Silicon Valley is admired, envied, replicated (this is attempted, at least), and generally held up as the gold standard for entrepreneurship in action. Because of this, I often find myself in conversations with entrepreneurs who believe that, in order to start a successful company, they must move to Silicon Valley. Each time, I vehemently argue that they do not.
So here is my public plea: Entrepreneurs, please don't think you have to move to Silicon Valley.
Here's what Silicon Valley does have to offer. It has a great ecosystem, lots of big investors, a startup mindset, and tons of resources. This is all true.
It also has sky-high rents, fierce competition for talent, and a laser focus on a very certain type of company that will hopefully grow very big, very fast and make those very big investors very happy. If that is what you want out of life then I encourage you to go there immediately, and I sincerely hope you will be very happy and meet with every success.
However, there are many entrepreneurs for whom this is not the dream -- who simply want to live elsewhere. Some people want to live near their extended families, or are deeply enmeshed in their communities, or simply prefer the weather in New England.
Myself, I really love Boulder's outdoor lifestyle. After living in a number of places, I decided that Boulder is the place for me. My decision to build businesses here was secondary.
I understand that it is heresy for an entrepreneur to place any other consideration over what's best for the business, but we are all whole people. I love work, and I work a lot, but I have other things going on, too. So should you.
Then there's the fact that not everyone can move to Silicon Valley. There are entrepreneurs around the world. If you're not already living in the U.S., you're going to have some big hurdles to get over to move to Silicon Valley -- and a very long waiting list. Immigration has never been quick or easy, and it's getting harder and harder.
So before you get up and make the big move to Silicon Valley, ask yourself these questions:
Where is your professional network?
Your professional network is where you are now. These are the people who will help you, support you, introduce you to other useful people, get your foot in the door, even become your first customers.
Where are your family and friends?
Your family and friends are where you are now. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely. You need emotional and practical support from these people while you work long hours trying to make your dream of a company come true.
Is there talent where you are?
If there are colleges or universities nearby, there is talent for you to hire. There's also always the option of building a remote workforce, which means that you can hire great talent from literally anywhere.
Can you be the best where you are now?
The problem you saw, that made you want to start a company in the first place, to solve it -- that's probably in your backyard. So solve it there. Work with that local network to do customer research and pilot your MVP. Turn those early partners into brand evangelists. Become known as the best in your city, state, or country. There's a lot less noise about the big new thing almost anywhere other than Silicon Valley.
Can you make an impact on your community?
Entrepreneurship can make the world a better place because it offers solutions to important problems. Want to start a company that makes a difference? Look at your community and see what problems need solving -- and think about how you can turn a solution into a business.
Can you find the right investors?
This can be the hardest piece, I grant you. If your community is small, there may not yet be local investors. So go regional. Or research investors who specialize in your industry, or the kind of problem that you're solving, or who want to invest in founders like you, depending on who you are. Finding the right investors always takes a lot of research, even if you're in Silicon Valley.
I truly believe that the best way to start and grow a successful business is to build the business that is right for your community and your style. And I believe that this will also make the world a better place.
Don't believe me? Here are just a few well-known and very successful companies that have been built outside the Bay Area: Amazon, Spotify, Instacart, Wayfair, TripAdvisor, Etsy, Jet, Casper, Peloton, Waze, SendGrid, MailChimp -- and so many more!