Forget the Valley: bootstrap founders can live wherever they want

Forget the Valley: bootstrap founders can live wherever they want

When it comes to venture funded startups, the script is clear: you need to move to Silicon Valley. This is the epicentre for meeting the “who’s who” and raising money for your tech company. Jason Calacanis trumpets this on his podcast:

“Yes, location, location, location. If you want to be in the internet business, immediately leave Tulsa. You need to run like a melon farmer to Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, or New York. That’s it. That’s where the startups are.”

– Jason Calacanis, TWiST #297

Here’s the problem: not everyone wants to move to Northern California. There are start-up minded people, like me, who want to stay in our hometowns. Many of us have families, and deep roots where we live; we want to grow profitable businesses, and make our communities better.

I think our hope is in bootstrapping. Take a look at these popular bootstrapped companies, and where they were founded:

  1. 37signals, Chicago
  2. Envato, Melbourne, Australia
  3. MailChimp, Atlanta
  4. Club Penguin, Kelowna, Canada *
  5. Freshbooks, Toronto, Canada
  6. Litmus, Manchester, UK (now in Boston)
  7. Treehouse, Bath, UK (now in Portland) *
  8. WooThemes, Cape Town, South Africa
  9. Campaign Monitor, Sydney, Australia
  10. Beanstalk, Philadelphia
  11. Grasshopper, Boston
  12. Shopify, Ottawa, Canada *

* no longer bootstrapping (they were profitable prior to taking funding, or being sold)

You can start a bootstrapped company almost anywhere.

MailChimp is one of the world’s largest email service providers. They also happen to be privately owned, and headquartered in Atlanta. Ryan Carson started Treehouse (originally Think Vitamin) in the city of Bath, UK. This is a city of only 84,000 people. Club Penguin was sold to Disney for $350 million, but continues to operate out of its founding city: Kelowna, BC, a tourism town with a population under 120,000.

These companies have proven that you don’t need to move to Northern California to start a profitable, tech based company. In most cases, the founders just stayed in the town where they were living; places like Cape Town, Philadelphia, or Toronto.

What do you think? Is it possible to start a fulfilling, profitable business no matter where you live?

Discuss this post on Hacker News.

Related reading: Yale School of Management study

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  1. I think what Jason Calacanis *should* have said was that all the Venture Capitalists are in “The Valley” or New York. I agree though, I don’t want to move to California. Its a nice place to visit but come on.
    That said, you found 12 startups not from those places but you’ll find even more that started or moved to Silicon Valley and that raised a lot more money than this list. That is where the big money is.
    It is good to know that you don’t HAVE to be there to be successful though.

  2. Location is a heated topic among many founders and investors that I’ve met. I think it boils down to an advice that I’ve got from buffer’s Leo Widrich which was: make sure to surround yourself with the smartest people you can find.

    While creating digital products, services & platforms and offering them on the web and in app stores enables us to be incredibly location independent I have to say for me personally it is an amazing feeling to be in San Francisco and the Bay Area right now. You are automatically surrounded by very smart people, you don’t have to seek them, it’s basically impossible to avoid them here.

    That said I think surrounding yourself with smart and supportive people is the thing to keep on top of your mind, no matter whether you pursue it by moving somewhere else, starting a local meetup group, following & engaging with people on twitter or contributing to open source software. There are many ways to surround yourself with great people even while they are not in the same location as you are right now.

    It’s an awesome time we live in.

  3. I think the Valley is a good place to go if you want to raise money.

    But for me, the mark of a successful company isn’t the amount of fundraising it can do, but rather how much real profit it can earn.

    What’s funny is that although Calacanis is a San Fran Bay booster, some of his big podcast sponsors are bootstrapped and from other places (like MailChimp).

  4. Some of us not only don’t need to move to SF, we’d gnaw off our own legs before doing so. Crowded, dirty, expensive, trafficky, groupthink… that’s what SF says to me.

  5. Me too. 😉