“I’ll Be Back,” Says New York Founder Who Ditched Alley for Valley

New York expatriate Sam Rosen works on the top floor of the tallest building in Mountain View, California, surrounded by Silicon Valley landmarks. Facebook is up the road, Apple is in the other direction, and the Googleplex is to the east. It’s been more than a month since foul-mouthed superinvestor Dave McClure—a member of the Valley “PayPal mafia”–invited Mr. Rosen to join his incubator, 500Startups, after a serendipitous meeting at General Assembly.

The Valley is beautiful, Mr. Rosen says, and he’s had more exposure and mentoring for his start-up than he ever could back home. But he doesn’t plan to stay. The founder plans to defy convention by moving back to New York after incubating his start-up on the West Coast, and he’s starting to think he might be part of a trend.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley still have a lock on engineering talent, patron companies and major investors in the tech world. But with its status as a media hub and the enthusiasm and attention around some New York-based companies (Etsy, Kickstarter, Foursquare and others), New York is becoming more attractive as a place to headquarter a web-based tech company.

“I was driving home and I remember thinking, don’t be such a fucking idiot, just call this guy and tell him to get his ass out here and stop wasting time with this bullshit,” Mr. McClure told The New York Observer. The bullshit was that Mr. Rosen had been hustling business development for a West Coast start-up, which it is hard to imagine him being bad at–he’s a natural networker who berates himself if he can’t remember someone’s name. A gaggle of entrepreneurs had accosted Mr. McClure that day at General Assembly, but Mr. Rosen was the one the investor brought home.

Mr. Rosen had been splitting his time between his job and his start-up, Speakergram, with only a few hours left for sleep. He had good relationships with investors in New York and never missed a networking event or a meetup. But it just wasn’t happening for Speakergram in New York. He had a lot of interest–the Foursquare team and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian were early adopters of the app, which streamlines requests for speaking engagements–and investors were keeping an eye on him. But no one in a position to mentor or fund the company was ready to do so quite yet.

Now Mr. Rosen gets intensive tutoring in design, data and distribution at 500Startups. He’s demo’ed for influencers Tim O’Reilly and Jason Calacanis. In New York, his mentors were full-time CEOs with their own businesses to run. But in Mountain View, the former Googlers who roam 500Startups are often effectively retired, happy to spend hours talking to a young entrepreneur or give him rides home.

There are drawbacks, though. He misses his family, friends and girlfriend, but he also misses the scrappiness and diversity of the New York tech scene.

“In New York, it’s all blowing up, it just hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “One thing I really miss most is the strong New York City camaraderie. We’re smaller and scrappier and fighting harder to prove ourselves.”

And sometimes all tech, all the time gets a little boring. “My friends in New York City, one would be in marketing, my good friend was a producer at MTV. Other friends are lawyers, other professionals might be bankers… Here you go to the party and everyone is in tech,” he said. “It’s not like I’m tired of talking about my company, but it’s all we talk about.”

He’s heard similar sentiments from founder friends who are considering grooming their start-ups in New York.

Right now Mr. Rosen is working 17 and 18 hour days to get ready for the 500Startups Demo Day in April, and he estimates he’ll be in California until May or June. But after that, he’s hoping to get back east. “I’ve been viewing this as a business trip,” he said. “I’ll be out here as long as I need to be until I can get to a place where I can come back home,” he said.

“I’ll Be Back,” Says New York Founder Who Ditched Alley for Valley