Boston’s WTF/LOL Problem

Comment

Image Credits: Masakazu Matsumoto (opens in a new window) / Flickr (opens in a new window) under a CC BY 2.0 (opens in a new window) license. (Image has been modified)

Well, that was embarrassing. Following months of piss-poor communication and a chaotic planning process, Boston’s bid to be the U.S. entry for the 2024 Olympics finally died this week like Britain’s rule over the colonies. The city that once brought the Industrial Revolution to the people now finds itself unable to build a venue for beach volleyball, or you know, housing or public transportation.

These are trying times for Boston when it comes to its world-class city status. Once the undisputed technology leader of the world, the city has been truly outclassed these past few years (and probably past few decades) by San Francisco, New York City, and increasingly Los Angeles (which is also likely to become the next bidder to host the Olympics in the U.S.)

Locally, it’s culturally appropriate at this juncture to bring up Boston’s storied history, but I say, to hell with history. Our lives are about the future, not some shining past. More Star Trek and less History Channel, please.

The Problem Of Young People

It’s not just the Olympics that the city can’t retain, it’s people too. Young people in particular want to be where the action is, and they perceive that the action is not here (they’re mostly right). Look at Aileen Lee’s latest update to her unicorn list, and you will quickly grasp why every graduating college student in the Boston region is trying to vacate the premises like Paul Revere screaming “the Brits are” …. dammit history, get out of here!

And just think: to fly to SF from Boston, you probably have to take United. The Donner Party is probably still more likely to arrive at its destination on time than a United aircraft. That’s how desperate Beantown people are to head West.

Everything in Boston is about the past, which is part of the reason I spend a couple of weeks a year in South Korea. It’s nice to fast-forward 150 years to modern and efficient transportation systems and a city that literally reinvents itself every 12 months. They have virtual grocery stores! And bars open until 8am! Plus, Seoul’s startup scene is reaching such a frenetic pace that you can practically feel the excitement of the future in some neighborhoods.

Boston is on the verge of almost complete irrelevance, but there is always hope in the future. Every year, thousands of students – many of them the best in the world – come to Boston for their education. These are the future startup founders and leaders of our world. They choose to spend four years in Boston, and that means there is every possibility of them deciding to stay here rather than migrate.

Keeping People Starts With Opportunity And Money

They are confronted, though, by terrible options. Talking with students in universities here, they have a lot of interest in moving to Silicon Valley or NYC (as you might expect). Despite this general trend, there is almost no attempt by local tech companies to engage them in their actual careers.

Sure, there are networking events and mixers and all that mostly useless jazz. But these students are being recruited by Silicon Valley’s most exciting firms, who have to fight for every hire given the competitive labor situation they face at home. Boston firms and their pizza slices today are no match for the shock and awe hiring campaigns of the Valley.

Even when Boston firms attempt to hire, they make two common mistakes. First, they provide little in the way of power to young people to make decisions and be entrepreneurial. When I was going through the recruitment processes at Google and Facebook, the message was always “run a product used by millions (if not billions) from day one.” The message was trust – sure you are young, but so was Zuckerberg. Incredible creativity comes from those who know little about what they do.

You rarely hear that language from Boston firms. Here, the discussion is always around careers and multi-year personal growth trajectories. It’s that history thing – wait, and you shall succeed.

There’s a simple solution: hand the reins over. Allow young people to run their own products and fail. Sure, maybe you have to clean up the mess sometimes, but more likely, you will have an awesome new product or feature that you might never have otherwise discovered and built. Risk-taking starts at home.

The second mistake Boston firms make is to consider the city a cheap talent market. It ain’t cheap folks. Every single person in Boston has the ability (and often the desire!) to live in one of the world’s global cities. Local firms pay significantly less on average than comparable firms in NYC or SF (to the tune of 30–40% based on some recent numbers I have seen). Sure, cost of living is higher in those cities, but it isn’t that much higher.

Again, simple solution: pay Silicon Valley market rate. Every time. Regardless of competition. Regardless of anything. You want to retain the talent, you have to pay for that talent. We want the best people here, period. The best cost a lot of money, but thankfully, we have a lot of it lying around.

I can hear the voices of startup founders already. “But our VC dollars are smaller because Boston investment firms are cheap.” Yup. When I say pay market rate, I want everyone in startups to pay market rate. That means founders to their employees, and also venture capitalists to their entrepreneurs. Don’t make the choice between the Valley and Boston easy because you are 40% off market rate.

The Potential Of A City

That’s what firms can do. Now, what about the actual city itself? Boston is at an enviable time. Rents in San Francisco are growing so fast that they have reached escape velocity and are approaching the stratosphere. Public transit there is still the slowest in the United States. We have all the ingredients necessary to put Boston and SF into sharp (and positive) relief.

Yet, we never do. Investment in the subway system is lackluster (fun experiment: ride the Seoul metro and the Boston T on the same day. The term “third world” comes to mind, and it isn’t about Seoul). Rents, both residential and commercial, are extraordinarily high here, particularly when taking the Valley income discount into account. And the cheap creative spaces necessary for doing great innovative work just don’t really exist. These are all solvable problems, but we need to move quickly.

Boston is withering, but it is not dying yet. In fact, I am quite optimistic about the future. The collapse of the Olympics bid here locally should be a wake up call that we need to get our act together on a massive scale. We need our Declaration of, err, Growth. Otherwise, I am moving to wherever that white stuff doesn’t fall in February.

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares