Does location really matter for your startup?

Written on 24th July, 2011

Some of you may know that I just left everything behind in the UK and together with my co-founder Leo arrived in San Francisco to base ourselves and Buffer here for the next two and a half months.

I’ve been immersing myself in startup articles and trying to learn from others more experienced than myself for some time now, and out of anywhere the biggest portion of the articles I read are emerging from San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

One of the things I’ve always wondered since I’ve been working on startups is how much of a difference location can make. In the UK, moving from Sheffield to Birmingham certainly helped due to more startup-minded people and easy proximity to London. We’re now in the startup capital of the world and whilst we haven’t visited the true Silicon Valley in terms of Palo Alto and Mountain View yet, I’ve started to form some thoughts about the benefits of being here and more generally the importance of location for startups.

It is much easier to meet like-minded and useful people

Since we arrived in San Francisco, my expectations of how easy it is to meet people and how helpful people are have been surpassed. In pretty much every coffee shop there are plenty of people coding away and who are obviously working on or interested in startups.

There are some fantastic spots such as The Summit in Mission which is a coffee shop crossed with a startup incubator. I’ve never seen so many Macs in a coffee shop in my life, and I’ve met lots of new interesting people there.

In addition, we’ve also had the chance to meet some fantastic startups in our space such as Twylah, and it has been fascinating to learn from Eric and Kelly who are doing a great job. It is much easier for these things to happen since many startups are based out here.

We’ve not even been along to one of the many events happening in SF yet and I’m sure that will emphasise this feeling even more.

People actually “get” what we’re doing

I think this point is actually pretty key for me. In the UK I found that most people didn’t “get” what I was doing or why I was doing it.

In San Francisco, you can skip right over a lot of the initial chit-chat because people “get” startups. The conversation can jump right on to what your startup is about.

For my startup this is even more apparent. In the UK I’d have to actually explain Twitter sometimes when describing what Buffer is about. Whilst even in San Francisco some people don’t use Twitter, pretty much everyone I’ve chatted to understands it and knows how powerful it is.

You don’t magically become productive in the “right” location

However, with all the positive things said, there is one thing which hit me pretty hard when I first arrived. Adjusting to a new environment and finding our way around certainly took up some of my time, but when we found a good spot and got down to work, I realised that location didn’t matter all that much.

We’ve been in bustling coffee shops packed with people working away, and we’ve been in quieter more relaxed places. Whatever the environment, it is still easy to procrastinate. Making meaningful progress is more about self-discipline and knowing what you want than anything else.

Location shouldn’t hold you back

In a recent blog post aimed at those who didn’t get into TechStars, Joe Heitzeberg, a successful serial Internet entrepreneur and TechStars mentor said his response to "what should I do now" is the following:

"programs like TechStars are great, but they shouldn’t be the single enabler. Keep on moving forward on your company."

I feel the same about location. Sure, you might not be in Silicon Valley and you might not be able to just pack your bags and hop on a flight over here for many reasons, but not being in the “right” location shouldn’t stop you making progress with your startup from your current location.

Get into the startup mentality wherever you are

Overall, I believe that for myself, the most important thing has been to get into the startup mentality whilst I was in Sheffield and Birmingham working away on my startups. With the advantage of hindsight, I had a fairly good balance of reading lots about startups in blogs and books in order to learn from the experiences of others, and actually building and marketing my own startups in order to have experiences first-hand.

I think diving in and starting is the most important thing, and to wait for any “perfect” environment, be it location, experience, funds or otherwise, is a mistake to be avoided.

What are your thoughts and experiences on the difference being in the right location can make for your startup? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Photo credit: Ron Reiring