Why I Left NYC for SF, and Stayed There



I have lived in NY my whole live and lived in NYC for almost 2 years.  I’ve lived in SF for 3 months.

Zaarly moved me out to SF.  When my work with Zaarly completed a couple months ago, I had the choice to go back to NYC.  But I stayed.

Naturally, in San Francisco I get asked the question a lot.  “Which city do you like better?”

My answer usually goes something like “They both have their upsides and downsides, their charms and their shortcomings.”

I wanted to talk a little bit about the biggest differences specifically for entrepreneurs.

Of course “it depends” will always be an apt answer to some extent, but overall, if you’re a first time entrepreneur, there’s nowhere else you should be.  Go to San Francisco.  Here’s why…

Serendipity is king.

Entrepreneurship is very much about serendipity.  Founders meeting each other, an idea coming out of thin air to disrupt an industry, meeting someone that changes your perspectives…  out of serendipity comes creativity and action.

Serendipity, or luck, isn’t something you can fully control, but it is something you can impact.  You have to work hard to be lucky.  You have to put yourself in the position for serendipity to occur. You have to be in the right place. Take my story as an example.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

I had the first opport and became a cofounder and partner.  After that, I joined Zaarly.  Zaarly moved me out to San Francisco.  When I parted ways with Zaarly, I knew that my next big move would be to start my own company from the ground up.

I have a list of ideas for companies, and some of them didn’t even suck.  But nothing was really compelling me to take action.  Nothing was keeping me up at night.  Over 2 months went by and still nothing.  I’ve been consulting to be able to work with different amazing companies and help them solve their community challenges.

I knew serendipity would have to hit soon.  In SF, every single day you meet a new entrepreneur.  You can’t throw a rock in SOMA without hitting a startup office.  You can’t go to a coffee shop, restaurant, bar, concert or grocery store without overhearing a conversation about raising money, building a company and changing the world.

I’ve been living in a sublet apartment since I moved here.  It was a 3 month sublet, I was planning on financing my own apartment after with the options at https://cloptoncapital.com/apartment-building-loans/.  I chose it because of the people more than anything.  I was brand new to the city and wanted to live with people that I could potentially become friends with.  It worked, and they quickly became my best friends in San Francisco.

One day, a few of us were at the apartment just working and relaxing on the couch when I threw out a random idea.  I like to cook, but I never know what to cook and I’m overwhelmed by grocery stores, so this would be a solution to help people cook different things, eat healthy and learn more about what they’re eating.  It was a simple idea, and we started to talk through it.  It only took a few minutes to realize that this idea was the one I’ve been looking for.  Turned out it’s the one my roommate, Nadia was looking for.  Now we’re building it together.

Could that happen in NYC?  Or any other city in the world?  Yes, it definitely can.  But if you want to improve the odds of serendipity occurring in the startup world, there’s no better place than SF.  I found this apartment on Craigslist and knew very little about any of the roommates when I signed the lease.  But in SF, you can feel confident that whoever you end up living with, there’s a good chance that they’re going to be involved in the tech/startup world to some extent.

But it’s not all perfect in SF.

Taking things with a grain of sincerity salt.

There’s a lot of aggressive positivity in San Francisco, in contrast to the common skepticism that you find in NYC.  In SF, everyone is so supportive of each other, almost to a fault.  It’s a great positive vibe, but it can be somewhat insincere.

It also results in a lot of talk without a lot of follow through.  Everyone LOVES to talk about the projects they’re planning to work on, but finding people who are actually taking action and executing can be tough to come by.  When you want to support everyone, and help everyone else with their projects, you end up not following through on a lot of it.  You commit to more than you’re capable of actually doing.

Accessibility may be the biggest differentiator. SF is as welcoming as it gets.

On the upside of that overt positivity is the generosity with time that you’ll find in SF.  In NYC, everyone is always in a rush and can be very protective of their time.  Someone that I reached out to recently in NYC responded to my request for a 15 minute chat, saying that due to other obligations, they couldn’t chat with me for 3 months.  And they’re not exactly a “big deal”.

In SF, you can meet with pretty much anyone, whether they’re a big deal investor or a successful entrepreneur.  Everyone’s down to hang out and grab a beer.  They don’t require an agenda and a list of questions.  They just want to be helpful and keep doors open to contribute back to the community.

That accessibility and dedication to contributing to the greater startup community is my favorite aspect about the SF startup scene.  I’ve been here for 3 months, and I feel very much a part of the community.  Even more so than in NYC.

I came to the NYC startup community as a young professional and had to build a network from scratch.  It can be like pulling teeth in NYC.  People and companies just don’t make themselves accessible.

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The SF bubble makes it hard to understand real customers.

Another important distinction that you need to make if you’re debating which city to build your company in is the consumer market.  SF isn’t real.  It is very much a bubble of conversation.  Establishing a product market fit in SF isn’t necessarily replicable in other cities.  That can be true for any city, but the gap is definitely more prominent in SF.

In NYC, you’re surrounded by every industry possible and every kind of person.  If you’re looking to create a replicable model, there’s a reason they say “if you can make it in NYC, you can make it anywhere”.  The consumer market in NYC will be much more true to form.

Then there’s the talent and funding question.

As far as finding talent goes, I think it’s just as hard in both cities.  There’s more talent in SF, but there’s also much more demand for that talent.  If anything SF has a slight edge because of the serendipity factor.

As far as funding goes, SF still has an edge but NYC is getting much better.  When it comes down to it, if you’re raising money from amazing investors, you want to be able to utilize the resources that they can provide you beyond just the money.  That means you want to be close to your investors.

There are more investors in SF and they’re a lot more accessible.

Cost of Living

Forget flowers in your hair. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to have some extra change to spare. Thanks to skyrocketing home prices, and an increasingly competitive rental market, that’s the new message for anyone who is thinking about moving to the City by the Bay. Just how expensive has San Fran gotten?

Well, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, the total cost of living in San Francisco is 62.6% higher than the U.S. average—and housing is nearly three times more expensive than in other U.S. cities. Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at all the data on living expenses in San Francisco to find out who exactly can afford to live there.

San Francisco’s crazy high cost of living starts with its crazy hot housing market. Simply put, affordable housing is hard to come by in SF. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales prices increased nearly 36% in just two years, from $543,780 in 2012 to $737,600 in 2014.

That $737,600 represents the second highest average sales price in the U.S., behind nearby San Jose. There is one upside to surging home prices, however. Homeowners in San Francisco have earned huge savings through refinancing in recent years.

If you are looking to see how your budget would fare in a different city, considering the cost of living is important. It’s a good idea to see how that would impact your budget and future financial goals.

In the end my heart is very much in NYC and what’s happening in the startup community there is truly amazing.  There IS a stronger community forming every day and there is a concerted effort to open doors, increasing accessibility.

Some of my favorite startups in the world are leading the way in NYC and creating a stronger startup ecosystem as a whole.

We’re going to start off building our company in SF.  It’s a hyperlocal concept that’s actually a great fit for SF.  Also, both cofounders are here, and in just 3 months, I’ve built up a much stronger network of potential partners and investors than I have in NYC.

I know serendipity will bring me back to NYC eventually, and I can’t wait for the day when I will build my startup there and contribute back to the community.

Right now, SF is where I have to be.


Recap: PRSA Digital Impact Conference Day 2

As promised, here is the recap of Day 2, of the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NY this week.  I was invited to cover the 2 day conference, and was happy to join the discussion with all the bright and interesting professionals that it brought together.

Unfortunately, I missed Jennifer Preston’s talk but fortunately for you, Eric Schwartzman has you covered.  You can watch the whole talk here. I heard it was really good.

The first speaker I caught on Day 2 was Carlos Dominguez.

He said that people don’t want to change, which makes it hard to change a process within a company. It usually isn’t the system that’s the problem, it’s the people in it. Once they become comfortable with a system, they don’t want to change it.

He went over a lot of the stuff you hear all the time.  Know your goals and objectives.  Measure…etc.

He mentioned that Cisco does a lot of reverse mentoring with their employees.  They host meetings and create an environment where the younger (Gen-Y) employees mentor the older employees on how to use the new tools.

You guys know where I stand on that one.  Reverse mentoring is great, and needed…but to assume that a young professional is more knowledgeable on how to use social tools for business than an older professional, is a mistake.  Gen-Yers grew up using these tools recreationally.  It’s very different than how businesses approach it.

Carlos also said, “Video is going to be the killer application”.  I think it already is.  Either way, he’s right, and he spoke a lot about how cisco is embracing video.

Next, I listened to Rishi Dave (Dell) speak.

"Forget the numbers. The impact of SM is this big"

Rishi had some good stuff.  Here are some gems:

“It’s all about who and how many you follow, not how many follow you”.  On twitter, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have.  What’s important is that you’re following the right people.  This way:

  • You can gather the best viewpoints in that space, and organize it for potential and current customers to consume.
  • The followers will come.

He broke down the growth of the web, and it’s purpose in terms of information, into 3 stages:

  • Internet Age: Used to send information (ie. Yahoo)
  • Information Age:  Used to find, or search for information (ie. Google)
  • Connected Age:  Used to follow, as in a stream of information (ie. Twitter)

Towards the end, I appreciated this line: “Successful companies in social media act like party planners aggregators and content creators.”

Next I watched Kevin Roderick – UCLA Newsroom

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with this talk.  I really don’t have points to share with you because he didn’t say much.  He had great content, with a timeline of videos and images from the crisis they faced when Michael Jackson passed away, and mobs formed around the hospital.  In the end, it just sounded like they were in a tough situation, and had no idea what to do.

The talk was supposed to use this situation as a learning experience,  and show us how we can apply UCLA’s insights to developing a social media program that’s nimble and ready for anything.  It really didn’t.

Or maybe I’m just a bad listener.

Finally, I truly enjoyed a panel about “Where is PR headed?” with Kami Huyse, Clay Hebert and Jonathan Kopp.

The responses were a bit scattered so I’ll try to just list out a few key points from the panel as a whole.

Trends to look for:

  • Augmented reality is going to be huge.
  • Location is also going to be huge.
  • Social media overload is only getting worse.
  • Mobile will continue to grow and will probably be the most important platform for business.
  • End of privacy as we know it.  (The hot topic as of late)

Overall I really enjoyed this conference.  The speakers were pretty insightful and the crowd seemed to genuinely find value in the content.  Everything ran on time, the people were great, the food was awesome, the Day 1 networking after party with Groupon for fashion was done really well and the location got the job done.

I’d like to thank the fine folks of PRSA for inviting me to cover the conference.

You can find all of the photos from this event here.

You can find the Day 1 recap of this event here.

Recap: PRSA Digital Impact Conference Day 1

I was invited to attend and cover the PRSA Digital Impact Conference in NY this week.  It was packed with PR professionals and business owners looking to wrap their heads around the digital innovations that have warped the traditional field of PR in the past year.

The speakers that I listened to provided content that ranged from beginner level basics, to a sort of “mid-level” understanding of the social space.

Jeremiah Owyang kicked it off.

He covered 4 main points:

  1. Understand customers and focus on objectives
  2. This is a movement, get your company ready.
  3. Invest in Social CRM systems
  4. Develop an advocacy program

He was as helpful as always, and set the conference off right, as many speakers that followed him referred back to his talk.  I loved his idea in “Love yourself first then love your customers – get your company ready for social engagement”.  If you and your employees aren’t proud of your company, how can you expect your customers to be?

Next came Paul Gillen and Dave Balter, two guys who really know how to work a crowd.

They were witty, to the point, and actually pretty damn insightful.

Paul went first, sharing his thoughts on the term “ambassador”.  He explained, “An ambassador can be a friend, a relative, a blogger…” making the point that really, anyone can be an ambassador for you or your brand.  Start by looking around you at the people you’re close with.

Paul also made the point that you don’t have to pay someone to be an ambassador.  In fact, it’s probably best you don’t.  Dave then drove that point home with an example that I loved.

He asked, “If you were my good friend, and I offered you 5 dollars to come help me move my couch, would you help me?”  A few hands went up.

Then he asked, “Now what if I made this awesome pizza with all this good stuff on it, and asked you to come over to help me move my couch, while we hang out and eat pizza?”.  Almost all the hands went up. (probably some veggies in the crowd).

It really nailed a huge concept in social media.  People don’t want to be bribed or manipulated into doing something.  Give them something they can appreciate, act like a person, and they’ll be happy to help out.

A few more gems from Dave:

  • If you get one person to share content in the best places possible, that’s better than 50,000.
  • Influence is a “topic state”. You can be influential in coffee, and not influential in sneakers.
  • Seek out ordinary influencers, not just the “influentials”.

Next I sat down to watch Heidi Sullivan and Shashi Bellamkomda speak about crisis management on the social web.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Be active and be present so that when a crisis hits, you’re there, and you’re ready.
  • Try to spot a “crisis” situation early.  If you see several tweets come in at once about a particular issue, look into it immediately.  It can spread like wild fire on the social web.
  • Respond to every single complaint.  If there are too many complaints, you’re probably facing a crisis.  Put up an official statement that will answer a lot of questions, and make sure that it’s clear for your customers.
  • You can manage your online reputation, with offline events.

And now we arrive at the second keynote with Google’s communication manager, Gabriel Stricker.

The talk didn’t really give you much actionable content, but it really did give you a lot to chew on.  He touched on the concept of crisis management as well, acting as a good follow up to the previous panel.

Using a blog post from Jet Blue as an example, he explained how effective it can be, in a crisis situation, to just get out a message that speaks to your customers on their level.  Don’t put out an over-worked, dry press release.  Speak like a human, because humans are the ones that you have to convince.

Stricker also spoke about Google’s “launch and iterate” process of doing things.  It’s how they launch their products, and also how they approach their communications projects.  Everything doesn’t have to be perfect when you launch it.  It’s better to get something out there, and rework it based on customer feedback and testing.

Next I watched Deborah Schultz (Altimeter group) speak.

Her message was simple…

Like the tagline on her blog says: “Technology changes, people don’t”.

Be present consistently, and be genuine.  Don’t “ignore ignore ignore” and then reach out when you need something.  To build a connected, and strong community, you have to create an “ongoing experience”.

And finally, I watched the wonderful Deirdre Breakenridge

She rocked out for an hour on the topic of “Building a Social Media Strategy”.  Certainly a tough topic to cover thoroughly in an hour…or at all.

I won’t get into the whole strategy that she lays out.  You can find her slides online.  I did want to touch on one aspect of her talk and that’s research.  She put A LOT of emphasis on doing research before hand, and I couldn’t agree more.

The term “social media SWOT analysis” is something that anyone looking to get involved on social platforms should get to know well.  Understanding the environment internally and externally will really help you understand what you need to do.

Do research before you start a facebook fan page “just because”.

You can check out all the pictures from the event here.

Stay tuned for the Day 2 recap.

13 Tips For Your First Networking Event

Kelly Samardak (@socialmedium)

Mashable NYC Event Photo cred: Kelly Samardak

I recently attended the Mashable NYC event which was in fact my first professional networking event (not counting those completely useless job fairs).  As a first timer, I had no idea what to expect.  Is this going to help me? Are people going to take a college student seriously? How should I dress? Am I going to know what to say?

Well I set my doubts aside (big step), signed up for the event, attended and could not be more happy with my decision.  I can now provide you with some answers based on MY experience. Of course, everyone’s experience is different.  This will apply more to younger professionals, specifically college seniors, who are looking to expand their network in social media. Here are 13 things I learned…

  1. Make connections before the event. My night would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t connected with attendees before the event.  Most events will have a list with contact info for anyone attending the event. Don’t be afraid to send them an email or look them up on twitter and tell them you’re going to the event and wanted to connect with some people before hand.  It’s a huge confidence booster to see some familiar faces when you first arrive.
  2. Dress semi-casual. One of the things I love about the social media / interactive industry is how laid back it is. Don’t show up in a t-shirt and jeans but you don’t have to wear a shirt and tie either. A nice, clean sweater or button down and khakis or nice jeans will do just fine.
  3. Get there early. If you walk in late, you’ll find it harder to meet people who are already engaged in conversations, and you’ll miss out on whatever free promotions are provided (Peroni sponsored the Mashable event).  Everyone likes to have a drink to take the edge off at these events and if you miss the free drinks, be ready to pay (a lot) for them.
  4. Go Alone! This is something that I was torn over when going to this event.  Now that I went alone, I can say with full confidence that you should not bring a friend with you to a networking event.  It’s tough going to a social event without a wingman but if you bring one, you’ll find it is nothing more than an excuse to talk to them instead of meeting new people.


    Photo cred: Kelly Samardak

  5. Be creative. Think of something creative that will make you stand out and help break the ice, commencing conversation. The best example I saw was Arthur Bouie representing We Are Nom who carried around a basket of cookies to give out. They were a hit…and delicious.
  6. State your goal first. Everyone at the event is there for the same thing you are, to make some new connections that may provide future business opportunities and share ideas.  Whether you’re there to look for job, hiring, or collaborative opportunities, the first words out of your mouth should be your name, what you do and why you’re there.
  7. Pick up a nametag. duh right? Well I didn’t even notice the nametag table since it was so crowded until Colleen Eddy was kind enough to point it out to me. Here’s a tip that combines #5 and #6: Write what your goal is on your nametag! I simply wrote “I NEED A JOB!”nametag2 under my name and it worked like a charm. The name tag is the first thing everyone looks at when walking around and people started approaching me!
  8. Be prepared to tell people exactly what you can do for them. This was one of the most common questions I was asked and I regrettably have to admit that I wasn’t fully prepared for it.  As a college student, I expected to only be qualified for entry level jobs where you’re pretty much told what you need to do.  There were a lot of people however that wanted to know what services I would provide for them.  You may know what you can do for companies but you have to be able to convey it to them in a clear and precise manner.
  9. Relax! I don’t know how networking events are in other industries, but the social media crowd is typically very friendly and obviously loves to talk!  Don’t be afraid to go right up to someone and say hi! You will only be received with a big smile and a hand shake.  I had some great, in depth conversations that stemmed from a simple, “hi, I’m Dave =D”.
  10. Bring business cards and a pen. These are really the only things you need on your person.  When someone gives you a card, after you’re done talking to them write a note on the card to help you remember who they are and what you spoke about.  I didn’t do this and found it difficult to match faces to cards from memory when I got home.
  11. Know when to stop talking. Some people you meet will want to have long, interesting conversations with you.  Others will want to know who you are, what you do, get your information, and move on to the next person.  It’s not hard to pick up on the vibe that someone doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.  Say “it was great to meet you” and move on.
  12. Send e-mails the next day. I’d say that you have about 2 days before someone completely forgets about you if no further communication is attempted.  While you’re fresh in your new contacts’ minds, drop them an email.  Keep it short and sweet, tell them how great it was to meet them, and if you’re looking for a job, attach your resume.
  13. Don’t wait until after graduation! I very well may have been the youngest person at the event, but I received only positive feedback.  People thought it was great that I was networking before I graduated.  Most professionals were impressed and commended my enthusiasm.  I made some great connections with some amazing people and created job opportunities come graduation in May.  It’s never too early to start networking. (Well you have to be 21 to attend most networking events but you can still network in other ways!)

If you’re a college senior and you’re thinking about attending a networking event but can’t bring yourself to go, then please just trust me and GO!  You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain from connecting with like-minded professionals.

Feel free to comment with your own tips and experiences.  Would love to hear about YOUR experience at your first networking event!

You can find the rest of Kelly’s picture set from the Mashable event here.