Considering Philadelphia as a Tech Bootstrapping Community Rather Than a Tech Startup Community
Editor's note: Philadelphia Game Lab Founder Nathan Solomon posted the following to the Philly Startup Leaders listserv, generating a wide range of responses to his premise. We asked him if we could share it with the larger community to get a sense for what you think and he was kind enough to oblige. Lightly edited for clarity.
This morning I had coffee with a venture capital friend who lives in Philadelphia and commutes to NYC. He loves Philadelphia and is committed to living here; he would do whatever he can to help folks here. But, he said the same thing that every venture capitalist and knowledgeable startup person has said to me at one time or another about Philadelphia.
"There is no deal flow here worth speaking of."
We are close to NYC, and everyone knowledgeable has contacts with funders and mentors there. Hence, entities achieving funding are effectively NYC entities.
What does that mean for this city, and those who are working to form new initiatives here? I would suggest that it demands an alternative starting point for evaluating health and scale of startup community. As effectively a "satellite campus" of NYC in terms of funded entities, we should emphasize bootstrapped entities, and reject the model of massive scalability (required by the conventional tech VC model), as the primary requirement of a tech startup. I'm not saying that if someone is offered funding and takes it, that's a bad thing (it's definitely a very good thing); however, this city should brand itself as so good for bootstrapping that it has unique value that cannot be found in NYC or San Francisco or even Boston.
What can be done to support such a positioning? First of all, it's demonstrably true that Philadelphia is a great city to live in, as a night or weekend out will prove; with an incredibly dynamism at this point that is also born out by the ubiquity of construction within the city. It's also true that it's much, much more viable here to either quit your day job and live cheaply or to have energy and focus to do something in your spare time here. This city is also in a unique situation where our universities are so much larger a proportion of the economy than are the firms that grow from the city. Hence, we are uniquely weighted toward a population of smart young people, with a dearth of established businesses that are interesting enough to be compelling destinations for these kids. So, our position is that we have a lot of capable young people who would stay here if there were opportunities to do so.
I've been thinking about this lately, in part part because folks have been asking me to persuade more small game companies to move to the region. I'm not sure how this all needs to shake out, but these are some initial thoughts. A great thing is that it's not very expensive to support bootstrapping, and that any bootstrapped startup brought or built here has a fantastic effect beyond itself, as the smartest, most ambitious people remain part of the community, helping other initiatives to grow as well.