The word "startup" often conjures images of a small team of people working away in the founder's garage somewhere in Silicon Valley or in a tiny, wall-less office above the bustling streets of New York. Between the recent Steve Jobs biography (and related movies) and HBO's hit series Silicon Valley, the stereotype is, for lack of a better term, fair.
But anyone who follows the startup scene will probably tell you there are great things happening in areas outside of the 101 corridor in California and New York City. They may mention other coastal cities including Seattle, Boston, or Los Angeles. Great things are happening between the coasts, too, in cities like Denver, Austin, Salt Lake City, Boulder, and Chicago. Below are some of our tips to thrive--not merely survive--outside of the more well-known startup hotspots.
1. Engage in your local, passionate, startup community
There are obviously fewer people in non-coastal cities. But they are extremely passionate about helping other local entrepreneurs succeed! They want their communities to flourish too. Join groups like Startup Grind and participate in programs that UP Global runs like Startup Weekend and StartupNEXT. There is a heightened awareness that everyone is in this together, that companies have to support the ecosystem they're a part of in order to benefit from it. San Francisco and New York have larger ecosystems and not everyone feels the need to jump in, participate, and help out. Get involved, give first, and work hard to help build your local community.
2. Seek early support of large, local companies
In non-coastal cities, larger companies aren't jaded by a million other startups asking them to follow, buy, share, help, and mentor. Plus, many employees at these larger companies love seeing the enthusiasm and hustle from young companies and entrepreneurs trying to make it happen. Reach out to engineers, executives, innovators, and business development leaders to establish relationships and partnerships early on. Get them involved with your local community and make them aware of what your company and other startups are doing. This often takes some effort finding a champion who will support your company, but you'll be surprised at how easy this can be.
3. Embrace the lack of constant distractions and other opportunities
In San Francisco and New York, the grass is always greener. There's always another opportunity, a hotter hot startup, a larger equity share, or an insane offer from a major tech company trying to lure your the best employees away from the startup scene. There's a constant flow of opportunities on the coasts. In some ways this is great, but in other ways--especially when you're thinking about retaining great talent and building amazing companies--it can be a major distraction and drain on your resources. Focus on a great culture and on your customers, and build a great company...wherever you are. Let the distractions go and the opportunities will find you!
"As a non-coastal startup, you don't get bogged down by all the startup hype and stereotypes that come with working in the Valley for example. You can focus entirely on your business, says Samantha Holloway, co-founder at GoSpotCheck. "Plus, you get access to talent that is looking to join a high-growth company, but wants to live in a place where the quality of life is much higher."
4. Advertise quality of life to attract amazing talent at a lower cost
This is a major selling point for a non-coastal startup, and a financial advantage. The cost of living is lower and startups not located on the coasts can pay employees less. The point here isn't cheap labor, rather an economic win for both employees and businesses. "People who care about a balanced and active lifestyle can be amazing for your company's culture," says Brett Jurgens, CEO of Denver-based Notion. "They are some of the most passionate and creative people we've hired".
5. Find influential and active local investors
There may not be as many active and engaged angel investors in your local community, but there are some. And if you can connect with them, they are often the catalysts of much larger investments, partnerships and opportunities. Local angels are looking for deal flow and typically are more comfortable investing in local companies they can help and keep tabs on. Plus, they're usually some of the more active participants in startup communities--they want to see their communities grow so they have more great local companies to invest in.
6. Seek early support of the local non-startup community
People like to help, they like people that work hard, and they like people who are creating jobs and innovating. Use these feelings to get beta testers and early customers that you can talk to in person often. Plus, when there are fewer companies around asking for help, people are less inundated with requests to test, demo, and pre-buy products. I have found a lot of support locally from people inside and outside of the tech and startup communities in Boulder and Salt Lake City that are really excited and willing to give us their time.
7. Network with other local companies that have had success fundraising on the coasts
Despite the desire non-coastal startups have to keep things local and make fundraising and partnerships easier, at some point many startups will have to fundraise and partner with investors and companies located on the coasts. Connecting with companies that have raised money on the coasts and have had a track record of growth are invaluable. Learning the lay of the land, impressions coastal investors have of non-coastal startups, and how to navigate Sand Hill Road and larger VCs is a must. Make coastal connections early through local companies before you are looking to fundraise.
Levi King, CEO of Creditera says, "Establish these relationships early and it will pay off big time as you look to grow your startup. The easiest way to get into a venture capital firm, is to be introduced by a CEO they have invested in. This takes time, so start now."
AOL founder Steve Case has shown huge support to startups across the country. On the company's site it says, "In 2014, we launched the Rise of the Rest Road Tour with two bus tours to nine American cities including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Nashville Madison, Minneapolis, Des Moines, St. Louis, and Kansas City. We met with hundreds of founders, CEOs, investors and civic leaders; heard dozens of pitches and invested $1 million to foster emerging startup ecosystems in America's heartland." The Des Moines winner, John Jackovin founder of Bawte said, "Startups between the coasts have so much opportunity to grow and thrive, it's really up to them to make it happen".
While I was going through the Techstars program in Boulder, Colorado, networking and giving back to your local communities before expecting anything back from them are two keys that they taught us that pay huge dividends. In my opinion, if you are an early-stage startup, take the time and apply to accelerators, they can make an incredible difference for you and your company. To help, I wrote about the 10 things I learned while I was at Techstars.