This May I moved to Mountain View, California with the goal of getting into 500 Startups’ fall batch with the company I co-founded, LaunchGram. The story of how we started and worked to get our public beta out is here, so I won’t waste any time with that. As a reader, I hope you finish this article with the following takeaways:
- Moving to the Bay Area with your startup is both terrifying and exciting but can be a massive time suck
- Our team got a lot of shit done when we didn’t have a home and were on the move, but being apart from your team for a month or more is tough
- I couldn’t have done it without my network
I spent a lot of time discussing (arguing included) with friends and mentors in Ohio about whether our team should move or not. Some people called me crazy, some people told me I was making a mistake, and some people were really supportive. I was moving regardless of what they said though, so I packed my belongings into two boxes and two suitcases, got in my Ford Focus and said goodbye to Ohio. If you believe in what you’re doing / going to do – just go do it.
Along the trek, a few startup friends introduced me to other startup people that let me crash on their couches in stopover cities that I didn’t have family in. If you’re thinking about moving out to SF or Silicon Valley, I highly suggest you consider asking friends for introductions to startup people in cities across the country. This led to relationships not only in those cities, but also to new introductions and connections on the west coast.
The whole time I was driving / making my way West, my team (Zach Boerger & Carrie Phillips) and I were still working. I worked from the car with one earbud of my iPhone’s headphones practically the whole time. I abused Starbucks’ free internet in a few cities, and spent most of my time at family & acquaintances houses late at night and early in the morning working with my team. We’re lucky to have a host of awesome tools to use to stay on track like Google Hangouts, Skype, GChat, & Asana.
We committed to a Google Hangout or a Skype call at least three times a week to either set up the day or close the day and most days I spent at least a half hour on the phone with each of my co-founders. Asana was great because each team member knows what they’re responsible for and files can be attached to items seamlessly to keep everyone on the same page.
When I say we did pretty well though, I mean we were probably operating at 50% of what we operate at when we’re all in the same room together. It was frustrating as hell to know what we were capable of and not being able to come up with anything to get us operating closer to 100% again. That said, I’m proud of the team for maintaining our momentum despite being separated.
Rewind a couple weeks prior and someone had tipped me off that Jay Donovan from TechCrunch would be at the demo day for our Ohio-based accelerator, 10xelerator, and I somehow found him at the event. He asked me to email him with some additional information on our company, but I wasn’t really sure anything would come of it.
A couple days into the trip, I woke up and realized we had been written up on TechCrunch. A week after the TC post, we saw roughly 7,000 visits and 5,600 uniques with a roughly 17% conversion rate to signups. The article also led to a massive influx of people trying to sell me new email services and a bunch of other things startups can’t afford. Fortunately we also got some killer feedback that we’ve been building off of. Users understood what what we were doing, but they wanted more. One guy even said he wanted to get updates on gigantic 164-foot yachts using the site. The feedback lit a fire under our asses because we knew we were on to something.
When I arrived in San Francisco, I felt a little bit like Sal Paradise thinking about the awesome opportunities that lie down each alley. I stayed with friends in San Francisco and worked at a desk loaned from my friends at Startup Weekend in SF were kind enough to let me use until I found a place in Mountain View. We had to wait three weeks to move-in, but I had already spent the better part of a week and a half trying to find a decent place. So I signed the lease and drifted in and out of friends’ places, co-working spaces, and coffee shops for a bit longer.
While Zach & Carrie were grinding out some new product features, I was also going back and forth with a videographer named Michael Marantz. Michael had done some original work that I really liked and I had reached out to him in February informing him I had no money but wanted to work with him. We both really connected on our love of storytelling & passion for an optimistic future fueled by great technology.
We launched the video, called ‘The Future is Ours’ less than a week after we moved into our apartment/office in Mountain View. About three weeks later the video had gathered more than 400,000 views in two weeks. We were pretty stunned to watch the view graph on Vimeo double day-over-day.
Meanwhile, my co-founders and I had reunited. In the first week we were back together, we rolled out a big update to the site’s UI and put together a comprehensive roadmap of features for us to all hunker down on and ship. The degree to which our productivity increased really still blows me away.
Each day I’m meeting new ‘A-Level’ people out here that are willing to help us to a tremendous degree. The access to highly experienced, intelligent, and genuinely good people feels unparalleled here compared to anywhere else. After each meeting, I learn, grow, and leave humbled that I’ve had the opportunity to do so with such incredible people.
While I love Ohio and am unfamiliar with trying to build a company in other markets, I would highly recommend moving out here to anybody in the Midwest. Yes, it’s expensive, yes it is difficult, and yes it is crazy. You will have your ideas torn apart, but you will also leave better. Silicon Valley and San Francisco come as a package deal and offer an incredible amount of opportunity if you’re willing to work your ass off, come open to learning, admit failure, and commit to building something people need.
There are so many accelerators popping up around the country – including the one we did in Ohio – but having spent some time here in Silicon Valley, I have to conclude that Silicon Valley is in and of itself a startup accelerator.