Where does Vernon fit in the BC startup scene?
“It’s time to rebrand the Chicago startup scene, focusing on passionate bootstrappers rather than small firms looking to get huge.”
– Adrian Holovaty via the Chicago Tribune
This Chicago Tribune article, and the comments from Adrian Holovaty are worth reading. I think there are a lot of parallels to BC’s burgeoning tech startup scene. Here’s the way I see it:
Vancouver is trying to become a second-tier startup city (like Seattle, Austin, or Toronto). They have the right climate, the right vibe, the right size and the right location. With companies like HootSuite leading the way (and big companies like Electronic Arts who have set up shop there), they have a good chance of becoming a reasonable venture-backed startup hub.
Kelowna is trying to become the next Boulder, Colorado, taking a page out of Brad Feld’s Startup Communities book. They have one big win under their belt with Club Penguin. They’ve also made it clear that they’re trying to build traditional venture-backed startups: Steve Wandler runs an excellent conference called Metabridge that brings investors to Kelowna, and Accelerate Okanagan is helping to prepare companies to be “investment ready”.
So where does that leave Vernon? As I look at Vernon’s entrepreneurial history, the culture of the city, and the attitude of the people who move here, I think we need to forge a different path. Like Chicago, we can’t be something that we’re not:
Playing “the Silicon Valley game” isn’t going to get Chicago any closer to the kind of massive venture-capital dollars that flow through California, [says] Holovaty. He even offered a rebranding slogan: “Chicago. Be Your Own Boss.”
“There’s no way we’re going to catch up with Silicon Valley,” said Holovaty, “Let’s be honest with ourselves.”
Why are people moving here? Why do people stay here? What kinds of companies do we want to build?
First: We live in Vernon for the lifestyle: for mountains, lakes, trees, beaches, hiking, biking and skiing. The companies we build need to align themselves with that purpose. Many of us are expats of bigger cities (Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary) that wanted out of the grind, and wanted the freedom to enjoy life, outside, with our families. Vernon is a family town; it’s somewhere you want to raise your kids.
Second: I think Vernon is a lot closer to the DNA of Chicago (working class town) than San Francisco (big, venture funded startups). We’re bootstrappers. Again, from the Tribune article:
Bootstrapping generally refers to companies that fund themselves rather than look to angel or venture capital investors. Holovaty offered a more specific definition:
“It’s an Internet company that’s made by one or two people, developers probably, working from home, working from coffee shops,” he said. “It’s revenue-positive. It makes them a great living. And they are doing what they love because they’re craftsmen and they love doing it. And they have no ambitions to take over the world, because, really, 95 percent of what is taking over the world is (B.S.).”
Bootstrapping is about building something valuable with your own sweat equity; and the payoff is freedom. You’re not beholden to investors, a boss, or anyone else. If you build a great (small) company, and work hard, you’ll eventually earn the flexibility to do what Vernonites love: take off a week to go fishing, head to the mountains to ski untouched powder as soon as it snows, or spend the afternoon at the beach.
In addition to people bootstrapping their own companies I think there’s a great deal of opportunity for folks who want to work remotely from Vernon. These are people who’ve been enabled by their employers to work anywhere in the world.
If I were to come up with a slogan for this movement, I think it’d be something like this:
Vernon, BC. Build your own freedom.
That’s where I see Vernon’s startup future. What about you?