I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Boston’s tech community is all a-tizzy

Ludwig Gatzke's 2006 compilation of Web 2.0 logos

Ludwig Gatzke's 2006 compilation of Web 2.0 logos

Loads of hand-wringing, tears, and digital ink have been spilled over the last week in Boston.  Oh no!  The venerable venture capital firm Greylock Partners is going Westward Ho. It’s battening down the hatches–in Silicon Valley.  Here an excerpt from a Mass High Tech interview by Galen Moore, with Greylock parter Bill Helman:

Helman acknowledged East Coast investors are more conservative — a tendency he said he has observed in board meetings. But if Boston is going to be more like the Valley, the solution goes beyond the investment community, he said. “(On the West Coast), it’s the entire community that’s focused on entrepreneurial activity. It’s not just the universities and their licensing departments. It’s not just the venture capitalists. It’s the big companies.”

New England, with its strengths in education and health care, could do the same, he said. “You create this reinforcing ‘success begets success’ ecosystem. And that’s what we need to do in other domains. We need to do that in consumer Internet, we need to do that in clean tech.”

Hallelujah.  At the risk of acting like a hammer who makes everything a nail, I’ve long been saying that the answer to rebuilding Boston’s cred as a center of innovation is creating and funding meaningful robust consumer internet ventures.  (I buy the clean tech argument too–but it’s way slower and riskier.) Why emphasize consumer internet?  The reasoning is simple.

If Boston wants to have ample mindspace for innovation, we have to gain mindspace from peopleAt the end of the day people–journalists, academics, CEO’s, students, policy-makers, and employees–are all consumers.  Their impressions of creativity, technical competence, and innovation are most forcefully driven by the products and services they use.  Consumer products. In Silicon Valley, that spells Google, Flickr, Apple, eBay, Twitter, Facebook and smaller efforts like Mint.com, and Kiva.org.

In Boston, we can safely build all the enterprise software, and back-end analytics, and ad optimization businesses we want, but that’s not going to visibly and quickly move the “innovation image” needle.

Consumer internet is cheap to fund, fast to build, but scary as hell to the local institutional investment community.  The decision makers just haven’t, in their own careers, built household-name brands and consumer experiences.  And there is a dearth of local big companies who understand this world as well.

What to do?  Well, we can hunker down in our Boston comfort zone, and slowly slip away to tech-cred obscurity.  Think the British Navy.  Or we can do what we’ve done in the past…give it a college try.  Mini-computers were scary too, in their day.  We got past it.  We can get past this, too, if we can summon up the creativity and courage.  I think we can.

We still have an envious infrastructure, a vibrant workforce, and some pretty interesting local consumer internet companies in various stages of development (Zipcar, CSN Stores, TripAdvisor, Ziggs, NameMedia, CarbonRally, WorkItMom, Care.com, VistaPrint, ShoeBuy, RunMyErrand.com, DesignerShoes.com, Gazelle, SimpleStores.com, StyleFeeder, BeatThat!, RueLaLa, FirstGiving.com, Zeer.com, My Perfect GigC-Market, FashionPlaytes, MyHappyPlanet, TheUpDown, and Daily Grommet, of course).  I’d like to see all of these move over to “household name” territory.  I think many can, if we collectively make it happen.

What local names are missing from my list?  I’d like to include them in the post for my great band of faithful readers.

7 Responses to “Boston’s tech community is all a-tizzy”

  1. Brian

    Hi Jules,

    Thanks for the mention of RUNmyERRAND! If you haven’t already, hope you get a chance to try it out.

    And great blog post. I agree about consumer internet ventures here in Boston — we are trying to do our part! 🙂 RUNmyERRAND was recently named a Facebook Fund Finalist.

    Thanks again, and I’ll be reading.

    Best,

    Brian

    RUNmyERRAND.com

    Reply
  2. julespieri

    @Brian–I’m a big fan of Leah’s, and yours by association. Congrats on the Facebook Fund Finalist! Thanks for the comment too.

    Reply
  3. mksutts

    Hi Jules, I enjoyed the post. Great to see that list of local consumer companies.

    Two others for the list:
    1) Zeer is another consumer internet company to watch. It’s a food information resource of 140,000 food products that helps people with food allergies to find safe food.
    2) Firstgiving, which is a social media fundraising platform that enables people to raise funds for any charity of their choice.

    Thanks!

    Mark

    Zeer.com

    Reply
  4. julespieri

    @ Mark Thanks for adding Zeer and FirstGiving…I apologize for the oversights, in the first place. I put them on the list in the post too.

    Reply
  5. Jeff Bennett

    Right on Jules. New England is where I have grown up…we tend to be closed at times. In this open source and networked world we need to open up. We also need to tap into all aspects of our ecosystem – schools, entrepreneurs, research, students, investors. It takes a village. When you look at how many folks roll through New England for their education and research…this is one of the most valuable network of innovation in the world!

    Reply
  6. julespieri

    @Jeff. You (and NameMedia) are one of the local resources that make this community rich and full of potential.

    Reply
  7. Jammie Babikian

    Alot of bloggers are not really happy with this new iPad.There was too much hoopla over it and alot blogers got turned off.Thing is, I actually see some of the cool potential of this gadget. Third-party apps for doing tunes, games, newsprints and magazine and books, all sorts of good stuff, but IMHO they failed to sell it properly (excluding the books). It smells kinda undercooked

    Reply

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