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The founder of Facebook has given a surprising shout-out to the city he left. In a rare public talk, Mark Zuckerberg said if he were starting Facebook today, he would stay in Boston, rather than building his company in Silicon Valley.
It’s not just what Zuckerberg said about Boston. It’s to whom he said it. The guy who started in a Harvard University dorm room but ended up building his social networking site in Silicon Valley was speaking out there at Stanford University. And so it was in front of that sort of hometown cheerleader crowd that Zuckerberg said this about “The Valley:"
Um, it’s not the only place to be. Honestly, if I were starting now, I would have just stayed in Boston.
That raised a lot of eyebrows in that audience on Sunday, and also here in Boston Monday, when video of the talk was posted online. Local techies, start-up investors and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce tweeted the remark.
"We all feel a little bit vindicated," said Katie Rae, who runs TechStars Boston, a start-up accelerator here.
"Especially for Facebook, where I think we have this thorn in our side about Facebook in a way that I think is unnecessary in Boston."
Facebook is this thorn, because it’s the big Internet tech company that got away. With 1,000 employees now and growing, it’s building more offices in Menlo Park, unfortunately not here at Kendall Square.
To get a sense of the rivalry between the two start-up sectors, just listen to Antonio Rodriguez, a former entrepreneur and now Boston venture capitalist.
“Let’s make a little noise, come on everybody, noise, noise more noise!"
Rodriguez was giving a pep talk to Boston-area entrepreneurs last week at a conference for the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council. He told them if they want to build a big company, Boston has the resources right here.
"You can fake it like a FedEx package, you can get on the plane to California, but you’re here! And you will succeed together with us, or die alone a FedEx package on the way to California," Rodriguez said.
And so it was here in this start-up sector that’s used to playing second fiddle to Silicon Valley, that Zuckerberg’s coulda/woulda/shoulda remark was sweet justification.
But not for everyone.
"It’s a nice nod, but I think the context is really important," said Jason Evanish, who runs a resource for young Boston start-ups called GreenhornConnect.
Evanish said Zuckerberg went on to say that Silicon Valley is a good place to build a company, too, and so are other places besides Boston.
"I realize a lot of people are looking at this quote as a huge validation of what Boston’s doing, and that’s great. I mean, hey, if we can work on our brand, which I know is something nationally and globally can improve, that’s awesome. But in the end, there’s plenty of challenges to overcome here," he said.
Challenges that Evanish said are more important to focus on. After all, despite Zuckerberg’s regrets, Facebook is gone now. All you can do is try to make sure the next young entrepreneur with the next big idea has what he or she needs to build it right here in Boston.
This program aired on November 1, 2011.
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