Michael Mayernick and Zvi Bandmay be among the most vocal advocates of the startup scene in Washington. Together they built Proudly Made in D.C. , an online registry of the region’s tech firms and ways to get involved.
But with companies of their own to grow, the duo will relocate temporarily to Silicon Valley as part of an invitation-only accelerator program there that offers participants an early-stage investment and shared office space.
Their several-month hiatus, along with the stream of other startups that have migrated West permanently, reflect the struggle of a tech community trying to make it work at home when opportunities exist elsewhere.
“Some people at some companies can probably make it work in D.C. alone,” said Mayernick, founder of marketing analytics firm Spinnakr. “But there are such huge advantages to just being connected in that community. A lot of the people who you might sell to or eventually do deals with ... are going to be in the Valley.”
California has long been a mecca for technology entrepreneurs thanks to its slew of anchor companies, including Google, Apple and Facebook, as well as the plethora of startups that create a density of like-minded people.
The case for building a firm there has several compelling arguments, recent transplants said. It’s easier to recruit skilled workers, to attract venture capital and to pursue adream when everyone else is doing the same thing.
Real estate finder HotPads.com relocated to San Francisco over the summer after six years in Washington when its Georgetown lease expired. The firm had several positions to fill and thought the applicant pool might be deeper out West.
“In San Francisco, the smaller you are and the scrappier you are, the better and more enticing you are to developers because then they get more responsibility,” said co-founder and chief operating officer Douglas Pope.
“We had a few Java engineers on the hook in D.C., but then they would wind up going to another business, generally consulting companies, that could pay them a lot more,” he added.
Indeed, SiliconValley firms don’t face such strong competition from deep-pocketed consultants and contractors. But hiring there has different challenges. There are more startups with which to compete and companies have been known to poach talent.
“This is something that’s debated back and forth constantly,” Mayernick said. “I would feel more comfortable recruiting here in D.C. There’s something nice about being part of an identifiable, tight-knit community like we have in D.C.”
Efforts are under way to galvanize the Washington tech scene. Monthly D.C. Tech Meetups regularly draw well over a hundred attendees — many of them marketing or nontechnical types — and new groups such as FounderCorps offer mentorship for inexperienced entrepreneurs.
But D.C. is not Silicon Valley, and it’s unlikely that it ever will be. The venture capital community here is active but significantly smaller by comparison. Many upstarts have left town for money alone.
“Unfortunately, I think any entrepreneur that’s seriously thinking about building a billion-dollar business should move to Silicon Valley,” said Daniel Odio, founder of app software firm Socialize. The company split from its consulting business and moved to San Francisco this summer.
Odio found investors in California whom he said better understood the potential that mobile devices have to revolutionize personal computing. He spent much of his time with East Coast investors selling that concept rather than his company.
“It’s much easier to get past the initial skepticism of what we’re doing,” Odio said. “Why spend my time convincing someone that mobile is going to be a big deal when I can go somewhere that people already think it will?”
Both Pope and Odio speak of their decision to leave as if they had no other option. Odio even travels back to D.C. to attend and sponsor events, despite feeling that his time and money would be better spent in San Francisco.
Like the Proudly Made in D.C. co-creators, they still want D.C. tech to succeed. Band, founder of software firm Contactually, said he hopes his short-term stay in the Valley will establish a network that can be useful back in Washington.
“Every time someone goes to Silicon Valley, it seems like a big loss for D.C., but we have to focus on continuing to build D.C. into the startup hub we all know it should be,” he said.
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