Amid all the Bloomberg-endorsed New York tech rah rah-ism, there’s a less talked about thread that everyone here is aware of: Aside from Doubleclick, which went public in 1998, New York has yet to have a big, blockbuster, billion-dollar exit.
What’s worse, Doubleclick and company we’d pinned our hopes and dreams on that first big exit are founded by the same guy. Kevin Ryan is the CEO Gilt Groupe, which has put its once-hot IPO ambitions on ice for the time being. He also co-founded Doubleclick. (Lesser known Kevin Ryan fact: He also launched the website for Dilbert comics.) Surely there must be someone else in this city that can put New York on the map with a Big Flashy Exit.
Part of the problem is ecosystem-driven. Most of the venture firms in New York invest from early and seed stage funds that are between $50 million and $100 million in size. An exit like OMGPop’s $200 million sale to Zynga, or GroupMe’s $85 million sale to Microsoft is meaningful to them. Same goes for the New York founders, many of which are first-time entrepreneurs.
Those early stage funds investing in first-time founders is a pre-requisite for building up any ecosystem. It’s also important that the recent proliferation of startups has even happened. Those founders could have moved to the Valley, but instead, they’re here. But as those companies grow, they also need follow-on money, Rho Ventures Managing Partner Habib Kairouz said on stage at the Business Insider Startup 2012 conference today.
Kairouz said he’s starting to see more and more New York startups raise larger follow-on funds thanks to West Coast funds planting a flag in New York.
Most other factors contributing to the dearth of exits relate to timing. Give it five years, the panelists said. And there are plenty more new factors planting the seeds for ten years from now. Cornell’s $2 billion New York Tech campus, for example, will foster an incestuous relationship between the university and New York’s entreprenuers and startups in the vein of Stanford and Silicon Valley. There will be an incubator, mentorship programs, R&D facilities. Startups shall abound.
But there’s also a problem with the premise of the exit question: Does New York really want its biggest companies to sell? There’s something to be said for the names we usually bandy about as Big Flashy Exit candidates–Etsy, Tumblr, Foursquare–staying in New York and becoming the standalone acquirers. The problem with the OMGPop selling to Zynga is that now it’s part of Zynga, the Valley company. “We want to see success stories that say, ‘We’re hear to stay, and we’ll be the consolidator and proliferate and it’s good for the ecosystem around us,’” Kairouz said. The crowd applauded at that statement. Rah rah indeed.