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How New York Breeds Innovation

New York breeds innovation at every turn, which I have not seen anywhere else in the world. And unlike Silicon Valley, it’s not all about apps or AI, in New York it’s about real life.

At the start of this year, I officially moved here and although I’ve spent the equivalent of 3+ years over the past 10 years visiting the city for business, living here I’ve become aware of unique qualities that I suspect most take for granted.


A market for everyone

If someone has a new business idea, New York is where they will come launch it.

Thanks to a high density of diverse people from around the world, you can find a market for almost anything. Pick your cuisine, pick your fashion, pick your fun. You’ll find it here. And if you’re selling to other businesses (versus direct-to-consumer), then you’ve got big industry here. Finance, retail, fashion, education, healthcare, media and advertising.

New York is a microcosm of the world, with the diversity of consumers and global industry present in one place (which places like Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Boston, Montreal, Paris, Dubai, Mumbai, Rio, Tokyo and Beijing do not have). The closest may be London, Toronto, Sydney or Hong Kong, however they all really see their geographical areas as their markets. New York sees the world as its market.


New York’s innovation lifecycle

I’m going to pick on the specialty doughnut craze. I walk past these places with curiosity, on a daily basis. Although I have yet to step inside one, they have taught me a lot about how innovation is bred in New York.

You see, I don’t believe specialty donuts are a standalone business. They really are a feature for existing businesses (like coffee shops or bakeries). So how do they exist as standalone businesses? Thanks to the density of people willing to try something new (as a way to kill time and money) and the non-stop influx of tourists (ready to spend without guilt), many of these features are artificially propped up. And I’ve come to learn that’s a good thing, as it breeds innovation for the other business owners walking by who see the line-ups, and take inspiration and incorporate those features into their businesses over time. And behold, you will now see specialty doughnuts in coffee shops and bakeries (from what I’m told).

Here is a visual I created showing New York’s innovation lifecycle.

To recap:

  • Entrepreneurial people have brilliant ideas for something new.

  • A new business is launched, lots of risk but even more energy and passion.

  • The local media starts talking about it, mainly because it’s new.

  • Other entrepreneurs launch their own take of the idea, usually with a twist.

  • Tourists start to pour money into the latest craze, thanks to FOMO.

  • Established entrepreneurs get inspired and incorporate it into their businesses.

  • The original entrepreneurs go out of business (or get bored), and try something new.

To be clear, I think it’s healthy for the original entrepreneurs to move on to the next idea, as that’s what keeps the innovation lifecycle going for the entire city. Everyone has their part to play, including the media, tourists and established incumbent businesses.


New York is not that intense

I’ve been encouraging many of my entrepreneurial friends to invest some time in New York (and you’re welcome to crash at my place, many have taken me up on the offer already). The initial reaction I often hear is that “New York is too intense”.

Well, New York is only as intense as you choose to make it.

As a visitor, be it a business traveler or tourist, yes, New York is usually an intense experience. The reason is a direct reflection of the attitude one has a visitor. From the speciality donut store, to a new dream machine pop-up experience, to the latest broadway show, napping pods or a flash sample sale, new, interesting and unique business ideas are everywhere. And as a visitor, one has limited time and mixed with the intention to see, eat and shop as much as possible (FOMO), there you have a formula for an intense experience.

What I’ve learned as a local is that you don’t experience FOMO, the way a visitor might. You learn to accept that you do not need to experience every new trend the moment is shows up, and choose to prioritize seeing friends, investing time on activities you are committed to and self-care.

Take some time to visit New York, with an open mind and schedule, and see if this place inspires you, the way it has for me.

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