"The Godfather of New York's tech scene!"
That's how Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer introduced venture capitalist Fred Wilson at his Start-up City: An Entrepreneurial Economy for Middle Class New York event, held recently at New York Law School as part of his Partnership NYC Jobs Blueprint proposal.
As anyone who attends tech conferences knows, Wilson isn't the kind of godfather who sits in a back room, plotting his next hit — he is out, front and center, explaining how he thinks the momentum of the city's tech economy can be sustained and grow.
Wilson, more clearly and succinctly than anyone that day, including mayoral candidates, laid out ways to build on NYC tech:
Three Ways To Build NYC Tech
Wilson quoted Netscape founder Marc Andreessen: "In the future there will be two kinds of jobs — those for people to tell the computer what to do…and those where the computer tells people what to do."
We want to teach our children so they can be in the first camp, said Wilson.
The first Academy of Software Engineering opened in Manhattan last fall, with Wilson's support. The second will open in the Bronx in September and build on his "quest to put more computer science and software engineering in the NYC public school system."
Wilson also gave shout-outs to the coming Cornell NYC Tech campus and NYU's new Center for Urban Science + Progress.
But he called for more continuing education opportunities (like the Flatiron School and General Assembly) to help mid-career New Yorkers get the digital skills they need to reinvent themselves.
"I would love to see a Mayoral candidate say 'I'm going to bring Google Fiber to New York,'" Wilson said. Basically, broadband and Wi-Fi still are subpar in New York City.
Wilson called on the city to put free and open Wi-Fi on every subway car and in every tunnel as a "shot across the bow" at all cell-service providers. He admitted it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to do it.
"We have a problem in the way that cities and the federal government regulate innovation — It’s all permission based," Wilson said. He went on to explain that the Internet has been such a hotbed of innovation because it is "permission-less."
Wilson cited Airbnb as an example of an innovative business (with a share-based business model) that will bring a billion dollars into the city's economy this year but is technically illegal.
"Corporate companies use money to stop competitors from coming in…sending cease and desist letters…this is the kind of nonsense we can't let happen," said Wilson.
Wilson's New Paradigm
City officials, he said, need to rethink how they operate.
They must move from "Regulation 1.0: Bureaucracy, friction, permission" to "Regulation 2.0: Transparency, accountability, innovation."
The Next Mayor
After apologizing for mixing metaphors, Wilson said, "Tech is like Pandora’s box: We can't put the genie back in bottle…and we can’t bring back those lost jobs." He said he's going to vote for a mayoral candidate who is "willing to speak up against the city's entrenched interests."
As Fred Wilson finished up his presentation, I leaned over to my neighbor, who happened to be Makerbot CEO Bre Pettis, and asked, "Has Fred ever talked about running for Mayor?" Bre shrugged and yelled "Fred Wilson for Mayor!" as Wilson walked offstage.
Sure enough, an hour latter a Twitter account called @DraftFredWilson appeared. Would you vote for Fred?