Truth is, the locus of innovation has been shifting away from the technological to the social, and from engineers to “culturistas” for some time now. It’s no accident that Kickstarter began through indie music (trying to find a new way to fund concerts) and is headquartered on Rivington Street (and soon to move to Brooklyn). It’s no accident that a large and growing number of successful startup folks have music, design, or art in their background, in addition to, or in place of, engineering. These include the people who brought you Apple (yes, it is still important to remember Steve Jobs wasn’t an engineer, loved Bob Dylan and music, was entranced with the aesthetic simplicities of Japanese and German Bauhaus design, and framed himself as an artist), YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, Etsy, Airbnb, Behance, Instagram, Vimeo, Hunch, Gowalla, Path, Blurb, Square, About.me, YCombinator, the Designer Fund, and many more.
Designers, musicians, and artists understand the user experience in a way that engineers don’t. TechCrunch highlighted the shift away from engineering as a driver of innovation with an article on the death of specs. It said that product reviewers now focus on the user experience, not speed or memory or power--all the techie stuff engineers obsess about and forced all of us to pretend we cared about for so many years. That “user experience” is more and more social, local, and urban. Music, fashion, food, movies, advertising, art, personal manufacturing--the “indie” stuff of “indie” capitalism, are increasingly the driving forces of and the models for innovation today. And they tend to take place in cities. You need to be in Chicago (or perhaps Cincinnati) to create Groupon; Seattle (where they read a lot) for Amazon; Yelp in foodie San Francisco; Portland for Weiden + Kennedy’s “Imported from Detroit” ads; New York for Kickstarter.
Fascinating article. Ostensibly about Stanford's loss to Cornell in the battle for a massive new applied technology campus in New York City; but really about the "where" of startups. Building on local culture and existing market niches, startup culture is more location-specific than we may readily acknowledge.