For over 10 years, I lived simultaneously in Columbus, Ohio as well as Santa Monica, San Francisco, and Beverly Hills (don't ask), working in both locations and being very active in the local ecosystems. My family and I were on a plane every 3 weeks for almost 5 years.
A lot of people pontificate on whether a bigger city is better for a startup (and the Founder) but I actually tested it across 4 different startups, raising a family, and genuinely trying to enjoy the best of every city. Here's my take:
While living in LA and SF I met with over 1,000 Founders, more than most people will meet in a city they were actually born in. Big cities naturally attract the most ambitious people, so it's so much easier to build a high-quality network in a short period of time. The Founders, press contacts, investors, and partners I met in major cities fundamentally changed the trajectory of my career. There's zero question about that.
I've seen people build similar connections over social media, cutting the distance, and these days we're so connected virtually that it's hard to say we can't build our networks without direct contact.
But I have to say, the relationships I forged and the sheer number of chance encounters that existed by being in major hubs were insane. You can't quantify the difference if you're outside of those hubs because you never know the value of those you've never met. It's very real, and it’s incredibly valuable.
The one big challenge about living in a big city, the one that no one likes to talk about, is that SO many of the people I met were broke, anxious, and depressed. Big, competitive cities remind everyone of how little money they have, how many other people have done exponentially better, and how living in a tiny, cramped space (that costs a fortune) gets really old, really fast.
Conversely, the people that I met in smaller cities (incidentally Columbus and San Francisco have the same size population) weren't devoid of those challenges, they were just far less apparent. People can afford houses, they aren't constantly racking up debt, and the local environment being less competitive just seems to result in happier people. I think this starts to become exponentially important as we progress into our careers, and sometimes we don't recognize it until it's too late.
We're all trying to balance this. When we're in a big city we're trying to battle to make it affordable and get our arms around it. When we're in a small city we're trying to get the attention of the powers that be in the big cities. It's often really difficult for us to find that happy medium.
I've found the decision is heavily tied to our stage in life. If I were in my 20's, I'd absolutely post up in a big city and build as many connections as possible, dealing with my 9 roommates and a futon as a cost of growth. But as a family man, the upside of my career is no longer my primary goal, as the lifestyle of my family is the real victory.
I think we're about to see a major swing whereby more Founders are going to optimize for lifestyle first, and then look for ways to optimize their opportunity to make strong connections and grow their startups. It used to be the other way around. These days, I want to believe we can have both, but I think it starts with making sure we have a plan to get the most of both assets.
Forget Compensation, Let’s Talk Quality of Life - Founders, let's start with what improves our quality of life and then figure out where money comes in.
Can Doing Non-Startup Stuff Help My Startup? - Sometimes the best way to grow our startups is to spend some time doing stuff that has nothing to do with our startups!
Work-Life Balance (podcast) - Stay longer. Work harder. Sleep less. As startup Founders we've all gone through periods where this felt necessary. Learn how balancing life and your startup is actually beneficial for you and your company.
Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.