Expanding from San Francisco to New York City has always been on Matter’s roadmap. Ever since our first class in 2012, Matter One, we’ve held Demo Days on both coasts, seeking to unite the capital of innovation with the capital of media. In February of this year we upped the stakes and decided it was time to establish a permanent Matter office in the Big Apple. We would run an interwoven accelerator program that brought together entrepreneurs based in both locations at key strategic moments on their journey to Demo Day.
We didn’t have a space, we didn’t have a NYC-based team, we didn’t have any new NYC partners, and we didn’t have any NYC entrepreneurs. All we had was a minimum viable plan. According to New York City realtors, what we were aiming to do couldn’t be done. There was no way we were going to be able to find an office space in a prime Manhattan location, completely build out the interior, and be ready to open our doors to a cohort of expectant entrepreneurs in the space of about 11 weeks. But, thanks to hard graft, dogged determination (and a little Google-Matter magic), we proved them wrong.
As our first bi-coastal accelerator program, interweaving New York City with our existing location in San Francisco, comes to a close, we reflect on the highlights and learnings of the past 20 weeks.
Matter Managing Partner, Corey Ford, has been commuting between the two locations for the entire program: “There’s an energy to New York City that we’ve tapped into and that’s really exciting. I think we’ve brought a certain energy to New York City as well, a unique, fail forward, experimental energy. One of the most surprisingly good things about it from a program perspective is having a cohort that you don’t see every day. The moment when they came together [during Design Review Two in NYC] and were like, “you made amazing progress!” — that was one of the unexpected highlights. It was also really cool seeing some bonds form in our Bootcamp that have gone the distance. It’s very helpful to be operating in multiple geographies at the same time so that you’re not only in your one world, and in terms of experiencing the biases that New York City and Silicon Valley have.”
Matter Associate Pete Mortensen is principally based in San Francisco: “The most positive thing is being firmly grounded in a new ecosystem, as well as our existing one. It’s good for companies in New York City, and in San Francisco. The launch party and our joint Design Review Two were remarkable, hinting at what will be possible as that ecosystem develops. For NYC-based mentors to be excited about teams on both coasts was one of those moments where you start to see a plan show signs of bearing fruit. As with many other startups, we often have to make decisions long before we know if or when they will pay off, and we’ve certainly got a lot of things ahead of us to realize, but that was a moment where there was a point of light indicating that we were walking the right way.”
Lara Ortiz-Luis, Matter Associate, has also been mainly bi-coastal during the 5-month program: “When people ask about why we chose to open in New York City, or ‘why now?’, I tell them that this was always on the roadmap and because it’s written into our mission statement: bringing together innovation and media. In order for that to happen, we had to bring those capitals together. We’ve also been doing Demo Days in New York City since the beginning, which was a really good way to ease into the community.
We made a few assumptions that we have been validating this summer. First, we really did need our own space to develop our culture and establish our presence. We were also asking whether it was possible to double the number of startups and maintain the same quality of programming across two coasts. And it worked. We had all 12 teams in San Francisco for Bootcamp and it didn’t feel that much more full than it was for 6. I’ve been very involved in both cohorts and it’s really cool to see everyone keeping in touch with each other. Whenever teams have been out doing business on the other coast, they make sure to drop by. It feels very cohesive.”
Liz Kopp, Matter’s Head of Space and Operations, is based in San Francisco but spent months living in New York City to find, design, and build the new space: “We’ve dealt with the remote program by being hyper-structured and organized in how we think about points of physical connection, by being hyper conscious of when to bring people together and how to do that. By kicking everything off with a Bootcamp and retreat with the combined cohort, we really established this community between the two coasts so that when they split apart, with only Slack to hold them together, there were budding relationships that could blossom. This has been a travel-heavy program for our teams, but they’ve seeded investor relations and taken meetings on the other coast that they otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to do.
I think a lot about the casual growing pains of running two programs. We scaled our team in order to pull this off and we’ve stretched ourselves to our limits to make it happen! What’s been really amazing is the capacity for all of us to come together and help each other out and put everything into making Matter a success because we all believe in the mission. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have moved my life for 2 months to find a space, design it and build it out! We run Matter as a startup and when you begin, you’re giving everything to it. That’s not something we should take for granted.”
Nikita Shamdasani is Program Coordinator in Matter’s NYC office. She moved from San Francisco to NYC to help build out and then run the office: “It’s felt very natural to have part of the team and cohort on the other coast. We’ve found ways to introduce serendipity to our interactions, which is taken for granted when we are physically in the same space. The perpetually-on Google Hangout between the NYC and SF offices, or “the portal” as we call it, is one way we’ve done that. Whenever someone goes by the screen in NYC, we glance to our left to see if someone is on the other side. It’s always fun to watch people on opposite coasts greet and interact with each other with so much excitement.
Being in SF and then coming to NYC has made me think about the transfer of culture. The offices are fused with a common Matter culture but they each also have their own local flavor. In particular, this NYC class has gotten a BIG taste of our experimental culture since they’re the first in our NYC office. They’ve been good sports and guinea pigs through early puzzles we’ve had to solve. An office space is a window into so much. Introducing people to the Matter space for the first time, I get to see what kinds of physical elements about us stand out — the whiteboards, our mural, our music. We’re establishing a unique brand identity here, showing what we stand for in a place that knew us, but fleetingly.
Rebecca Bowring, Matter’s Storyteller, is based full-time in San Francisco: “As an ex-patriate, I believe passionately in looking outside our borders. Silicon Valley life can feel like the ultimate navel-gazing experience at times. Setting up a new location in New York City has been a wonderful reminder of the richness of other startup ecosystems, and I’m constantly wowed by the vibrancy of the media landscape in NYC. We’ve tapped into networks of people — such as the amazing entrepreneurs and investors who’ve spoken to our class in fireside chats with Corey Ford this year — that we wouldn’t otherwise have tried to access. I think it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience for our entrepreneurs to have a cohort on the other coast, working in parallel with them, but with less frequent overlaps. They’ve been able to offer support from afar, and a fresh perspective, and the less frequent interactions mean there’s a greater element of surprise when they do meet. I love the camaraderie and how everyone roots for each other. It’s a testament to the hard work and careful attention to detail on the part of the Matter team that this ‘experiment’ has been so successful! Bi-coastal Matter is here to stay.”
Before we kicked off this expansion, our Managing Partner, Corey Ford, pledged that being in both San Francisco and New York City would make 1+1 >2. As we grow our Program + Investments team, celebrate our portfolio companies, 12 partners, and their achievements, and look forward to our 2017 class (applications for Matter 7 SF + NYC open on February 8th), we know that we can scale our impact more effectively than ever.