Getting Started in Boston Tech

February 2014

I’ve been asked a few times here in Hong Kong about how to dive into Boston’s startup scene. This post is a short attempt to make that transition a little easier on students.

For such a vastly larger city, our community in HK is much smaller and more fragmented than Boston’s. I miss Anna’s and people helping each other and Sam Adams and semi-bike-friendly streets (but not the T). I also miss what is probably the world’s most student-friendly startup community. Despite that friendliness, undergrads often have difficulty escaping the campus bubble and participating in our excellent startup ecosystem.

Structure: First a method, assuming that you’re starting from zero and just wandered in from New York or somewhere equally terrible. Then some resources.

##Method

  1. Do everything
  2. Simplify with extreme prejudice

When students return to Boston and VCs come back from Cape Cod in September, the city explodes with new tech/startup/networking/social events. Attend all of them. For a week or three, you’ll be able to wander around the city pretty much subsisting off venue hors d’oeuvres and complimentary beers, and that’s barely an exaggeration.

Chances are some of these events will be useless to you. That’s ok. Don’t go again. Somebody’s finding it useful, though, and you won’t know if you’re that somebody until you attend. And you’ll probably meet some cool folks no matter where you go.

The folks, most of the time, are going to turn out to be the important part anyway. Perhaps you’re a timid geek coming out of high school (I was). Or maybe you’re Dale Carnegie Jr, what do I know? Either way, remember that the content of whatever event you’re attending is probably far less critical than forcing yourself to have conversations with these real, often bearded, scarily professional adult people at the event with you. It’s not hard. Just ask what they’re working on.

When you feel you’ve got a grip on things after a week or two of madcap networking - and you’ve got problem sets, and maybe a Tuesday afternoon dorm room power hour starts to seem really inviting - start cutting back. Cut ruthlessly and without regret. Reclaim your evenings for student life, having explored the Boston startup ecosystem to its roots, and you’ll only need to venture out again for the quality stuff. You’ll recognize it, now. And should you ever want to know what’s going on at the events you’ve eliminated from your schedule, why, you still have some business cards from those bearded professionals in the first few weeks of the semester.

[Why get started this way? Why not do it like a rational human being, and start attending events that interest me at a reasonable pace?

Good question. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that, if you’ve waded this far into my nonsense, you’re in this piece’s target audience. You’re a student who wants to get involved but isn’t entirely resolved as to how. Well, my ambitious student friend, perhaps you’ve noticed that a campus generates its own gravity. There are a million good reasons to stay on campus (hang out, activities, get food/laid/some work done) and only a few uncertain ones to venture out (maybe get into this startup thing?). It’s a mental obstacle we students construct for ourselves and for each other. Just like planetary masses, some campuses (Emerson) have a weaker gravitational field than others (good luck, Brandeis). And leaving that gravity well requires an escape velocity - here defined as such a rate of startup events per week that you won’t put a dent in your meal plan until October. Once you’ve escaped your planet/campus bubble, you’ll be free to come and go at will, like astronauts, or upperclassmen. It’s about retraining your brain.]

##Resources

How to find events and people? The Hitchhiker's Guide to Boston Tech does a pretty thorough job.

##Help Me

I probably missed something. Will you send me an email and tell me what worked, what didn’t, and what I forgot?