The week, running from April 23rd to 27th, was organized by the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, which is made up of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo. The Brooklyn Tech Triangle aims to grow the tech sector in Brooklyn, creating thousands of jobs and a booming economy.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer started the conference by introducing the “Tech All-Stars” panel.
“I’m excited about what you’re all doing and wanted to let you know I’m working as hard as I can to see that New York, and my home borough of Brooklyn in particular, becomes the tech capital of the world,” Senator Schumer said.
Much of the discussion of the opening panel focused around that exact idea: how Brooklyn has become a tech hub and how people can get hired in the booming industry.
The panel was moderated by Manoush Zomorodi, who hosts WNYC’s New Tech City. She was joined by Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis and Huge CEO Aaron Shapiro.
Zomorodi summed up the feelings many shared about Brooklyn when she said, “There’s something crazy happening in Brooklyn. This is it. This is the moment, right now, and I want to be part of that.”
Shapiro, who runs Huge out of a space in Dumbo, agreed wholeheartedly, saying that over 70 percent of the people he hires also live in Brooklyn.
“The buildings in Dumbo are fantastic,” Shapiro said. “All these giant lofts are really great for creative companies like ourselves to have as much space as we need. And then whenever we visit our peers in Manhattan we see these cramped office spaces with three times the rent and it just seems crazy.”
Besides the space and cheaper rent, though, Shapiro said there is something else that drives tech startups to Brooklyn.
“Dumbo is now an amazing community. I would be hard-pressed to think of a single company that’s not in the tech space at this point. […] It creates this kind of buzz and creative atmosphere that’s invaluable for developing new things,” he said.
One of the main themes of the evening, which all of the panelists mentioned in one way or another, was the need for failure in order to make it big in the tech world.
“Comfort with failure is so important,” Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, said.
“Make a list of the things that you really want to do in life, starting with the one that gives you the most anxiety down to the one that gives you the least, and try to do the one that gives you the most anxiety,” he added both as general advice and as advice for those who wanted to find a job in the tech industry.
MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis said that his company, which he admitted started as a side project that he believed would take up 10 hours per week of his time, embodies that principle.
“One of our secret weapons at Makerbot is that it’s an iteration machine,” Pettis said. “We made it to make it so that you can affordably fail at 3D printing as many times as it takes for you to make an awesome design.”
Each of the CEO’s said that they wished they had taken the opportunity to start and potentially fail at companies and projects while they still had the safety blanket of being in school.
“So much of education for all of our lives is about following instructions, passing tests, getting to the next level and fearing failure,” Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian said. “And yet your life, whether you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re a biologist, whatever it is, it will be full of failures and setbacks and sucking. Sucking is the first step to being sort of good at something. […] And I wish there were more opportunities to suck and to fail in school.”
Underneath all of the advice to go out and fail, though, was the knowledge that everyone in the room was already at a slight advantage for being located in Brooklyn, where tech startups are flourishing and organizations like the Brooklyn Tech Triangle are working to make sure that growth continues.