“Dallas?! Why Dallas?”

I smile quietly.

I got asked the same question 8 years ago about Ireland, when I relocated there from South Africa and started up Simplify Learning in a remote little town in the far-flung north of the country.

When asked this question about Ireland, I felt very on the back foot and I would please and explain every which way as to why exactly this decision was a good one.

The only reason I believed anything I was saying to anyone at the time, was because a mentor, working for the US government, had heard of my transfer and called me up. I shared openly with Claudia that moving to Ireland seriously concerned me. It felt like a backwards step in every possible direction. She shared with me about Microsoft and IBMs large investments into Ireland. She spoke about Enterprise Ireland and The IDA. She also spoke highly of the grassroot initiatives being taken up by local government in every county. She encouraged me to go with a wide open mind. I packed my bags and navigated the many days where the decision truly did feel ridiculous.

Over the 8 years, as I was part of multiple businesses and start-up teams in Ireland, I came to realise that certain factors play a vital role in catapulting a business forward. Some of these are:

  • A culture made of very small, tight-knit communities where sharing is a very big part of the culture (word spreads fast)
  • Collection points where communities regularly gather to discuss community matters (think pubs and the pub culture in Ireland)
  • Government involvement in small business development at grass roots level (think empowerment of tiny micro business that fosters entrepreneurial thinking at the lowest levels)
  • An education system that fosters internships from a very young age
  • A culture that values thought-leadership and wants to learn from it
  • Access to funding that meets businesses various stages of development
  • Access to mentoring
  • Heterogenous societies where foreigners are welcomed, embraced and celebrated

Without knowing it at the time, but understanding it retrospectively, I am able to piece together why I was able to grow multiple businesses in Ireland, way faster, than I ever could’ve in my native South Africa.

In those 8 years, I proudly watched as my adopted country pulled itself out of an insane recession and got its wheels back on track to become a leading technology hub in Europe. There are few cities in Europe today that are able to truly rival Dublin on all levels of business support and access. The initiatives were impressive when I arrived and those same initiatives have simply been taken to a whole new level in recent years. Most notably was the decision by the Irish government to appoint a commissioner for startups. Niamh’s job is broad and deep but at its core her primary responsibility is to foster and grow the entrepreneurial heart of the country.

Our expansion into Dallas was slightly more scientific than my relocation to Ireland had been all those years ago. I created a comparative table where I looked at approximately 17 cities across the US and compared the following factors:

  • Cost of talent acquisition
  • Talent retention periods
  • Access to talent
  • Available talent’s skillset base and the most common technologies within the pool
  • Competition levels within the talent pool
  • Types of talent available in areas
  • University spin-out activities
  • Programmes to foster collaboration between venture and education
  • Access to capital
  • Types of capital available in a given area
  • Types of investors in a given area
  • State taxes
  • State employment law
  • Cost of business services
  • Access to clients
  • Access to investors
  • Time zone factors related to our team in South Africa and the EU
  • Lifestyle orientations and views on family values
  • Cost of living
  • Public transport and ease of movement
  • B2B versus B2C dominance in business activity
  • Amount of Fortune 50, 100, 1000 company presence
  • Access to air transport with an extensive network to global destinations

Nevada, Colorado and Texas came out on top of the list. I chose Dallas, over Austin, in Texas for two primary reasons:

  • There is a strong inclination in Dallas towards B2B whereas Austin is more B2C focused
  • The money in Dallas is plentiful and it comes with an interesting mindset, not yet prevalent in the rest of the country: investors here are used to investing in oil and gas companies which take serious upfront capital but show returns over a much longer period. Their mindset is therefore far better positioned to sustainable long-term growth, than other cities in the US: the investor base here does not force 3–5 year return periods, with little true valuation under-pinning the business. This simple reality drives a very different type of business behaviour than is typically seen on the East and West of the US.

Since arriving here, I have discovered that Dallas is a lot more like Ireland than I ever could’ve imagined. Those 8 factors I listed at the start of my article about what makes a place conducive to quick business success are all at play in this city. It’s highly networked, highly referral in nature and therefore viral: either for the good or bad of a business.

There is something here … a pulse, a collection of factors that make this place, a little-known secret, which won’t remain that way for much longer. I sense that it too, like my adopted Ireland, will burst into global view and become a destination in its own right. Very soon.

In the meantime, I’m soaking up the blue sky, the sunshine and falling in love with cacti of multiple shades. I have not yet bought myself a pair of cowboy boots. Maybe. Just maybe.