Many people are surprised when they hear I decided to move my company to Tallahassee from Cambridge. Why would someone choose a small town in the southeast over a major startup hub like Cambridge? It's actually pretty simple: I feel I have a better chance of success here.
My startup, Proper Channel, is all about equaling playing fields. It allows people to share shortcuts through frustrating processes. It doesn't matter if you want to get a travel visa to China, or apply to college; we're going to show you the best way to do it. Our secret is telling people exactly what they need, and putting it in front of them in a simple to use format. Well, that's exactly what I saw when I visited my parents in Tallahassee. I saw all the pieces I needed right in front of me.
What are those pieces? Brad Feld goes into great detail in his book, Startup Communities: Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, but I have my own requirements. For me, it all comes down to three types of people: talent, mentors, and partners.
An entrepreneur needs other entrepreneurs. They need co-founders to share their passion, employees to help scale, and like-minded friends to help them keep focused (the occasional game of ping pong doesn’t hurt either). Startups take a lot of passion, and if you can't surround yourself with other passionate people, you're never going to make it. With FSU, TCC, and FAMU all pumping out amazing talent, our community has the right people.
Reid Hoffman describes entrepreneurs as people willing to jump off a cliff and assemble a plane on the way down. Yes, we're a little crazy, but what Hoffman is alluding to is that entrepreneurs are comfortable not being an expert in their field. They trust themselves to be agile enough to make things work. This means we get into situations where we have little experience. This is where mentors come in. Mentors have been there before. Mentors not only give you insights, but they give you their Rolodex. If you're trying to build the next Facebook, wouldn't it be helpful to talk to Mark Zuckerberg? The Tallahassee startup scene is new, but it has gathered a number of key players with years of experience. I was impressed to see the talented group of founders at Domi Station hold regular office hours almost every week. Additionally, both FSU and FAMU are helping new companies with their respective business centers.
No one can do it alone. A startup needs clients to buy our products, favorable government regulations and programs, and of course people who can invest in our company (capital). Believe it or not, all of these partners are not only available, but eager to help in Tallahassee. People believe in community here. Companies are willing to give startups a chance, and the government and universities have already set up many programs to help us get our foot in the door. And boy will there be capital! Early stage investors are not well organized yet, but I hear there are some pretty exciting plans in the works.
Not only did I immediately see Tallahassee had all three requirements necessary for a great startup community, but I also saw it was hungry. Tallahassee wants a startup community. They want to point to the next big thing and proudly say, "that company started here!" If there's one thing I've learned from all my training, it's that passion out performs potential. Even with Cambridge’s multiple Ivy league schools, venture capital firms, and world leading accelerators, I thought Tallahassee's passion for making a difference was worth more. Here, people want me to succeed. In Cambridge, no one really cares if my company makes it or not. No thanks Cambridge, I'll stick with the town rooting for me.
...plus, Cambridge winters are the worst!