s a personal preference (or anti-preference), or is that more broad-based? In other words, do things segment into two categories – those who want people to know they are at MIT or Harvard and those who don’t? 

      I’ve often observed different leading questions in different part of the country. For example, In New England is “where did you go to school?” In the bay area its “who do you work for?” In Boulder, it’s “what’s your sport?” 

      I’m guessing you aren’t from Cambridge / Boston so it’s interesting to me whether your reaction is shared by your classmates at Sloan or if it’s a personal one.

  • James Mitchell

    I live in Boston’s Back Bay. Kendall Square is:

    a 10 minute bus ride away

    a 10 minute bike ride (weather permitting) away

    a $10 taxi ride away

    It’s not the same as walking two blocks, but it’s no big deal.

    Kendall Square’s biggest problem is that it is the epicenter for two different types of tech: biotech and Internet/Web tech. They have little need for each other, yet each takes up space that the other could use to increase the desired density.

    The biggest problem that Boston and Cambridge face is the provincial narrow closed mindset of so many people in Massachusetts. This is why that even though Boston/Cambridge has a significant number of the top research universities in the U.S., NYC has surpassed B/C. B/C is now no. 3, not no 2, and will no doubt become no. 4 when another region surpasses it.

    In terms of architecture, Cambridge cannot hold a candle to Back Bay.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      While it’s no big deal to get from Back Bay to Kendall Square, how often do you do it? I lived in Back Bay for three years and while I had a lot of company activity in Kendall Square (virtually every startup I was involved in was on Rogers, First, or Binney Street), I spent very little time just hanging out – almost all of my hangout time was on the Boston side of the river.

      • James Mitchell

        “I spent very little time just hanging out – almost all of my hangout time was on the Boston side of the river.”

        That is an indication you are smart, because Back Bay has nicer places than Kendall Square, particularly when you lived in Boston.

        On the larger issue, I question your basic premise — that a tech startup CEO should spend a lot of time hanging out with other entrepreneurs or immersing himself in the endless list of meetups, conferences and seminars that have been created.

        If you’re 23, it is unlikely you know much about entrepreneurship, so this could make sense.

        If you’re looking for financing, then this might make sense.

        If you’re looking for a co-founder, this might make sense.

        But in a lot of cases, there are better uses for a CEO’s time. I went to the TechStars event a few months ago. Smart people attended, I met lots of people with interesting ideas but no revenue model that I could figure out. There were no benefits to my startup at that meeting. And this is not a criticism of TechStars, I am certain I would feel the same about YCombinator.

        In general, I no longer go to any local conferences. National conferences are a different matter, they can be very useful. A higher caliber of person attends and due to the cost of attending, there are much fewer “wannabees.” Boston has two meetups that I used to attend for SEO and WordPress. Some of the talks are useful but most of the attendees are beginners.

        Back when I did LBOs, there was a monthly breakfast put on the Association for Corporation Growth for those who were principals. You either had to be an investment professional for a buyout shop or a V.P., Corporate Development for a major corporation. Almost everyone who attended had at least 15 years of business experience. That was a very useful breakfast to go to! But that is because the organizers limited who attended.

        In Back Bay, the place I am most likely to meet entrepreneurs is the Trident bookstore.

  • http://twitter.com/aacook Alex Cook

    This post is getting serious comments here and on BostInno (http://bostinno.com/2012/01/25/i%E2%80%99m-in-cambridge-not-boston/)Like or not, I think this is a really good point. Paul Graham recently spoke about this at the NYC meetup YC hosted… in the Valley, the density is so insane that random things just happen. We’re missing some of that randomness here, because density isn’t as strong. Some day location doesn’t matter… you can build a startup in antarctica as long as it has internet. I disagree. It does matter. People matter. Spontaneous connections can be magical.

    I’m not in Cambridge… I’m in Boston. I see mostly the same people on a daily basis, outside of going to events.  I’ve never seen an angel or startup founder out riding a bike. I rarely bump into anyone, even late employees of startups, while grabbing lunch. I almost never hear people chatting about startups at coffee shops nearby. 

    Beyond just EPD density, we also lack density in other areas, too… like individual angels, writing checks in Boston. I just did some quick research last week, and there’s over 550 angels who participate in angel groups in Boston.  How many individual, active angels can you count in the Boston area?

    All that said, it’s evolving.  Brad, you should get out to the Innovation District in Boston.  First of all, it’s insanely beautiful, especially when it’s not snowing.  Secondly, there’s a ton of cool companies here, including Gemvara (http://www.innovationdistrict.org/tag/gemvara), BostInno, and MassChallenge (and all its teams).

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’ve decided that I’m going to come out here for another week and just plop down in the middle of the Innovation District and see what happens / how it feels as I wander around and do my thing.

      • http://www.buzzient.com Timothy Bernard Jones

        I think you’ll find the feel is very similar to SOMA/SF in the 95-98 period. A few anchor tenants, a new wave of VC and self funded companies, and a growing social scene.

        Buzzient moved here about a year ago from Cambridge, and have more room to scale up,  at a better per sq. ft cost. Oh, that’s also made it easier for us to support your portfolio company Zynga, where we manage the social CRM layer of 130+ games, and have 80+ users. Something must be working here… ;o)

  • Anonymous

    Just some facts for us Bostonians/Cantabrigeans who are bemoaning the lack of density: we have a higher density of venture capital here than in California ($/person invested) by about 30%.  We are the highest in the world.  We also have the highest # of college graduates per capita of any state or leading nation.  We have more startup density at our core, in Kendall Sq., than Palo Alto by a factor of about 4, and that’s only including the venture backed ones (BCG research).  If we included the pre-venture or no-venture startups, the factor would be much higher.  We’ve got everything we need, except possibly that we are still a bit too insular.  But we’re all making big strides on that too.  So lets stop the self-doubt, and just do it.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Remember also that in my model density is both a population measure (entrepreneurs per capita) and a geography density (entrepreneurs per capita per square mile). Boston has always had an advantage here as a “small big city” relative to the bay area or New York.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Remember also that in my model density is both a population measure (entrepreneurs per capita) and a geography density (entrepreneurs per capita per square mile). Boston has always had an advantage here as a “small big city” relative to the bay area or New York.

  • http://www.karyotip.com/ TuRan

    I think it’s awesome that TechStars is called TechStars Boston rather than TechStars Cambridge.  

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I agree! That was just one of those random thoughts that blurted out of my head and subsequently stimulated me to think more about the idea.

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  • http://www.openviewpartners.com Scott Maxwell

    Brad, when you come out, feel free to use our studios space as a hang out if you have free time.  And, of course, don’t forget to come see me!

    btw, the geek in me once checked the map.  we are literally in the center of the hub based on all the circular roads…

    Scott

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Will do!

      I love that you are in the “center”. There’s an argument that the edge of the network is better than the core. Oops – couldn’t help myself on that one.

      • http://www.openviewpartners.com Scott Maxwell

        The edge is, uh, right about Waltham!

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          Wrong edge

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