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Ask HN: Where to find startup culture?
38 points by aedifico on Oct 14, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments
My current (and favorite so far) read is Zero To One by Peter Thiel.

To say that I've enjoyed this book so far would be a vast understatement. Chapter 8 on Secrets is fantastic, and Chapters 3&4 on Competition V. Monopoly was mind blowing.

Though chapter 10 prompts a question about culture that I can't seem to find an answer to.

The idea fascinates me, but I question: Where do I find such a culture?

As a mid twenties developer who loves to build things, I find it near impossible to find passionate people about software near me.

I don't know if it's my location in the bible belt, that near everyone I graduated with has 2 or 3 kids already, or if this kind of culture only exists on the coasts.

But where in the world do I go to find such a culture?

Obviously, the Valley is its own thing. However, beyond that it's really just a spectrum from urban to rural. There are thriving startup scenes (or at least established companies with passionate technical culture) in virtually every LARGE American city (e.g. New York, Chicago, Atlanta, etc).

There are also strong scenes in certain midsize markets that buck the larger trend (e.g. Austin, the North Carolina triangle, etc).

However, if you are in a midsize or small market outside of that handful of exceptions... then there are either few tech job opportunities at all, or the only jobs available are "line of business" type work that no passionate developer wants. It doesn't matter if you're in Memphis, Tennessee or Syracuse, New York. The problem isn't regional, it's market size.

Whenever I hear people griping about technology and "The Bible Belt", etc... I picture people fresh out of school who have never been anywhere and spend WAY too much time trading political memes on Reddit. Nonsense. There are plenty of technology hubs in large Southern cities, and plenty of backwoods hicks in the Pacific Northwest.

Couldn't decide whether to respond to you or to bglazer above, but I particularly agree with the "any major city"/"large Southern cities" part in both of your posts. If this were 2009, I wouldn't have as many charitable things to say about anywhere outside SF (or maybe Seattle or Austin), but five years makes a world of difference.

I can speak most intelligently to Texas' large cities, as I spend a lot of time traveling between Houston, Austin and Dallas. Back in 2010 or 2011, you might find two tech (or tech startup) events going on in a particular week. Now all three places have 2-3 events happening on any given night, and you can hardly choose which you want to go to, or if you want to spend the night just hacking and getting shit done (because that matters too!).

An example: In order to help run an event for Houston's Lean Startup Circle this past Thursday, I had to skip a talk at a startup speaker series and miss the launch party of Texas Medical Center's new Healthcare Accelerator.

Austin, has a better reputation (or just visibility?) on HN, but if you're comparing for places to live long-term, I wouldn't necessarily put it above Houston or Dallas in any absolute sense. My honest take is that tech in Austin feels more visible and "Valley-like" because of how small Austin is. Technology is simply larger in terms of percentage.

Do you have any resources to discover some of the events that you are referring to? I'm currently in Houston (albeit a bit south) and would love to find out more.

Absolutely. For historical reasons (not worth rambling about), a lot of Houston's early startup "scene" was organized via Facebook group, and somewhat remains so to this day.

Single biggest resource is the Startup Houston blog/site [0], followed by the Houston Startups Facebook Group [1], and the Startup Digest calendar [2], both of which are linked to from Startup Houston. The calendar can be a bit cluttered, so working with the Lean Startup Circle [3], I help compile a monthly, semi-curated list of events that gets sent out to anyone who subscribes to "organizer announcements" within Meetup.

Plans are in the works for a unified calendar/feed for Houston's many, many Tech meetups, which currently have no central point of organization. Example of what I mean: there are 2 (or 3?) Python meetups, 3 separate UX meetups, and while there is a broader "Functional Programmers" meetup, the Clojure folks have their own separate one in addition.

Lastly, the three major coworking spaces inside the loop [4, 5, 6], as well as the SURGE seed accelerator [7] all put on good events. Not all of those events reliably make it onto the startup calendar, as each has its own little calendar page, but that's being worked on as well.

[0] http://startuphouston.com/

[1] https://www.facebook.com/groups/houstonstartups/

[2] https://www.startupdigest.com/digests/houston

[3] http://www.meetup.com/leanhouston/

[4] http://www.starthouston.com/

[5] http://www.platformhouston.com/

[6] http://whitespacehou.com/

[7] http://www.surgeaccelerator.com/

Truthfully, I've been near oblivious to Austin or Dallas as potential solutions. Thank you for enlightening me!

As someone who has had a "line of business" job, I think that those jobs can be tons of fun. Sure, you might have to do some education of the business on how software can help and how software is made, but if you find forward looking businesses, you can really impact a business. Plus you can learn a different domain, which can be fun and helpful to your career (dev + biz expertise > dev).

I ended up introducing hackathons and brown bag lunches to my former employer (a real estate brokerage).

I'd love to do that, but my company is pretty hardcore set in it's ways. :(

Many of the really neat ideas I've had and pitched just don't go anywhere because either A) It's new and shiny, which corporate doesn't like (My company is in the Fortune 500 but we are painfully slow to market). or B) I'm expected to do things as they have always been done because "That's the way we do it."


You described my pain exactly. Upon further examination, it really does look like a market size issue. :-/ (Tulsa, ok )

I'm in much the same situation as you are, as I'm squarely in the bible belt. Memphis TN to be exact. My suggestion for finding this "startup culture" is to go to meetups, hackathons, and makerspaces. I don't know your exact location, but nearly every major city in the South supports a small but growing culture of people who enjoy building and designing new things. Additionally, these people will have connections to the actual startups that are present in that city.

You didn't ask for this, but here's a rather weak plea not to move.

Please don't leave us for San Francisco!

Why I don't feel compelled to move:

1. I feel connected to the "startup culture" via the twitter, HN, etc. I understand the desire for physical co-location but really, this is why the internet is so powerful.

2. Brain drain is a real phenomenon. You'll be leaving the bible belt a worse place.

3. You can create the culture! Be on the ground floor! I helped to organize a hackathon in Memphis (http://hackmemphis.com/). It was exhilarating.

4. This will be an unpopular opinion on HN, but I find many aspects of the stereotypical "startup culture" to be repugnant. The obsession with status. I didn't go to Stanford, MIT, Indian Institute of Technology, or even lowly Berkeley. Fuck me, right? Also, the greed and cut-throat competition.

5. There are massive opportunities that won't be visible in the somewhat insular urban environment of coastal cities.

> 2. Brain drain is a real phenomenon. You'll be leaving the bible belt a worse place.

A word of caution - not everyone considers this a bug.

Well, it's a bug if you're worried about income inequality or the continuing polarization of America. It's a lot like White Flight.

I, personally, am not keen on trying to live in places where I am pointedly made to feel unwelcome.

Good to know, but that has nothing to do with what I said.

I'm in Tulsa, Ok, but you do raise some really good points.

I'll hunt around to see if I can start/find some Hackathons!

As someone who has been in SF, Chicago, Atlanta and now lives in Mobile, Ala., I can tell you that you aren't going to find tech culture outside of a major city. My suggestion would be to plan on moving to a near major city—New Orleans, Austin or Atlanta would probably be your closest good bet.

I actually started a podcast, Signal Tower, to keep in touch with people in the community. It is wearing on me though. I'm clearly out of place in this town.

The Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) also has a pretty good startup scene.

I'll definitely be tuning into your podcast.

http://signaltower.co/ right?

Yep, that's it!

I suppose it is more of a publication, but I turn each interview into a podcast as well.

Sam, head back to Chicago!

> I don't know if it's my location in the bible belt

Yes. You really need to start looking for either remote jobs that are headquartered elsewhere, or start looking to relocate to one of those places. The second will likely get you more culture, there are plenty of good remote companies but also plenty of bad ones.

SF seems to be the commonly-referenced location, but really any city. Portland, DC, New York, really anywhere that's not bible belt.

Having lived in DC and now Portland I can confidently say that DC's tech scene is several orders of magnitude larger than Portland's.

Portland is one of my favorite cities I've lived in but it's not a tech city by any means. If you're looking for tech culture you should definitely look elsewhere.

This can also be said about a number of other cities.

> but really any city

...is not that great of an answer. I mean look at Philly. Philly is a massive city but it's not a tech giant nor does it have a huge tech culture. Houston, Dallas, San Diego, etc. These cities are not necessarily known for their tech culture.

But this is all relative. To me Portland doesn't seem like a tech city because I've lived in DC where they average > 1000 attendees at tech meetups.

Edit: Portland OR, not ME

  Portland is one of my favorite cities I've lived in but it's 
  not a tech city by any means.
Are you talking about Portland, Maine, rather than Portland, Oregon?

Ah sorry. No I'm speaking about Portland, Oregon. Certainly a growing city but by no means a tech/tech-startup city.

But then again it's all relative. Someone coming from the bible belt might consider Portland to be a tech city.

When were you last in Portland, OR? I bounce between there and Seattle and I'd say Portland has at least as vibrant a tech/startup scene as Seattle, even if there isn't as much VC activity. It isn't just Intel and HP in Portland anymore either.

I actually currently live in The Pearl. I've found that the gap between DC and Portland, in terms of startup culture, is shocking.

Here is why I think Portland's startup/tech culture is lacking:

1.) In DC I had ~12 co-working spaces to choose from. All of which had both bull-pen and dedicated office space. One of the spaces I worked out of had ~10 startups with their own offices, and that was just at the single location in Arlington. At their other 3 locations they had just as many if not more. In Portland I maybe have 2 solid co-working spaces to choose from and as far as I know none of them are supporting any well known startups.

2. Meetups in Portland are very low key and don't draw very many attendees. I mean check out this meetup in DC[1]. It had close to 900 confirmed attendees. From experience I'd say at least 70% of those confirmed actually showed up. Portland on the other hand has only 70[2] confirmed attendees for a very similar event.

3. There's a lack of startup accelerators and incubation in Portland. PIEPDX seems to be the largest (and looks awesome). Nike moved FuleLab to SF this year[4] and everything else that I've researched seems to have closed down. In DC you have 1776[5], Acceleprise[6] and The Fort[7].

Perhaps comparing the two isn't fair as DC is a larger city. These are simply my observations as a person who has lived in both places.

It could also be that I'm just not looking in the right places. I know startups like Simple, Treehouse and New Relic are all in Portland, I just haven't seen any presence from them (be it at meetups or otherwise).

To be honest, one of the reasons I love living in Portland is because it's tech/startup culture is smaller than other cities. I'm excited to be part of it's growth.

• 1. http://www.meetup.com/DC-Tech-Meetup/events/154948792/

• 2. http://www.meetup.com/PDX-Tech/

• 3. http://www.piepdx.com/

• 4. http://www.nikefuellab.com/

• 5. http://1776dc.com/

• 6. http://acceleprise.vc/east-coast/

• 7. http://fortify.vc/Fortifyventures/

p.s. - Let me know if you're up for a coffee the next time you're in town. I'm always interested in meeting HNers.

I have lived in Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta. I was pleasantly surprised to find Atlanta's tech scene to be quite a lot further along than Philadelphia. I'm sure Boston's is the most developed but I was only beginning my transition into web development and startups. In Boston I worked in physics research.

I really don't think it has much to do with the "bible belt" as much as it has to do with being in a large metro area and then different metros have different strengths and weaknesses. I mean, Georgia Tech is in Atlanta, it is one of the premier engineering schools in the world. Somehow it has managed to prosper despite being located in the bible belt.

I'm not opposed to moving, but aside from just jumping in do you have any recommendations on where to start?

Obviously cost of living, things to do in the city, etc. But should I also try to ascertain hard numbers on the "growth" of the tech sector in that area?

Didn't think Charlotte and Atlanta would get overlooked so easily.

They don't fit the narrative that you need to live in one of a handful of cities to be a "real" developer.

I mostly left them out based on not having experienced their tech scene. Apologies for the omission.

I'll throw in Pittsburgh. There is some type of tech meetup pretty much every night.

Partly a location thing. There was an excellent comment [1] in the last few days about how coastal business has always had a mercantile growth culture, while midwest business culture has centered on commodities and thrift. Please, please don't buy into to Valley hype - it's good for fundraising and hiring but by no means your only option.

(I liked 0->1 too, especially chapter 8, but it's being massively overrated. Go read PG's thoughts on rhetoric - 'a real essay doesn't take a position and then defend it' [2] - then go back and look at 0->1. Thiel is compelling, but his paragraphs feel like advocacy rather than the unveiling of new information.)

Recommendation: check out Founders at Work, Revolution in the Valley for some fun firsthand accounts of startup culture. Then move to a big city, not necessarily a coastal one.

1: http://www.reddit.com/r/energy/comments/2j3g14/walmart_provi...

2: http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html

There are some Tech Startups in the bible belt. There's stuff going on in Atlanta and Austin. And my startup, EdgeTheory, is located in Jackson, Mississippi. Yes, it is harder to find like minded people in the South, but they're out there.

As other commenters mentioned, I suggest finding meetups in your area or driving to a larger city and attending one if there are none where you live.

Seconding Atlanta. I moved here from San Francisco in the spring, because living in SF just didn't seem sustainable and at my (not old!) age I was starting to feel old. There are lots of startups here although I took a job at a large company.

(Don't move here if you don't like traffic, though.)

Thirding Atlanta. My point of reference is Philadelphia (not in the bible-belt). Atlanta has significantly more startups and acquisitions than in Philadelphia, at least in the areas that I interact. Even with Philadelphia being home of First Round Capital, there isn't a lot of hometown investments in their portfolio compared to their SF ones.

This bashing of the 'bible-belt' is just silly. It's just as close minded and prejudiced as what the bashers accuse the residents of the 'bible-belt' to be. Go out to Western PA or northern New York and tell me about the 'startup culture' there vs. the bible-belt.

My guess is that nearly any metro area is going to have a superior startup culture compared with nearly any rural area. As far as comparing city vs. city, I would guess there isn't a real solid rule to follow. Probably requires some investigation and also factor in your own personal likes and dislikes.

Philadelphia has a good number of startups as well, as I discovered when I was doing job searches in Philadelphia and Atlanta simultaneously. (I'm originally from Philly and my wife went to college to Atlanta and loved it, so both were places we had ties to when we decided we'd had it with San Francisco.)

Ha -- wish I'd know about your company when I lived in Jackson! I made the move to SF last year instead.

"location in the bible belt, that near everyone I graduated with has 2 or 3 kids already"

there's your problem!

"this kind of culture only exists on the coasts"

there's your solution!

Add Ann Arbor, MI to that list. We (FarmLogs) relocated here after YC W12. It's often off the radar, but there's several Series A or later companies here[1]. University of Michigan consistently puts out great talent, and MHacks in particular is one of the nation's largest hackathons.

[1]: http://www.madeina2.com/

Almost any major city now has some people trying to make startups happen in their town. Find a co-working space or local startup accelerator and ask/pay to work out of it.

Tangibly you experience startup culture in three ways:

1. Being at a hub where that scene happens (almost always a co-working space or accelerator), 1871 here in Chicago is such a place, and it's a co-working spot 2. Having access to an organization that hosts events and alerts you to events and dispenses local news, BuiltInChicago is our local site that has keeps an up to date event calendar and where announcements happen. 3. Working with a startup, freelancing for startups or building projects at hackathons. Where you know, "work" actually happens.

If you find those three things you'll get more startup culture than you need, and it doesn't have to happen in a big city. I'm pretty sure Kansas City fits that bill. Omaha definitely does. Nashville, pretty sure.

If you want to stay in the heartland, you might look at Chicago, Denver/Boulder and Austin -- they all have burgeoning startup-tech cultures that would be a step up from the sticks. I'm from a small town in the northern Great Plains, and I know that empty feeling you're talking about!

Second the Denver/Boulder area. There are quite a few companies in this area currently. Also, there are active efforts to expand the startup scene - lots of events and meetups. It may not be the Bay Area but cost of living is far lower and, in my experience, the people in the startup community here are more helpful and less focused on waiting for their turn to tell you about their startup.

Ditto for Denver and Boulder. Lots of the work available. I'd say that Boulder is a bit stronger for startups, but I think that is because Denver is larger so startups are a bit more diluted.

I can vouch.

Currently working for a startup in Boulder, and it is really awesome.

Do you have recommendations for companies in Denver/Boulder that are doing cool things? (I'm from Denver but live in SF, so I know the area well.)

Currently working for Kapost. It is pretty kick ass.

What's your stack? shoot me an e-mail erik.mingo at kapost.com

I'm in a similar situation. I've found myself with a job I love, working remotely, which has afforded me the opportunity to move back to the small rural (unfortunately very much bible-belt) town where I was born and have roots. I enjoy most aspects of small town living, being with family and old friends, low cost of living, etc.

However there is near zero startup/tech culture to be found (duh). My idealistic streak would like to change that somehow ("forty acres and a emacs MULE"), but that's unlikely.

Anyone in AR, feel free to message me to geek out.

There's a start-up scene starting to grow around Northwest Arkansas somewhat. Innovate Arkansas and the ARK Challenge are a local source of seed funding.

NWA TechFest http://nwatechfest.com and Little Rock TechFest http://lrtechfest.com/ are good events for networking.

There's a good network of local .NET User Groups across the state, too. NWA, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Jonesboro all have one. If that's too Microsofty for you, I'm pretty sure there's a Cocoa group in NWA.

Purely for the emacs reference, you get one internet.

The Tulsa TechFest is in your hometown - http://techfests.com/Tulsa/2014/default.aspx. It was actually the first of the TechFests, and draws over 1,000 people.

I've attended both Dallas and Houston TechFests, and Tulsa usually comes-out on top even though it's in a smaller city.

Also looks like Steve Wozniak will be speaking at the Mabee Center in April, 2015.

Swing through Denver/Boulder sometime. There's a startup week in both (you just missed Denver), but there is usually something going on.

I've heard really good things about both actually!

Was it http://www.denverstartupweek.org/ ? I couldn't find any in October, but this looks like the one I missed.

Trying to define "startup culture" could feed your reflexion. I did that a few months back, and made a blog post about it: http://rudyonweb.net/what-startup-culture-actually-is/

Hope that helps!

Thanks a ton, I'm reading it now and so far find it very insightful!

I'm not sure where you live but Meetup.com has put me in some pretty awesome startup culture networks.

You don't need to move very far to find a good startup. If it's a major city, there's probably going to be some sort of tech scene with at least a few startup culture companies. Regardless of whether or not it's a on a coast.

Definitely check out www.startupdigest.com. It sends you a weekly digest of the best startup events in your city, where you will meet young people like you who also want to start a tech startup.

Thanks for the tip, I'll definitely pay the site a visit!

Where in the Bible belt are you? There are some budding places that are technically in the Bible Belt.

You may not need to relocate as far as you may think, or HN might suggest.

I'm in Tulsa, Ok. :)

Where's the Detroit startup scene?

what city are you in?

I'm in Tulsa, Ok.

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