Can Boston Do Consumer and Does It Matter?

Last week, I wrote about what I felt was Boston's startup identity. The goal was to help us crystallize who we are, what we're best at and what we have to offer to potential entrepreneurs looking to move to or otherwise join our ecosystem.  As important was the goal to expose what we're not.  The single biggest thing Boston is not is a good place for pure consumer internet plays.

Before you jump out of your seat, follow me for a moment...

The major consumer plays in Boston are: Travel (Kayak, TripAdvisor, ITA Software), ECommerce (Gemvara, WayFair, RueLaLa) and AdTech (Quattro, MQube). 

Looking at them you realize that it's really very reflective of our personality: heavily analytical, and revenue driven.  An ecommerce site is likely making money from day 1 as are the Adtech plays from the second they start actually serving ads. 

Also to consider is the question I've been asking around town and stumping people lately:

What was the last Boston product that you thought was a beautiful product?

I think about the many products in town that I do use and I have seen and most are much more functional and effective than beautiful. I don't know the last time anyone raved online or in person about the beauty and elegance of a product of Boston like we've heard lately for Path 2.0 or for the New Twitter (not the most recent, New New Twitter).

When I think about Boston products, I realize our analytical, test driven personalities show through. Many of our sites are effective and we're constantly trying new things to make it better, but in the end, it leaves you with a site that looks very "bolted on"; there's a lot more features than unified product and design. 

You can obviously build some tremendous businesses without a beautiful product, but to succeed in the consumer space, it's a lot more important.

So if we are essentially swimming upstream in trying to go against our personality and our skillsets, should Boston give up on pure consumer plays? (ie- non travel & e-commerce)

I'd argue Yes.

As Rob May suggests for individuals in startups, we need to do as an ecosystem: Push on the Hamstrings. Our strength is analytics, B2B and SAAS. Why not become the SAAS capital of the world? Or as suggested by David Beyer of become the Big Data capital of the startup world? We preach startups need a hard focus to be why not bring that focus to our ecosystem as well?

Now there is some real risk here. With the consumerization of business, there's tremendous value in having both worlds to then play off each other. However, when you lack that community anyways, why not double down on what we're great at and be proud of that rather than lamenting what we're not?


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