A Silicon Valley Prescription for Boston and Other Startup Hubs: Throw More Parties

A few friends have asked me how my life has changed since I moved from Boston to San Francisco to open Xconomy’s Bay Area bureau. Do you want to know the real answer? I drink more.

A lot more.

In the Silicon Valley technology startup world that I cover, there’s at least one cocktail party, private dinner, coder beerfest, pre-conference gathering, post-conference gathering, movie screening, gallery opening, or other excuse for the alcohol to flow every freaking night of the week. Usually more than one. (If you don’t believe me, just subscribe to the Silicon Valley edition of StartupDigest, a guide to startup events curated by a cool guy here named Chris McCann.)

It’s like living in an infinite Mad Men episode. Raymond Carver, the American short story writer and poet, once wrote that wine is the worst drink to get drunk on—“hangovers you don’t forget”—and I’m learning that he’s right. I should probably switch to beer. San Francisco, after all, is home to at least 11 breweries and innumerable brewpubs. But when you live so close to Napa…

All kidding aside, I think there’s a real lesson here about the differences between Silicon Valley and other major hubs of technology innovation. In a column a few weeks ago headlined The Real City of Innovation is Everywhere, I argued that the Internet and the outsourcing revolution make it possible to build a startup just about anywhere these days. And it’s true. But when you look at where the startup founders really congregate, and where the angel and venture dollars are flowing to, Northern California still dominates. There’s obviously something in the water here. And I think that something is alcohol—or, more to the point, the schmoozing that alcohol facilitates.

Laura Fitton, aka @pistachio, the founder of the Cambridge, MA-based Twitter app store Oneforty, sent me an interesting note recently. She’d just visited the Bay Area, where several of Oneforty’s investors and advisors are based, and I had commented to her that I was overwhelmed by the number of startup stories that are begging to be written here (as this peek inside my story pipeline illustrates).

“I struggle so hard with how to bring that ‘steeped in startups’ feeling back home with me every time I fly back from SF,” Fitton commented from Cambridge. “We’re just too siloed here as startup teams—makes it even lonelier and prevents a hell of a lot of product innovation…We HAVE to overcome that isolation and siloing if we’re going to be inspired and energetic and passionate, not just in our founders but our entire teams.”

I’ve heard the same lament from other Boston-area entrepreneurs. I don’t have as much data from Xconomy’s other home cities of San Diego and Detroit, but I’m guessing that the siloing feels just as bad, if not worse.

Well, here in Silicon Valley and San Francisco they have this cool invention for overcoming isolation. It’s called getting together for drinks after work. From what I hear, this invention has spread to some circles in New York City, especially the Wall Street crowd. But it has yet to catch on in Boston’s startup community, where it seems that every weeknight is still a school night.

The thing is, you don’t necessarily have to leave work to drink. The beer flows freely at Google’s TGIF, the Friday afternoon gathering where … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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