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Many have tried to give voice to San Diego’s startup community.
There’s Eric Otterson, who cofounded StartupSanDiego.co to serve as an advocate and matchmaker of sorts for founders. Blair Giesen has a new blog at Voice of San Diego, where he explores possible hurdles to a thriving startup culture. And there’s the entrepreneur who kickstarted the conversation, Brant Cooper, and his near-legendary “Brant’s Rant.”
Now it’s my turn to sound a call to my fellow tech enthusiasts who want to put San Diego on the map as a startup city instead of just being known as a beach town.
Our startup scene has generally improved over the last five or 10 years. But we must ask ourselves: Have we as founders done enough? We have certainly talked a big game, some more than others. You might think I’m wrong — maybe you work with other companies nearby, in the same building or even the same office.
You live in your own bubble, in other words. I have been guilty of this.
Founders don’t deserve all the blame, though. Plenty of that can be assigned to different sources — our very home, for one. What is the city of San Diego doing for us? Is it enough? Is the city mentality too risk averse when it comes to startups, and all too comfortable helping large developers?
Adding to this mix of shortcomings are the venture capitalists in town. Do they ever step up as lead investors?
Mel and Jeff “Flash” Gordon’s recent success with TapHunter, a mobile app for finding the best breweries in town, would lead you to believe investors outside of the Bay Area — more specifically, in San Diego — are lead investors. When you read a little deeper, you’ll find their amazing payoff was the result of years of working with the right people. The lead investment began outside of San Diego.
The problems facing San Diego’s startup ecosphere are a direct result of our collective failures, not the failure of one over another. It doesn’t start with an investor or a startup, the city or the media. It is all of us failing to do enough, give enough, risk enough and believe enough in each other.
So what can we do? For many, the answer has been to move their startups up north. I met many founders in the Bay Area who found immense success once they left San Diego. They’ve been trying to persuade me to move my company, too. The thought has weighed heavily on the minds of everyone at CrowdClock — especially considering the reception I’ve gotten from our NorCal neighbors.
I recently went to San Francisco for a meeting with Yelp. I had an interested investor by the second day of my stay, with a pending deal on the third. But I want to grow CrowdClock in San Diego. I don’t want my company to go the way of Jay Porter’s restaurants.
Mark Suster made some excellent points back in 2012 on what a city needs in order to thrive. At the time, he mentioned San Diego as a city with problems. Going down the list, it’s easy to see what is missing.
What makes the Bay Area so different? It’s certainly not the weather. Do they have more intelligent people? Not really. Here’s what they do have:
• Investors who are willing to take a chance, who see experience based on what founders have built and accomplished, not on the size of the firm that bought their last project or which Ivy League they attended.
• Startups that give back by setting up events with lots of food and drinks. A recent example: Stripe closed an $80 million deal at a valuation of $1.5 billion, then threw a Capture the Flag event to invite hackers to break their codes. Stripe got the opportunity to hire the best talent from the ones who hacked furthest, and in the process fixed their code where it was vulnerable.
• Coffee shops and banks with locations ideal for startups’ day-to-day operations. See: Capital One 360 Cafe and Workshop Cafe.
• Investors hosting free events and making themselves available, mingling with the mere mortal startup founders.
• Journalists and tech blogs actually writing about startups, not just interviewing founders and then wavering on whether to publish at all.
Many of us claim to be about helping each other. In reality, it’s all talk. When CrowdClock announced the launch of its app in the App Store, it was clear most in San Diego’s tech community did not bother to download it, let alone review it. If we want San Diego to join the list of best startup cities, we have to help one another.
One thing we could do is create a map of local spots frequented by startups and investors alike. These could become places where we all bump into one another organically. The invisible shield many investors have around them needs to come down, but we as founders can’t abuse that accessibility.
Above all, we must put aside dreams of a work-life balance during the very early stages of our startups — I can guarantee the Bay Area companies are working that much harder. Maybe it’s because they lack our amazing beaches and weather. Whatever the reason, startup founders must be prepared to cast those desires aside until they gain traction and at the very least break even.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together toward collective success. Let’s give other cities reason to model their startup ecospheres after us, America’s Finest Startup City.