‘Miami Tech Week’ Wasn’t Planned. But the Hype Is Infectious

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‘Miami Tech Week’ Wasn’t Planned. But the Hype Is Infectious
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Farhaj Mayan was just starting to raise the seed round for his cannabis-tech startup when a few investors encouraged him to travel east. “Come to Miami,” they told him. “A lot of people will be there.”

Mayan, who lives in Oklahoma City, bought a plane ticket and booked an Airbnb. Then he saw that Keith Rabois, a venture capitalist who had recently moved to Miami, was hosting a four-week fellowship for entrepreneurs and investors. Mayan applied, got in, and arrived in the city on Wednesday, just ahead of a kick-off party that would bring together 100 people “to explore ideas, build projects, and grow their networks.”

By the time Mayan’s plane touched down, a lot more than 100 people had showed up. The airport was crawling with venture capitalists. A highway billboard invited out-of-towners to “imagine Miami as the next tech hub.” A few miles away, more than 200 people gathered in front of City Hall to hear mayor Francis Suarez toast to the future of technology in Miami. Afterward, people lined up to pose for selfies with him. The city had gone into full-on festival mode for “Miami Tech Week,” a phrase that refers to neither a conference nor an event, but a vibe.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the unofficial start of the inaugural Miami Tech Week,” Delian Asparouhov, a principal at Founders Fund, tweeted on Sunday. “I know of at least 100 founders, VCs etc all flying in.” In the replies, hundreds of people chimed in about when they would arrive, and where they planned to stay. Round-trip flights from San Francisco surged to more than twice their usual fare, according to Google Flights. “I knew that tweet was going to go viral,” says Asparouhov. “It created a tech conference out of nothing.”

“It’s evolved into this massive unofficial event,” Mayan says. He invited a few founder friends to share his Airbnb; now, he knows 35 people flying in. “We’re all calling it SXSE.”

The hype over Miami Tech Week may be only a few days old, but momentum around the city has been building for several months. High-profile venture capitalists like Rabois and Jack Abraham moved there last year from San Francisco, and have shared details of their new lives on Twitter. Others have followed, shedding their fleece pullovers and income tax requirements. In December, Mayor Suarez made it his personal mission to make over Miami as the next great tech capital. He put up a large billboard in San Francisco that looks like one of his tweets: “Thinking about moving to Miami? DM me.”

“We’ve gotten past the first wave of people coming here, and now we’re getting into the second wave where their friends are coming,” says Ryan Rea, who builds chatbots for Sky Organics, an ecommerce company. Rea moved to Miami from the San Francisco Bay Area four years ago, and has become an unofficial ambassador of the city’s tech scene. He likes meeting people and showing them around town, offering advice on where to live or hang out. “Since December, I’ve had more than 75 meetings with newbies,” he says. “I had to tell my realtor to brace for impact.” Miami has seen record housing prices and heavy sales volume so far this year, according to industry reports—part of a larger trend in Florida since the pandemic began (and one that is not entirely attributable to startup founders).

This winter, Rea and a few other Miami tech veterans started a WhatsApp group, called Miami Tech Life, to field questions from recent transplants. Someone would move to Miami, find one of them on Twitter, and then join the messaging group to learn about events, make friends, or seek advice. The group quickly outgrew WhatsApp’s 256-person capacity, and now communicates on Telegram. “We do everything from happy hours, dinners, bike riding, dinners, wine tastings, networking,” says Rea. “There have been a couple of fundraising rounds just within the group itself.”

This week, Miami Tech Life saw a lot more activity than usual—especially on Twitter, where Rea was overwhelmed with DMs. “The community has sort of invented this Miami Tech Week thing out of thin air,” he says. Events started to pop up: Tech Newcomers Happy Hour (dress code: business casual), South Miami Tech Happy Hour (dress code: Miami casual, which is different), a morning bike ride around Key Biscayne. Classes at Barry’s Bootcamp in South Beach, where Rabois recently became an instructor, quickly filled up. (Unlike some parts of the country, many local establishments have been able to operate at full capacity for months.)

Chris Adamo, who is part of Miami Tech Life, invited newcomers to meet the OGs at Lagniappe, a wine bar where he hosts a biweekly happy hour. The RSVPs filled up so quickly that he had to add a second location. On Twitter, a local entrepreneur offered to organize a dinner for visiting founders and VCs. After more than 100 replies and 200 direct messages, he had to politely retract the offer. “I was thinking 12 to 15 people for dinner!”

For those flying in, the week promised to be a kind of bacchanal for funding. “Every VC will be in Miami next week,” tweeted Julia Lipton, the founder of Awesome People Ventures, an early-stage fund based in San Francisco. “It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.” Dayton Mills, an entrepreneur who lives outside of Seattle, anticipated “3x more VCs at just one event in Miami next week than I met during our entire seed round. At this point not going is doing a disservice to your company.”

For those who already live in Miami, requests to get coffee or meet up have similarly been all-consuming. “My calendar is completely booked,” says Helen Rankin, the chief marketing officer at SwagUp, a Miami-based startup that makes custom-branded merchandise like Mayor Suarez’s signature “How can I help?” T-shirts. “I have two events tomorrow, I have some people I’ve connected with on Twitter. Everyone’s trying to figure out what to do and how to meet up as much as possible.”

“I’ve seen many people in tech come and go in recent months,” says Alexandra Zatarain, cofounder of Eight Sleep, a sleep-tech company that relocated to Miami last year. “This week, however, it seems as if everyone is in town. And, to be frank, I’m not entirely sure why. That’s what makes this unofficial Miami Tech Week so magical. It just happened.”

Asparouhov, who recently bought a house in Miami, envisions the city as the next great tech capital. “When I came and visited Miami in March, it flipped the switch for me,” he says. “I started to see all of the things that got me excited about San Francisco when I moved there in 2012—all these early-stage founders, builders, intellectual types. Palo Alto used to be the energy for that, and it got a little too corporate.” He hopes Miami’s growing base of smaller startups can transform into a real technology powerhouse.

Some people probably will stay in Miami beyond the impromptu Tech Week, seduced by the vibrant nightlife and a burgeoning community of startups and technologists. But the hype around the week could just as easily turn it into a one-time networking event—not a lasting ecosystem.

Mayan, the cannabis-tech founder, plans to return to Oklahoma City after his one-month stint in Miami—at least for now. “We’ll see if I end up drinking the Kool-Aid,” he says. Even before he arrived, he felt welcomed by the community in a way that he hasn’t felt in many of the other tech hubs where he’s tried to fundraise. “I’m a brown dude with a cannabis tech startup. It’s hard to break into the tech scene,” he says. “But there’s no gatekeeping happening in Miami. Everyone’s open with intros, I’m talking to investors that I’ve been idolizing for years or people I admire for the companies they started. Feeling welcome? That’s huge.”


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