JPC vs. AFB

Preface

I was recently part of a debate at the Greenberg Traurig office in Miami (covered here). I told everyone that I would make my research & statements available, so I'm including that here. At the end of this post are some questions I wish would have been asked during the moderated debate or by the audience.

Opening Remarks

For those of you who don't know me, my mother is Peruvian. I'm born & raised here in South Florida & have a big passion for technology, science & community. But we're not here to talk about me...

We are here to discuss an idea, the motion which I am here to defend is "Miami is rapidly becoming a tech hub & it does not need to be a gateway for Latin America to succeed". I would like to digest that a bit so my arguments are properly understood; Everyone wants to be the next "Silicon Valley", we're no different - we want a local tech sector to augment our economy. I believe Miami is on a growth trajectory, when it comes to web technology. There are new companies coming into existence on what is currently, a weekly or bi-weekly basis[1]. That part is fairly straight forward. The next part is a little bit more ambiguous, "miami does not need to be a gateway to latin america to succeed", to me, Latin America is specifically South American countries, I do not mean people of Latin American decent or origin when referencing Latin America. Moreover, while South America is thriving, we cannot depend on South American companies, entrepreneurs and developers as a source for growth. Let me elaborate:

We've been here once before, Yupi.com, Patagon.com, Terra.com & many more were stationed here in Miami in the dotcom bubble. Where are these companies or more importantly, entrepreneurs today? There has been very little left behind that can be accounted for, a few dozen jobs at Terra.com & other companies[2].

In my opinion, that's not even the worst part of depending on South America for growth - it's the slight of hand that happens, we see "tangible" benefits, like new jobs or some tax base, but what is really happening is we're being squeezed - most, if not all of the actual benefits (like profits, assets & new skills) are being exported to the South American companies home country.

On top of this if we are to build a tech hub, it is important to acknowledge the fact that technology is at the core of long term sustainability for any city that wishes to become a tech hub. Business offices are not sufficient to create core technologies - although they will be great for generating tax revenue while they are here.

What I'm leading to is this, we don't need South America to succeed, we're right at the beginning of our path to success, we've been able to grow event creation 1600% in the last 24 months, from 4 events per month to 64 events in August[3]. Event attendance has also increased, as much as 60x, since the first Refresh Miami. There were 300+ people at the August edition of RefreshMiami[4]. Not to mention the growth & popularity of events like BarCamp, WordCamp & Ignite. All of the graphs for events are up & to the right. This event ecosystem was started by Alex DeCarvalho, Brian Breslin & is now being being pushed forward by community, but I have to commend people like Andrej K & Ed Toro with their work on StartupDigest & MiamiTechEvents.com.

We should not forget, that in the South Florida area alone, we've seen over $60m invested this year to date[5]. There are 2 important points to note here, 1. I've only included SOFTWARE companies in that number and 2. That number is only inclusive of companies that are in Miami. If we include all of Florida Startups, biomedical, science, energy or lending, we're looking at well over $250m with a quarter to go[6]. Compare this to the first three quarters of 2011 when Florida raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $200m & you can see that we're already ahead on track to grow by 20%[7].

When you couple all of this with the growing 3rd party interest the Miami market from people like Brad Feld founder of TechStars & Partner at Foundry Group who attended my conference, SuperConf this past February, or True Ventures who sent Adam D'Augelli (to my conference), or GitHub, a $750m company, who held a developer conference in the Brickell area last October[8], or FastCompany Magazine, who I am talking with about an article on the Miami tech scene - you will understand why you must support my stance in defense of the motion that Miami is indeed rapidly becoming a tech hub & most definitely does not need to be a gateway for Latin America to succeed!

Closing Remarks

Now, given everything I've said so far, I want to make it clear that I believe that I healthy South America is good for Miami. It's just not paramount to our success.

We have really promising things going for Miami; we have angel and seed investment from IncubateMiami, Miami Innovation Fund, the "Syndicate" as I like to call them, comprised of individuals like Juan Pablo & Marco Giberti, & now LaunchPads incubator. we have amazing, engaging events like Refresh, Ignite, BarCamp, WordCamp & many many more, and we have great coworking spaces like Buro, MiamiShared & LAB Miami.

But the fact of the matter is, we're still not as strong as we could be & have a lot of growing to do. We need more web developers & computer scientists. We need events that educate people on acquiring customers, exploring markets, raising money & harnessing new technologies. Most of all, we need an area of Miami with a large entrepreneur population density.

Now, before I go on, it's important to note that none of those revolve around South America as a source that is paramount to our success.

Getting back to the point, the talent pool down here is limited & we need to grow it ourselves. Better & constant communication with UM & FIU are very important first steps. These schools are nationally recognized for their accomplishments. I mean FIU is the second largest University in the country in terms of the number of Bachelor degrees awarded when it comes to computer science[9]. UM is breeding ground of CoHealo, a medical startup. On top of that, wide reaching events teaching technologies like Python or Ruby would provide long term benefits to our community.

The next piece of the puzzle is workshops in non-technical areas, all technology companies need to sell something at some point. Giving entrepreneurs a head start on how to acquire customers, explore markets or close sales will invariably benefit us all.

The last idea is probably the hardest to swallow, but I'll argue that it's significantly easier than transplanting hundreds of people from South America. It's also the most powerful action item for us. It's the need for an area with high entrepreneur population density. Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator & Brad Feld both subscribe to this idea; lots of smart, ambitious people living & working near each other tend to create amazing things & support each other in their endeavors. I'm talking about creating a "wall street" of technology in one place in South Florida. More specifically, what I'm talking about is facilitating "serendipity" on a large scale. Making chance meetings (like Sean Parker & Mark Zuckerberg), happen on purpose. There is a certain "serendipity" factor that places like the Bay Area or Boulder Colorado have that we don't quite have as naturally here in South Florida because the population is spread out geographically. If we can all rally around a certain area, we can drastically improve the communication & success of tech startups in Miami. This means everyone who is committed to putting Miami on the map joins in, investors, developers & entrepreneurs - all making an effort to be near each other & help one another out, even when there is no personal gain to be had. The point I'm trying to make is that we need focus our efforts on a small area to get a maximized return on our efforts. As a thought experiment, how many people are willing to move to Coconut Grove or midtown to support the tech ecosystem? Now consider proposing that to someone who lives in Argentina or Chile and keep in mind that their chance of succeeding diminishes as they leave their home country[10]!

I'd like to close with this: Rome was not built in a day. We are all here tonight because we agree on at least one thing, Miami has potential. Now, do we need to depend on South America to kickstart our growth - most definitely not. We need to double down on our efforts & connect with the people & companies in our own backyard, people coming from other areas will follow with our own success.

Ultimately though, I feel that I speak for me & many of my peers when I say that we will support any effort to grow the community down here. We just feel that some focus on low hanging fruit would serve us all better.

Thank you all for considering my argument this evening & I hope you'll support my defense of the motion that Miami is indeed rapidly becoming a tech hub & most definitely does not need Latin America to succeed.

Questions I wished were asked

Q: You say we should grow talent locally? Who will fund that? How much would that cost?

A: There are plenty of companies that would pay for talented engineers. I can definitely see companies like CareCloud, 1SaleADay & Saveology contributing to cover costs on a developer bootcamp (like this one: http://devbootcamp.com/). If we can work with previously created coursework, like that of CodeSchool.com then we can have a small team (2 or 3 people) staffing the bootcamp for < $250k / year + rent/electric/insurance/etc for a place to train people. We can look to foundations to defray some of the initial costs and in a worst case scenario, charge a tuition in the range of $2-3k over 4 months.

Q: We should encourage an influx of talent from South America, why are you against that?

A: I'm not against that! I think it's fine to encourage & embrace a natural influx of talent. It just seems misguided to put resources behind people who are not from here & will likely leave if they cannot find a paid position. The cost just seems too large. Considering the cost of an H1B visa is about $3-15k & we want to import 100 people, we're looking at $300k. Now what about the cost of convincing those people? Relocation? Higher salary due to increased Cost of Living. Investing locally seems like a much better alternative to me.

Q: Do you have any sort of plan?

A: Sure. Grow talent locally. Embrace & create all events that enrich/further education of developers AND entrepreneurs. Make sure everyone is close to one another geographically.

Q: It's going to take too long to grow ourselves, it's so much faster to import talent. Why do you disagree?

A: While I agree that it's faster to import talent than grow it. There is a hidden cost, as I've previously discussed; people who do not find anything worth staying for (a job, a company, a mate) will head back home & that investment is lost. Locals, even if they leave, have a higher likelihood of coming back.

Research

  1. http://mapyourstartup.com
  2. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AijrqbR8WvH-dFdpRTVnbFE0N3pfZlRkNE5sc0N6Wmc
  3. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AijrqbR8WvH-dDA1UGRiRVlKSWhYYXRfd1JheXRMS1E [tab: Number of Events by Month]
  4. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AijrqbR8WvH-dDA1UGRiRVlKSWhYYXRfd1JheXRMS1E [tab: Refresh Attendance]
  5. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AijrqbR8WvH-dDA1UGRiRVlKSWhYYXRfd1JheXRMS1E [tab: Florida funded companies]
  6. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AijrqbR8WvH-dDA1UGRiRVlKSWhYYXRfd1JheXRMS1E [tab: Florida funded companies]
  7. http://cl.ly/image/1R1l0O2m0w2Z and http://cl.ly/image/151f0F053v2X [note: Q2 is an approximation]
  8. http://py.codeconf.com/
  9. http://news.fiu.edu/2012/06/fiu-college-of-engineering-and-computing-faculty-among-most-productive-in-country/41603
  10. http://mba.yale.edu/news_events/CMS/Articles/7616.shtml