When you’re skinny and bald (i.e. me), life has a tendency toward perpetual motion. New York City has been my home base for the past seven years, but in that time I’ve also spent large chunks in various tech hubs around the country — namely, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Common wisdom suggests that Silicon Valley is the natural habitat for all flavors of technology entrepreneur, but personally, I still favor the Alley (at least in the spring & fall months).
So, which tech hub is right for you? I’ve gathered some thoughts below to help you decide.
New York City
- Work/Life Balance: 60 percent work, 40 percent play
- General Ethos: Work hard, make money
- End Game: Get rich
New York mostly draws folks looking to work in fashion, advertising, media, theatre and finance. People don’t generally move here to pursue a career in technology, though I suspect that’s beginning to change.
If New York has a defining trait, it’s a sense of relentless competition. They say the City never sleeps and I’d dare you to name a truer cliché. The level of intensity here can be insane, and stands in stark contrast to the laid back image of West Coast entrepreneurship.
NYC is a crucible where greatness is forged through equal parts talent and perseverance. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, but at what cost? If you value a healthy work/life balance above all things, this probably isn’t the city for you. But if you thrive in the grind, come give New York a shot.
- Work/Life Balance: 40 percent work, 60 percent play
- General Ethos: Think big, change the world
- End Game: Legacy
In a lot of ways, San Francisco is the polar opposite of New York. If you’ve grown accustomed to getting out the door at Starbucks within three minutes with your macchiato, you’d better realign those expectations — it’ll take at least twice as long here. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of my most vivid recollections from the West Coast was simply looking around and realizing, “hey, not everyone is working all the time. It’s okay to chill.” To be clear: I am not suggesting San Francisco’s tech culture is any less competitive or demanding, rather its city culture is mellower. People obviously accomplish incredible feats out here, and I’ve discovered that in taking things a little less seriously and learning to relax, you actually become more productive in your work.
San Francisco is full of vibrant people with skills and passion, often working at the intersection of technology and culture. Entrepreneurs here want to change the world, and many succeed at exactly that. I really enjoy my conversations with founders out here; we can go deep into advance SaaS analytics and user acquisition methods. I always leave San Francisco with a new point of view and ideas I want to explore further.
The city itself isn’t a great fit for me. Walking around isn’t nearly as interesting or magnetic as NYC or LA. And although I grew up on a 20-acre farm in Maine, the outdoor activities were a bit too nature-heavy for my taste.
- Work Life Balance: 35 percent work, 65 percent play
- General Ethos: Live a unique life, pursue your “art”
- End Game: Fame
Similar to New York, people typically move to Los Angeles to pursue careers in fashion, advertising, media and the arts, but this too is beginning to change. I’ll admit: I really enjoyed LA as a tech entrepreneur and a civilian, so much so that I nearly didn’t return to New York.
Los Angeles feels more laid back than San Francisco. There’s a fun beach culture, pleasant weather 284 days a year, fantastic people-watching, and booming startup culture. Plus, it’s only an hour flight from San Francisco.
I felt the environment was more conducive to an enjoyable work-life balance. Although internally I still felt intense pressure to work, every time I looked around I saw people taking it easy at the beach and enjoying the serene views. My biggest fear of living here long-term would be gradual complacency.
I don’t see myself leaving New York for the foreseeable future*, but I'd encourage anyone to give each of these cities a try. If nothing else, you'll meet some incredible people and see some diverse approaches to both work and play.
*I reserve the right to live ANYWHERE else in the world during winter months.