This week marks the 2 year anniversary of the Roberts family moving back home to Salt Lake City, from the Bay Area.
It has been a great move for us. We pinch ourselves nearly every day that we get to live in a place we love so much. It is home to us in every sense of the word. And inspite of the frequent travel it incites, there’s nowhere else anywhere we’d rather plant our roots.
In the time that I’ve been home, I’ve had the chance to meet with a bunch of local founders of all types. Some in tech, some not. Some younger, some, um, not. At some point in these meetings, the person I’m speaking to tends to frustratingly say something along the lines of “we need a startup community here in Utah” or “why don’t we have more of a startup community here in Utah”?
Given I’ve been hearing it a lot over the last few weeks it’s been marinating a bit more in my mind.
Is there really a lack of community here? If so, why? If so, what can we do about it? If not, does it really matter?
Mark Suster had a post recently which detailed what goes into making a successful startup community. His checklist included:
- Co-working spaces
- Angels/Recycled Capital
- Venture Capital
- Mavens & Marketers
I think that’s a good list and if you’ve read Brad’s book or the many blog posts written on this subject you’ll see a similar list of startup community attributes. Mix and match to suit your taste and geography.
Funny thing about Utah today is that it has very few of these ingredients. We host very few startup events. Those that are organized are lightly attended. Coworking spaces are just now coming online. Local angel networks have a troubled history that just now seems to be getting sorted out. There are few active local VC firms than at anytime I’ve lived here. And the marketing message of the state seems to be a tire “Silicon Slopes” approach to attaching our image to that of Silicon Valley, Alley or Beach.
Yet never, in the 15 years that I’ve been participating in the Utah startup community I have never seen so much momentum. Companies are raising massive rounds of growth equity. Talent is flocking to the state of a caliber, and at a rate, I’ve never seen before. And several private companies have crossed over into Unicorn territory.
Inspite of this, the refrain remains the same- “Where’s the Community”.
As I sat listening to the founders of Weave recently tell their story about struggling, for 3 years, to raise money from local Utah angels and VCs, then getting accepted into YC, soon followed by a successful (and wildly competitive) $5M Series A raise they said something that struck me.
When asked why they decided to move back to Utah after YC instead of staying in Bay Area, their answer came with no hesitation- they didn’t just want to build a great company, they wanted to build a great company in Utah.
This is not the first time I’ve heard that sentiment from other local founders- many of whom could compete anywhere but chose to grow their companies here. They want build something enduring and impactful with the people here, for the people here. To forge their own paths on their own terms. And do so in a place so many of us love at the base of these mountains.
If you look at the broader meaning of community, it’s defined not as a lengthy list of attributes but simply as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
Taken in this light, I’d say we’ve been looking beyond the mark of what a startup community means here, in these hills, with these people who are making things happen. We may not have loads of local capital, we may not have an event happening every night. But you better believe we have a shared goal of building world class companies here in Utah.
And if that’s the only bond that ties all the efforts and energy of our community together, I’ll take that over a meetup or a co-working space every single time.