7 Semi-Serious Reasons I Chose Chicago Over San Francisco for the growth of my company. Chicago, you rock!
If you’ve known me in the last few years, you’ve heard me say a million times (and post on Facebook a zillion times): “I think I need to move to San Francisco or NYC” or “I am not sure if Chicago is the best city for the next growth phase of my company.”
I traveled to both San Francisco and NYC for a few months to test them out. Well, that I love change probably had a little to do with it too. (My compulsive fear of no growth can be the topic of another medium post).
During that time, I realized that this city really had everything and more I could want as an entrepreneur. So what did Chicago give me that other cities couldn’t? Here you go:
1. I can’t work when I can see a mountain from my office window
Silicon Valley truly works for some people but I really couldn’t bear seeing a mountain from my office window while trying to stay focused. I know. I’m weak. Hiking, diving, surfing; these are all things I love to do and they were always calling me. It was so distracting!
Chicago gives me the right balance of a high energy urban office setting and options to choose from for outdoor activities for at least 9 months of the year. We’re going to strategically ignore the really (REALLY) cold winters for the purposes of this article.
2. Tough to make a serious work fashion statement in shorts and keds
Here’s an admission: My team says I am the epitome of The Devil wears Prada (or maybe a cheaper brand) when I come to the office.
But, I love my stilettos and my tapered black ankle length slacks with a crisp white shirt and a black satchel. I have been to investor meetings in the Bay Area where I have looked “embarrassingly” over-dressed. Did I mention that I love my stilettos? I couldn’t give that up. Not just to be in California. It was too much to ask for from a devil… *oooops* girl.
3. Wait…How much is office rent again?
For any start-up or fast growing company, costs and margins are as important as increasing a user base or fundraising. In San Francisco, I flat out would pay 86% higher rent for an office that is smaller, not in a high rise, and definitely not where I can see any scenery! And yes — we have a great loft office with the most amazing views here in Chicago.
An unthinkable scenario for my budget in the Bay.
4. Don’t Sleep on Chicago’s Tech Talent
During my interviews of analysts and developers in the Bay, I found that each had worked in some start-up and was the next Mark Zuckerberg (Hey, they probably will be. I’m an optimist!) and most had attended a vaunted university like Stanford, CalTech, and the like, however do not sleep on the talent out here in the Midwest.
Chicagoland (and the Midwest for that matter) has great universities, especially for those pursuing a career in tech. University of Michigan (disclaimer: I am biased, it’s my alma mater!), Northwestern, University of Chicago, UIC and many more. There’s a reason we’re called the “Silicon Prairie.” (Please note: I did NOT come up with that name…SMH)
Starting salaries are nowhere as high as the Bay and yes, people do come with a natural sense of midwestern hospitality, stability and humility! I have found some of the “best” talent here, and that trend is only going to continue as the tech scene here continues to grow.
5. Bay has TechCrunch, Chicago has Technori
Even tech incubators are seeing some new life in the Great Plains. TechCrunch is awesome. It gives start-ups an opportunity to be heard. But Chicago is catching up.
After all we have Technori in Chicago! Scott Kitun and his team at Technori are doing an absolutely fabulous job promoting start-ups here in Chicagoland. Watch out for them, TechCrunch!
6. Only Tech in the Bay, Baby!
The core purpose of any business is creating a product that has a market need and the demand is willing to pay and repay for its sustained usage. Unicorns and tech companies are awesome but not every successful business needs to be a product, have 75 percent margins, or just go from 0 to 1 million users in a flash.
There are so many types of businesses and my personal sense is that Silicon Valley is not a fan of that kind of diversity. Mine was probably one of those businesses. I had customers, revenue, cash flow…everything (maybe not 75% margins), but not I wasn’t solely focused on becoming a unicorn in one or two years.
Chicago is a land of businesses, be those tech-focused, real estate, manufacturing, hospitality, or any other of a wide range. It is a place to start what your passion lies in and it doubles as an ideal test market for new ideas.
7. You Need Capital? Chicago has Investors
The Bay Area no doubt has a richer and more structured base for capital raising. In my experience, however, if you have a kick ass product, an unmet market demand, a team better than you and know the art of hustling and perseverance, it doesn’t matter where you are, you are going to raise money to grow and have a chance at being really successful.
If you are paying attention, you know the Chicago investor world is growing and the city is doing what it can to make sure it stays that way. My first investor is from here and I am about to close my next round with an investor from Chicago as well! Just last week I met with one of the largest growth funds in the US, and they are planning to set up a Midwest office.
I know there are some things to be concerned about here in the Windy City. But what market doesn’t have its fair share of challenges? What I do know is that there is definitely still a HUGE appetite for new and innovative businesses here in the city and I believe it is here to stay.
With all due respect to the Bay, I love it here in Chicago. This city, this market, the people and this culture have shown me that it’s one of the best places in the country to be an entrepreneur. Not just in technology but in anything that you have a passion for, and isn’t that what true entrepreneurship is all about? Following your dreams and your passions?
Chicago, I’m sorry I cheated on you for a few months but I am back and staying put baby!