Starting a company outside of Silicon Valley or New York may lead to an awkward Christmas conversation with your cantankerous Aunt Irma. In her trademark whiny tone, she might ask, “Why on earth would you start a company here when everybody knows you should go to San Francisco?” As convincing as your aunt can be, you may find more success in a budding startup city than in one with a mature entrepreneurial community.
Washington, D.C., for example, has grown into a bonafide ‘startup-friendly’ city with many startups, such as LivingSocial, MicroStrategy, and Opower. Tech alumni from companies like AOL and UUNet, and graduates of nationally ranked universities, have joined former government technologists to form communities and events that are magnets for entrepreneurial talent.
Advantages of Burgeoning Startup Cities
You may hesitate to build a startup in a lesser-known startup environment because you risk competing for talent. But that’s also the advantage of being outside of the Valley: A city striving to welcome startups might have a generally tight labor market, but trying to find a good, affordable engineer in Silicon Valley — or trying to stand out in a sea of other tech companies — is even harder. Plus, you can easily acquire top talent from companies that may not have a strong culture yet.
There are many other advantages of burgeoning startup cities that can outweigh the risks associated with established startup ecosystems. For one thing, these cities are guaranteed to have a body of knowledge and valuable resources such as investors, advisors, and other entrepreneurs who are eager to share their experience. Best of all, the people who live in these cities love helping hometown heroes grow, so you can count on a strong local support system.
Making Your Mark, Locally
Here are three strategies you can use to make a mark in a fledgling startup city:
Reach out to the community.
As you grow your startup, you’ll gain a lot of domain and industry knowledge. Put that to good use by sharing it with the local community. Hold networking or job search events to connect with top talent and other entrepreneurs, and take every opportunity to speak at local events. You can also volunteer as a company to get your startup’s name out there and put a human face to your brand.
Invest in a strong company culture.
Culture trumps everything else when it comes to acquiring and retaining the best employees. Invest heavily in building a strong company culture. If you treat your employees well, word will spread that your company is a terrific place to work. The best way to boost local recognition is to get your company listed as a great place to work. Get involved with companies or organizations that give awards for highly rated companies, such as Washington, D.C.’s 50 on Fire, an award that honors the top local companies. Earning one of these awards can increase brand awareness in the community and grab the attention of promising talent.
Host events at your office.
Getting people into your office is key because it allows the community to experience your company culture firsthand. Regularly host events to connect with the public and make alliances with businesses you admire. You can also provide job-shadowing opportunities to soon-to-be college graduates or host meet-and-greets to get to know other local leaders.
Although Aunt Irma might not agree, you can build a successful company outside the Valley. By investing in a solid company culture and giving back to the community, you’ll forge strong local connections with the best talent and other individuals who can help you grow. And when you have an entire community in your corner, the odds are in your startup’s favor.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Zvi Band is the founder and CEO of Contactually, a Washington, D.C.-based relationship-marketing platform that maximizes value and drives greater ROI from personal and professional networks. Zvi frequently participates in thought leadership panels at Tech Cocktail, WordPress DC, DC PHP, and DCRUG events. Connect with @skeevis on Twitter.
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