The Boston vs. New York tech rivalry takes an unexpected turn according to CB Insights latest data
On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for HubSpot's initial public offering last fall -- which came one week after I was in the same room for Wayfair's IPO -- I chatted up one of NYSE's staff members about the New York tech scene. We discussed some of the more promising companies and some up and coming startups. The most memorable part of the conversation came when the staffer paused, looked around the hectic room at all the happy, orange-clad Hubspotters celebrating the moment and said, "Things are going great in tech and innovation in New York, but I kinda wish we had more of these."
The HubSpot IPO marked the fifth (or fourth, depending who you talk to) Boston tech/Internet IPO of 2014 — it followed Care.com, Imprivata, Wayfair, and CyberArk, which some analysts count more as an Israeli company even though its chief executive and most of its other executives are based at its US headquarters outside of Boston. The comment struck me as odd because, at the time last fall, it seemed that all the Northeast tech mojo was in New York City's favor.
Not only did New York have some established success stories like Warby Parker, VICE Media, and MongoDB, it also some fast growing businesses like WeWork that seemed to have limitless potential. At the time, the Boston startup scene seemed to be doing well too, but the "hot" companies in Boston were mostly in the enterprise and high tech space and out of the collective consciousness of the tech world that seems to fall in love with consumer-facing companies.
At the end of the third quarter last year, CB Insights found that New York had 122 venture capital deals while Boston had only 65 deals; New York also raised twice as much money as Boston tech companies over that period of time. By the end of the year, CB Insights was calling 2014 the breakout year for New York tech. VC funding over the course of the 2014 was up 53 percent year over year, with more than $1 billion invested in each quarter.
In 2015 things seemed to be trending the same way. New York has had one tech IPO in Etsy and another, in Shake Shack, that the city seemed to rally behind. Comparatively, Boston weas already supposed to have had one or two public tech offerings by this time. Yes, the IPO market is slower than it has been for a while, and companies like Acquia, Bit9, and Actifio already have the wheels in motion to go public. But at the end of last year, it would have been surprising if you told me that by May not a single Boston tech company had gone public. And who even knows what's going on with Veracode at this point.
But today CB Insights released data from the first quarter of 2015 that tell a different story -- slightly. According to their data, the Boston area had 90 deals with about $1.37 billion in VC money flowing to private companies in Q1. Comparatively, New York had 88 venture capital deals with about $1.3 billion invested. The difference is enough to ellicit a blog post from CB Insights on the subject, probably because of how quickly the numbers have changed (but more likely due to the fact that Boston and New York are involved and if ESPN has taught us anything, nothing draws attention like a NY-Boston battle.)
But despite the ecosystems being neck-and-neck in terms of private deals, things don't seem to be all that exciting in Boston right now. Yes, some growth companies like Localytics, DraftKings, and SessionM, which announced $12 million in new funding today, are exciting, as are startups like the Driftt and Drizly. But things just don't seem right in Boston. It is really, really quiet.
A lot of VCs can't seem to raise funds from LPs, and others are limiting their venture capital presence in the city -- One example being Dan Primack's breaking news today that Highland Capital is shifting attention to the West Coast, which has been widely known among startup circles for months now. One pretty active VC who has been a part of the community for a long time and is one of Boston's biggest cheerleaders recently told me that he hasn't done a deal in Boston in over a year and a half.
While the data says one thing, the vibe is completely different. All reports from New York show that the scene is thriving.
It should be interesting to see how the Q2 numbers shake out.