Do serious tech companies still need to be based in Silicon Valley? There seems to be an endless debate about this among founders everywhere. My own startup, Vitrue, turns 5 this week. That’s forever in startup years, and it’s got me to thinking about my friend Ron Conway. Ron invested in Vitrue on October 28, 2006. He’s a true industry legend (noteworthy enough to have his own Wikipedia page) and a long-time Valley resident. At the time, we had several late-night, semi-sober conversations about moving the headquarters to Silicon Valley. Five years later I’m glad I stuck to my guns and kept the company in The Big Peach.
We have quite a vibrant startup community here with companies such as MailChimp, MFG.com, and Scoutmob, and Solo Health. Vitrue is now a large and growing provider of social marketing (SaaS) software for brands and agencies worldwide. We tripled revenues last year, added more than 90 new employees during Q1 alone and are expanding worldwide. Our platform is currently managing more than 500 million fans. This is my third startup. The first two—WebMD and N2 Broadband—were both acquired. All from right here in Atlanta.
So with all due respect to my good friend and uber-Angel investor Ron Conway, here are five reasons why I’m glad I didn’t move us from Atlanta to the Valley. And why Silicon Valley, despite still being the capital of the technology world, doesn’t necessarily make or break a company.
1. Social media is a global phenomenon.
Many of the world’s most iconic brands use our products. How many of them do you think are headquartered in Silicon Valley?
2. Today you can find talent everywhere, not just the Valley.
Having said that, however, there is no doubt that the sheer concentration of incredible talent within the Bay area is unmatched. No one is disputing that. But there’s a price (literally) for that concentration, and looking outside the valley for the key personnel to build your company can be cost effective and just plain effective-effective.
In Atlanta we have a massive geek-generator called “Georgia Tech” that keeps us well-stocked with talented, young, enthusiastic, affordable software engineers. Think Radian6, which was recently acquired by Salesforce.com for $326 million. It’s headquartered in New Brunswick, Canada. And how about Omniture? They were based in Orem, Utah. Look for this trend to continue.
3. Cities are getting it.
Other cities have come to appreciate the value of innovation and are providing the resources and environments for companies to find success and scale in the technology space. Cities that have historically never been considered particularly innovative are fostering startup after startup. Think Austin, Boulder, even Indianapolis.
For example, in Atlanta, our home base, we had much success working with non-profit organizations like Atlanta’s ATDC (Advanced Technology Development Center), a partnership with Georgia Tech, which offers tremendous resources for technology companies and entrepreneurs to grow and develop. And cities across the nation have similar incubator programs to encourage technology.
4. You don’t have to live in the Valley to experience it
You think it matters for access? There are airplanes, phones, Skype, and heck, Facebook. For funding? So far we’ve raised $33 million. For recruiting board members and other upper-level participants? Former Facebook Ad Sales Chief Mike Murphy recently joined us as my special advisor. Not a bad get for an “Atlanta-headquartered” company.
I will, however, note here that access in the Valley is pretty special…and technology companies must spend time networking there. We do. We’re not fools. I spent the first two weeks of the year in the Valley raising capital. The ability to network and get 10 meetings per day is extremely productive. But I don’t have to live there to experience it. We don’t have to be headquartered there. I can visit regularly via modern innovations in transport. Like the airplane.
5. College Football.
Okay, not everything is about business. No offense to you Pac-10 fans but that is hardly respectable football. I mean, come on, you realize that, right? You’ll find the most elite football being played every Saturday in the fall on campuses across the South, especially a short 40-minute drive up the road from Vitrue HQ to Athens. Go Dawgs. Baseball? Even Buster Posey, the pride-and-joy of the Giants and last year’s Rookie of the Year is a Georgia boy. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my amazing family – all with strong Atlanta connections. Not to mention sweet tea, Chick-fil-A, great weather, Coke, CNN, Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles, and brunch. Atlanta loves brunch, let me tell you. It’s been a hell of a ride over the last five years at Vitrue, and I can hardly wait to get started on the next five. From right here in good ol’ Hotlanta.