Which Is a Better City for Startups, San Francisco or New York City?

When people think of tech companies, the first major city to come to mind is San Francisco. The City by the Bay is the closest major hub in the Silicon Valley and itself plays host to the likes of Twitter, Square and Uber. But the West Coast powerhouse is seeing quite a bit of competition from the East Coast, New York City. A study released this past spring by HR&A Advisors and NY Tech Meetup, the New York City tech ecosystem generates about half a million jobs and $124.7 billion in annual output.  

To see which city really has more to offer to new startups seeking to establish a home base, I took to the streets (or rather, my digital Rolodex) and asked startup founders, venture capitalists and tech executives to share why their city was the best. Here’s what they told me:

Related: Tech Workers Are Now Sizable Slice of Big Apple's Economy (Infographic)


In terms of technology startups, San Francisco is the quintessential location, given the access to high quality engineers, venture capitalists, superb universities and a risk-taking culture that has taken about 50 years to cultivate,” wrote Chris Haroun, a partner at San Francisco-based Artis Ventures and a client of mine. “Also most other regions of the world don't share ideas to the extent that Bay Area technology companies do.”  

“As part of the larger Silicon Valley, San Francisco is unique in that startups are central to the culture and business climate of the city,” wrote Kelly Wanser, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Stateless Networks. “Everywhere you go, there are startup founders, investors and employees talking shop and people, services and events to help startups grow and thrive.”

Calling San Francisco as a major center of talent in technology, engineering and business innovation, Wanser said “in my industry, networking, it's the locus of all major players and the geniuses and legends who shape the technology that drives everything we're using, from chips to software to the Internet itself.”

Yet Wanser allowed that New York City had its advantages. In certain spaces New York City rules,” Wanser said. “For startups centered on design, media, fashion, it's an unparalleled place. The energy, aggressiveness and staggering creative talent may make it the world's best place to have a startup in these fields.”

“The sheer diversity of New York City makes it a great place for finding tech talent,” wrote Kevin Bijas, director of the New York branch of Riviera Partners, a tech-focused recruiting firm based in the Bay Area. “Startups thrive on scrappiness and want people who don’t rely on a lot of set systems, processes and resources to get stuff done. Plus, they need to move fast, like this city and the people in it.”  

Related: What Makes Silicon Valley Successful? Not What You Think

Attitudes about work.

One venture capitalist singled out San Francisco's attitudes about failure, a fate that befalls many a startup.

“There is the notion that failure is OK in the San Francisco Bay Area. In other areas, it is shameful to fail,” Haroun wrote. “The thing is, sometimes you need to fail in order to be successful in the long run.”

Others praised New York City's work vibe.

"New York has a reputation for being cutthroat and too tough, but it is wonderful to see how genuinely supportive everyone in the startup ecosystem is of each other here,” Aishwarya Iyer, director of communications at New York-based ff Venture Capital, shared by email. “There is a lot of camaraderie within the tech community.”

“What I love about New York is the camaraderie. The tech group here is close knit,” noted Amanda Bensol, vice president of marketing and sales for Karma, a Big Apple startup that offers a pay-as-you-go mobile Wi-Fi service. “Anyone is always one or two degrees away and when contacted, more than willing to listen and support you. New York City tech feels like a smaller version of what is out on the West Coast, and so I perceive it as a more approachable community.”    

“New Yorkers tell it like it is and aren’t afraid to say no," ff Venture Capital's Iyer said. This makes the world of a difference for a startup, since they can just move on, rather than live in a limbo state because they didn't receive a straight answer." 

Related: The Forces Driving NYC's Startup Revolution and How to Scale It


When it came to lifestyle issues, San Francisco scored some kudos.

“New York City is great but I like San Francisco better because it’s a more livable city,” said Ryan Donovan, vice president of corporate communications at San Francisco-based Practice Fusion, which offers a cloud-based electronic health record platform. “It’s easy to get around, the weather is perfect and there’s so much that’s near us. Wine country, Tahoe, Mendocino, Monterey -- the list goes on and on -- all within minutes or a few hours. It’s also a great talent market, particularly for technology expertise.”

Both San Francisco and New York City have a lot to offer when it comes to fostering growth in technology and providing an inspiring environment. One thing’s for certain at the end of the day: No one mentioned Oklahoma City as the best place to launch a startup.

Do you agree or disagree with these opinions? What makes your town great for a startup? 

Related:  5 Lessons From Silicon Valley for Developing Business Hubs