Featured on May 25, 2011
Andrew F. Chen
"Life is a journey - every day should be lived as a story worth being told."
I currently work at the NYC Economic Development Corporation where I lead the team that leverages the City's networks and resources to build and grow the technology and startup ecosystem in NYC. There I manage programs such as NYCBigApps and NYCMediaLab and provide seed funding and support to resources like General Assembly and the NYC Entrepreneurial Fund. In a recent life, I was the Founder and Head of Product for SnapItTo.Me, a photography crowd-sourcing platform which I started in Silicon Valley in 2009. Somewhere, a long time ago, I was a management consultant at Accenture in their Strategy group leading product development and web 2.0 ecosystem projects for Fortune 100 companies. During that time, I cofounded a social enterprise called newSpark Group, consulting microfinance organizations and other social enterprises working in countries like Kosovo, Ghana, Haiti and India. I graduated from Yale University in 2003 with a degree in Economics.
- Title: Assistant Director, Media & Emerging Technologies, NYCEDC
- Age: 30
- Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
- Contact: @andrewfchen, andrewfchen.com
You say on your website that your job is to essentially “turn NYC into Silicon Valley... or better.” What do you think is NYC’s biggest current weakness and how do you plan on fixing it?
Part of my job is to keep my ear to the ground and listen to all the hackers, entrepreneurs, startups and others involved in the nyc tech ecosystem and by far, the number one challenge that I'm hearing across the board is finding talent, mainly engineering talent but also UI/UX design talent and entrepreneurial talent. This actually isn't so unique to NYC - when I was in Silicon Valley, startups and tech companies were always fighting for the best engineers and designers but due to the recent boom in NYC tech, it appears to be a more pronounced need. Traditionally, engineers that have come to NYC were lured in through investment banking or consulting jobs, and engineers that wanted to build products went to Silicon Valley. Now, the challenge is to change years of engrained career flow and reverse that misconception - we want to show engineers that NYC is a burgeoning tech hub and that there are a number of opportunities available to them here in NYC that are not about banking or consulting. So, as one example, what we're doing as the City is gearing up, working with many of the major startups and VCs, and starting that branding process at some of the major tech schools and hubs. We recently ran a pilot campaign called NYC@Boston that brought many of these startups (Foursquare, Etsy, Tumblr, etc.) to Boston and poach key talent from MIT, Harvard, etc. We'll be ramping up this program in the fall to even more cities/schools and include even more startups. That's just one program in a holistic set of programs that includes creating and supporting incubators, funds, competitions, partnerships and other key projects that support the NYC tech community.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I couldn't make up my mind. Each year it would be something new - architect, veterinarian, doctor, pilot, etc. I never imagined myself in tech or as an entrepreneur and I definitely didn't imagine myself in government. But now, technology and startups are my passion. For most of my high school life, I was gunning to be a doctor. But during my freshmen year at Yale, I realized that I was much more interested in business and became an economics major. It just clicked - you know, supply and demand curves in macro economics 101. Over time, I realized I was heavily influenced by my dad's experience, owning and running a couple multinational wholesale distribution businesses, one in China and one in the US. While he never called himself an entrepreneur that's what he is. I inherited a few of his characteristics, I imagine.
You mention that you started SnapItTo.Me in Silicon Valley in 2009. How did your move to NYC come about?
Well, a few things were going on. First, I've always loved NYC and always knew I would come back. I spent my first 5 years out of college in NYC and loved every moment of it. So, I always had my eye on coming back. Secondly, while we were getting decent user interaction on the SnapItTo.Me platform, we were quickly running out of money. That really made me assess our metrics and whether we were hitting the numbers necessary to justify more investment. The answer was no, at least not in it's current form. So I had to make the hard decision to really cut marketing and operations until we could adequately come up with a pivot. That released me locationally. Finally, what tipped the scales was, both my family and girlfriend, now fiance, are in NYC and so it was an easy decision to bring my life back to NYC. From a career perspective, given the rise of NYC as a tech hub, it seemed like the right time to jump back east. And that is definitely true.
What are some of your personal favorite NYC based startups?
Well, professionally, I love them all - each one that is created is one more reason that NYC is an awesome place to start a tech company. Personally, there are a number of startups that I use and/or have used early on, which I equate with being favorites. One that I really love is Animoto - I was hooked since its inception and have used them for creating awesome photo and video shows ever since. It makes me a hit at weddings. Another one is Kickstarter, which has really empowered so many creatives, inventors and entrepreneurs in every walk of life, truly inspiring. Finally, I really love Gilt, because it's such a strong example of a startup that leverages the power of what NYC has to offer and using technology to capitalize off of it. It is this combination of technology and industry concentrations (e.g. fashion, finance, media) that will really propel NYC into the future of tech startups.