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Last week at the Upfront Ventures summit in Los Angeles, a number of locals excitedly speculated that Snap’s IPO could propel L.A.’s tech ecosystem above New York City’s as the #2 in the country. (Even though no local investors are going to benefit from it.) It pains me to say this as a New Yorker, but they had a point.
Now, I know it’s not a competition. I know it’s not a zero-sum game. And I know it annoys people when the press plays up rivalries between tech ecosystem. I’m not trying to do that. Yay, go tech, everyone’s city is special, even you, Silicon Sandbar.
But I also know image matters when top tech talent is deciding where to live or start companies. Having a large, high profile, publicly traded “tentpole” company in your city – one that will to hire you if your startup fails, one that will mint angel investors and maybe even a “mafia” of next-generation companies and investors — is very attractive. The Bay area has obviously that in scads.
New York has a strong presence from Alphabet and Facebook. It has the DoubleClick Mafia. And it’s home to many solid exits, including Tumblr (sold to Yahoo), Jet.com (sold to Walmart), Buddy Media (sold to Salesforce) and Shutterstock (went public).
But none of its companies have approached Snap-level valuations. New York’s most IPO-friendly “unicorns,” including Blue Apron, WeWork, AppNexus, BuzzFeed, are either on the sidelines or a year or more away from going public. Shares of the companies that did go public, Etsy and OnDeck Capital, have languished below their IPO prices ever since. Onetime winners Gilt Groupe and Makerbot sold, but fell short of expectations. And Fab utterly melted down.
L.A.’s tech scene is younger, but has had its own meltdowns. Nasty Gal went bankrupt. The subscription companies ShoeDazzle and Beachmint resorted to M&A. And The Honest Company recently laid off staff in its quest for profitability. It’s had numerous small-ish IPOs, including TrueCar, Cornerstone OnDemand and Rubicon Project, as well as the $1 billion sale of Dollar Shave Club to Unilever, the $1.5 billion sale of Lynda.com to LinkedIn, and the $2 billion sale of Oculus VR to Facebook. Other promising companies include SpaceX, Hyperloop, Thrive Market, and Scopely.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of investment activity in L.A., New York, and Boston since 2012, courtesy of data provider CB Insights.
Since 2012, 1,198 L.A. startups have raised $14.9 billion in funding.
Since 2012, 1,628 Boston startups have raised $23.1 billion.
And in New York, 3,087 startups have raise $30.1 billion.
Based on the last five years, New York is clearly the U.S.’s No. 2 city for tech, after San Francisco and Silicon Valley. But investments only tell one part of the story. Exits — companies selling and investors getting a return on their money — matter more. An exit like Snap can change things pretty quickly. After the IPO, I’ll compare data on exits and IPOs for the three cities.