New York Tech Startups Look to Broadway for a Creative Edge on Silicon Valley

Photographer: Zhi-Da Zhong/Etsy

A funk medley performed by Etsy employees, left to right, Sarah Starpoli, Justin Kerr Sheckler, David Morgan, with Eric Beug in the background, on April 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. Close

A funk medley performed by Etsy employees, left to right, Sarah Starpoli, Justin Kerr... Read More

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Photographer: Zhi-Da Zhong/Etsy

A funk medley performed by Etsy employees, left to right, Sarah Starpoli, Justin Kerr Sheckler, David Morgan, with Eric Beug in the background, on April 2013 in Brooklyn, New York.

People bring their instruments to work at Etsy. Even the chief executive officer has a guitar in his office, which he started strumming at 8:30 a.m. on a recent morning and was soon joined by several others, making an impromptu band.

When the New York-based company has its monthly all-hands meetings, which it calls Y'all Hands for added quirkiness, the "house band" performs variety-show style to kick off and close the meeting, CEO Chad Dickerson said.

"Nothing against the Silicon Valley talent pool, but we will take them on in a battle of the bands any day," he said in an interview this month. "The way to make New York a great tech scene is to use the things that are great about New York, like the creative culture."

While Silicon Valley companies tend to focus on perks like unlimited vacation and beer on tap, Dickerson thinks an emphasis on the arts and other creative hobbies can bring business talent his way. He encourages the staff of his online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods to show off their skills -- from hula-hooping to jewelry-making -- at company talent shows and in classes for employees. And he once lured an engineer to move from the West Coast with a conversation about Brooklyn's hip-hop legacy.

On the other side of the country, Russell Hancock is skeptical about how a failed actress is going to help build a business. He's the CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a think tank, and he's also a concert pianist who has performed with orchestras on national tours.

"I've found that there are ways that I'm creative on the stage and with a musical instrument that don't necessarily translate to my professional life," Hancock said. "It's apples and oranges."

Also, it's not like Silicon Valley lacks an arts community, Hancock said. Drew Houston, the CEO of cloud-storage provider Dropbox, plays in a band, according to Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator, which incubated Houston's startup in the Valley.

Zocdoc, a New York startup that makes a tool for scheduling doctor's appointments, has hired former Broadway performers to sing the praises of the company's service to physicians and patients. Their energy and cheeriness is infectious, said Zocdoc CEO Cyrus Massoumi. They also help make the company's karaoke nights a competitive sport.

Musicians on Zocdoc's staff were recently commissioned to write a full opening number for a company meeting, said Jessica Aptman, a spokeswoman. Since we're talking about an Internet startup, something from "Cats" might be good for the next performance.

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