“If this was ten years ago, DJ Spooky would have been playing the Chemical Brothers and about a third of the room would have been on ecstasy,” said Jason Calacanis, veteran Silicon Alley tech star as founder of Weblogs, Inc., former Silicon Alley Reporter publisher and current founder and chief executive of Mahalo.com. “Where are the ice sculptures?”
He was at the Puck Building last night at the Internet Week Kick-Off party, sponsored by The Observer, the Webby Awards and YouTube and standing in front of a TV screen playing a Web video of J Geils Band’s “Centerfold.” Nearby venture capitalists and young entreprenuers in sports coats and were sipping wine and one guest was nearly passing out on the couch from a bit too much of it.
Perhaps New York’s start-up scene has gone G-rated? “After Sept. 11, New York wasn’t the same, and that’s part of the reason why I left,” Mr. Calacanis said. “When artists and creative people can’t afford to live in Manhattan, the worse it got.”
“Creative destruction is gonna be the greatest thing that can happen to Manhattan,” Mr. Calacanis said.
Ah, and here comes the nostalgia:
“That’s how it started back in the early 90s in Silicon Alley,” Mr. Calacanis said, who now lives on the West Coast to run Mahalo.com. He noted that the Puck Building was near the heart of New York’s original tech scene along Broadway. “It was a lot of out of work people who were working at magazines, advertising agencies and finance companies. When everybody got laid off, people started experimenting with CD-roms, and… then putting all of that on the Internet.”
Mr. Calacanis said despite the real estate bubble, bottle service and VIP poseurs souring him to New York, he misses the city “terribly,” he told the Observer. “Every week. I’m sure I’ll come back. I like it more and more every time I come back.”
And he sees potential in new startups, like Tumblr and Meetup. “They’re making cool shit,” he said and doing it for the love of the Internet, not the dot com dollars. “You have to get in the limelight based on what you do, how creative you are, and not how much money you make.”
Two of New York’s young star entreprenuers, AnyClip.com’s Nate Westheimer and Drop.io’s Sam Lessin stepped in to shake hands with Mr. Calacanis. He’ll see Mr. Westheimer again tonight, when he hosts the New York Tech Meetup at FIT’s Haft Auditorium. Mr. Calacanis is presenting a new version of Mahalo, his “human-powered search” engine. “The creativity here [in New York] is what made it great, the art is gonna come back,” he said, before finding a quiet corner to Twitter on his laptop and duck out for some pork and corn at Cafe Habana.