In the pre-pandemic times, Contrary’s network of venture scouts, founders, and top technologists reflected the magnetic pull Silicon Valley had on the tech industry. About 80% were based in the Bay Area, with a smattering living elsewhere. Today, when Contrary asked where people in its network were living, the split had changed with 40% in the Bay Area and another 40% living in or planning to move to New York.
It’s totally bifurcated now, said Contrary’s founder Eric Tarczynski.
“That was a big wake-up call for us. Before the pandemic, New York wasn’t even really on the road map,” Tarczynski said. “A huge cross-section of engineers are now in New York.”
The talent migration during the pandemic put the Big Apple on the road map of many traditionally Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms. New York has long hosted its share of venture capitalists with well-regarded firms like Union Square Ventures, FirstMark Capital, and Lerer Hippeau there. But now firms traditionally anchored to Sand Hill Road like Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, and Lightspeed have also hired New York-based partners and opened up offices in the city.
Contrary is part of the pack that’s added New York to its road map, but the 5-year-old firm is taking a different tack to setting up its presence. Its New York city expansion isn’t an office space for partners to meet with founders. Instead, Contrary NYC is a coworking/event/hang-out space for techies in Contrary’s network.
Tarczynski likens it to a Soho House for techies — minus the pool, restaurants, and hotel rooms. What it’s meant to re-create is being part of a members-only club where engineers and entrepreneurs can hang out together, have a space to work, and host events for people in tech.
Recently, Serena Williams was spotted at a launch party for startup Parfait hosted in the space. In the past few weeks, there have been comedy shows, female founder dinners, and plenty of people just typing away at laptops in Contrary NYC.
“The core idea behind it was we want to have a place where people can go and feel like they've met their tribe, even more so in a place like New York,” Tarczynski said.
Contrary isn’t the only venture firm to experiment with building open community spaces instead of offices. In Los Angeles, Brianne Kimmel’s WorkLife fund opened up its new WorkLife studios space in the Silver Lake neighborhood. She advertises the space as a location where “Discords and DAOs can host events, remote workers can meet new people, and anyone can enjoy our eclectic schedule of gatherings — from dinner parties with the neighborhood to album listening parties with artists.” This past weekend, a thousand people were waiting in line to get into its space: The band Wallows was doing a pop-up merch store.
Contrary’s space won’t be quite as open to the public. It’s focused for now on people already linked to the firm (whether they’re venture scouts, startup founders, or engineering/product design fellows) and events hosted by its community members in the space. But with the flow of people to New York and more of an in-person culture than San Francisco, Tarczynski is hoping that the top technologists will find their way through its doors.
“For the past 20 or 30 years SF was the only game in town,” Tarczynski said. “Having a little bit more distribution and even talent flow is frankly pretty good for the venture community.”