We asked seven successful founders how they chose where to start their businesses. Their priorities might surprise you.
One upside to starting your own business: you choose where you work. And while the no-brainer answer for where to base your business is “wherever you happen to live,” different cities offer different perks that can help you succeed — or give you a better quality of life while you get off the ground.
We asked seven entrepreneurs to explain how they decided where to base their business.
I wanted to be near my family in a small town.
“My family is in Burley, ID; my wife’s family is in Burley. It’s a rural town of 10,000 people, a farming and manufacturing community; the nearest Costco is 45 minutes away. It was super high risk moving back to Burley after college, but it felt like it was the right thing to do. Since I knew there was no way I could find a job there, I decided to start my own company, Nifty Marketing, in 2009. When initially started, I tried to downplay that we’re this small-town type company. But as I became more and more well known — I’ve spoken all across the country at conferences at hundreds of conferences about search — the more I started owning it and made it a differentiator. We have small-town values; we’re going to treat you right. We can keep our prices more reasonable because we’re not in a big city paying big-city wages, rents, and expenses. Now we have employees who are more than willing to move to Burley. We’re able to pay really well, but it goes so far here.”
– Mike Ramsey, founder and president of Nifty Marketing, Burley, ID
I wanted to relaunch somewhere exciting.
“I’m originally from Florida and had no ties or family here when I moved to Fredericksburg, VA, in May 2017. Crazy, right? But it made sense to me to relaunch my personal and professional development company in a city that was phenomenally located and filled with drive and potential. Downtown is filled with mom-and-pop businesses that give the city a unique character. There was a growing number of small businesses in the city and surrounding areas. Also, being centrally located an hour from D.C. and Richmond still afforded me the opportunity to connect to larger markets as well. I’d been studying different cities in the United States — I closely considered Dallas — and Fredericksburg offered the greatest opportunity to help businesses and entrepreneurs get to the next level because of the entrepreneurial energy it has. Being in the training and development field, this was like putting the cookies on the bottom shelf for kids.”
– Willie BJ Williams, CEO, Inspire The Fire, Fredericksburg, VA
I love the supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem here.
“After a couple of years of working as head of marketing at two different startup companies, I started a global branding and marketing firm in Cambridge, MA, seventeen years ago. The Boston area is a bit like the Rodney Dangerfield of cities since Silicon Valley in the Bay Area and Silicon Alley in New York get all the good press, but truly Boston is where a lot of the tech and venture capital world started. As a woman business owner and entrepreneur, there are amazing [networking] groups here that are very collegial and collaborative. I joined my alumni club chapters from college and business school, as well as a few professional groups, so I had plenty of networking opportunities every week. The ecosystem here is great–supportive, friendly and smart. More than any other place I have lived it is not about how you look, how much money you have, who you are married to, or where you went to school, but really about how smart you are and how good your idea is.”
– Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, Cambridge, MA
I wanted to be in my college town.
“I graduated from the College of Wooster six years ago and remember the frustration I had when I couldn’t find a job in Wooster, OH. I love the college and knew it would be a great place to hire graduates from, so I started my business building and selling custom aquariums in Wooster so I could play a small part in alleviating this frustration for some students. Now I have six full-time employees who do everything from writing and helping with warehouse tasks to working alongside me on business-focused activities, and we usually take on about five part-time people during the summers.”
– Max Robinson, founder of Fish Tank Bank, Wooster, OH
I needed to be where my customers are.
“I’m from New Jersey, where the business environment isn’t very friendly, in my opinion. I have family and some friends in the Melbourne, FL, area who had been nudging me to move down for years. I finally succumbed and love it. Melbourne, on Florida’s Space Coast, was a great move for my business because that’s where my [potential] customers were! I provide funding solutions for companies with cash flow issues due to late-paying customers; the Space Coast is full of companies with government aerospace and defense contracts, and since government agencies are slower-paying customers, there are plenty of opportunities for me. And the cost of living and doing business in Florida is tough to beat!”
– James Stefurak, CFA, founder of Monarch Research, Melbourne, FL
I have a better life balance.
“The spot where I lived near Cold Spring Harbor, NY, for sixteen years was beyond gorgeous but very remote. Life was becoming too difficult with the hassle of shuttling my three children back and forth to school–and if I needed to get an order to the post office, it was an hour round-trip. Earlier this year, I made the decision with my husband to move to town. I’m so happy. Just last week I transitioned my home office into the coolest office above the local coffee shop. I’m only one minute from my home by car, which of course means I can easily walk to and from work. I’m also right next to the high school, which means I have access to interns, and my children can either walk home or come to the office after school. I’m now able to have the true balance of work and home that I struggled to have for all of those years.”
– Josephine Geraci, founder and president of My Mom Knows Best, Cold Spring Harbor, NY
I love that locals support what we do.
“I’ve been obsessed with food and drink forever and have traveled and lived all over the world, but when we got to Vermont and found Middlebury, we felt at home. People in Middlebury really care about who makes their food and drink; for us, it was really about connecting with a community that is mindful of the stories of the people who are behind what they eat and drink. I also started my business in Middlebury because it has a strong community of other beverage makers. This industry is already successfully happening in Middlebury, with a mixture of older and newer businesses, and you have a whole set of resources and people who are happy to help you succeed. For instance, it can be hard to get a small business loan to start a distillery, but the local banks here were very open to helping us.”
– Sas Stewart, co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits, Middlebury, VT
This article was originally published in September 2018.