Wednesday, May 9, 2007

FW: Chicago Beta: Chicago vs The Bay Area. Swimming downstream

Chicago vs The Bay Area… Swimming downstream

Posted: 08 May 2007 12:33 PM CDT

I’ve thought a lot about the tradeoffs of starting an internet company in the Chicago vs the Bay Area. Of course I love living in Chicago, but I want to have a good understanding of what, if anything, I’m missing by not being in SF to know if it could ever justify moving there.

I just heard one of the most interesting answers to date. I was listening to an interview with Scott Rafer, CEO of Feedster and MyBlogLog. Toward the end he touched on what he thinks makes the bay area unique for entrepreneurs.

I’m paraphrasing from memory:

In San Francisco, social pressure is on your side. In other cities, if you are involved with a start-up, you’re a bit of an outcast. People often think your crazy before they even hear the business idea because the very concept of starting a company is out of the norm. In the Bay Area, on the other hand, there is an immense social pressure towards start-ups. Lots of people working for big companies are made to feel that they’re “missing out.” And when it’s the norm rather than the exception, people give you the benefit of the doubt. Nearly everyone has heard some business idea that sounded crazy and ended up making it big.

I think this really gets at the essence of the culture. It’s a great explanation as to why you see a lot of what you see out there. I have experienced this “culture” every time I visit, but I had not identified it and put the words to it. It’s this “benefit of the doubt” that makes it easier to convince others to join you, raise money at early stages, convince your spouse/parents/relatives that it’s okay for you to quite your great job and give this idea a chance, etc. It’s like your swimming downstream.

One caveat, I think this social pressure is a consequence rather than a cause of all the start-up activity over the years. There is something more fundamental about the geography or the culture that originated the phenomonen in the first place.

Paul Graham has a great essay on why Silicon Valley came to be.

Personally, I’m still not sold on SF over Chicago. Notice I’m still here. The jury is still out for me, I love Chicago.

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