I’m very curious to hear the reactions to this blog post. I’m about to make a statement about startup communities with my actions. In 10 days, I’m going to pack up my little roadster and drive 1,800 miles from Austin, Texas to San Francisco, California. That means I’m becoming a Californian. I’ll be joining the marketing office that WP Engine is opening up in San Francisco, and I’ll be putting myself in the heart of the startup scene out there. I’m really excited.
There’s two parts of the story to tell. The first part is how and why WP Engine benefits from me living in San Francisco rather than Austin, as well as how the move will impact my career. The second part is the inevitable comparison between Austin and San Francisco/Bay Area startup communities.
My perspective on the “Austin vs. San Francisco debate” is based on working with 120 startups through Tech Ranch Austin, a local accelerator, before joining WP Engine and being part of Capital Factory. I’m comfortable stating a public opinion about my first-hand experience building and being part of the Austin Community, and how that relates to San Francisco.
Why I’m Moving
When I started at WP Engine, the thought of moving out to San Francisco hadn’t crossed my mind. I held the party line that Austin, Texas was the only place to start a startup in the world, and that the Bay Area was overrated. And more importantly, I loved being part of WP Engine and the company culture that I wouldn’t have entertained the thought of moving away from the office. The company was important to my growth at the time. We truly do have something special at WP Engine.
However, as the company has grown from adding the 12th employee (me), now to 36 people, WP Engine now requires different things from each of us in order to keep growing. A company needs vastly different things when there are 10 employees than when there are 30. Growing companies require growing employees, and growing founders, and one of my big mantras these days is to ask myself, “how do I continue to stay aware of what the company needs from me, and stay willing to evolve my contribution accordingly?” I can only imagine what this would be like for Ben Metcalfe and Jason Cohen.
Moving to San Francisco started with conversations that Ben had with me when I was out there in July and August. The thought about what would be possible from San Francisco that wouldn’t be possible from Austin began to take root. After a month or two, Ben let me know that if I wanted to join the office (to be established) in San Francisco, that would be up to me, but that WP Engine would support my choice to move.
I had several conversations with Jason and Ben to make sure that any move I made would be in the best interests of the company. I also worked closely with LA Lassek, our new VP, to plan how my job would evolve as part of the move. T’s crossed and I’s dotted.
I’ve been blown away by the amount of support I received from company leadership. Knowing that my move would benefit the company, meant that it was a real possibility, so I had to consider it.
Austin and San Francisco
The decision to move comes down to career opportunity for me. The work that I do as a marketer growing communities (I hate the title “community manager.” It’s not what I do), and around content means San Francisco (and also New York City) has the cutting-edge ideas and top performers in the world. Austin has infinite potential, but less existing thought leadership in these areas. There are notable exceptions like my good friends Ian Greenleigh at Bazaarvoice, and Jacqueline Hughes who founded Austin Startup Week. There are more great people in Austin that I’ve missed naming, so forgive me for that.
I knew that San Francisco had much more to offer me at this stage of my career, and the move will afford me the opportunity to create something brand new for myself. Professionally as well as personally.
Here’s what I think. The Golden Gate Bridge is inspirational to everyone in the Bay Area. It’s mere presence raises the bar of greatness.
— Austin W. Gunter (@austingunter) October 23, 2012
Recently, I wrote that San Francisco is a city that insists on changing your life. Spending any significant amount of time in the Bay Area will have a powerful affect on who you are. There are too many amazing men and women who are building incredible things out there to not be affected. You can feel the city buzzing when you drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, which by itself looks down and challenges you to do something of the same scale. As Richard Florida has explained, cities have their own identities, and I think that part of San Francisco’s identity insists that everyone who lives and works there will be affected by the energy.
Maybe it’s because there is so little space to cram so many people that everything has to be distilled down, and the electrons get to bouncing off of each other faster. I do know that the people who move from San Francisco to Austin are doing it because they don’t want so much going on in their lives. They’re coming to Austin because they still have a great startup scene, creative and artistic culture, amazing food, but there is more balance and more space. In Austin, we’re a little more spread out, and a little more relaxed about doing things.
We bootstrap more often than we get VC Funding because it allows us to control the pace and the growth of our startups. We live in a house with a lawn, and spend the weekends on the greenbelt or driving through the Hill Country.
I once had someone who moved to Austin from Manhattan explain that he was tired of the high-pressure work, and he moved to Austin in part so he could, “never get on another plane for the rest of [his] life.”
I’ve never been a big “balance” person, to be honest. I’m intense and focused, and when I make up my mind to do things, I do them to the hilt. When I was a Pick-Up Artist in college, I spent 18 months *really* being a Pick-Up Artist. The summer that I was a vegan, I wasn’t just a vegan, I was a raw foodist. When I wanted to learn Spanish, I didn’t buy the Rosetta Stone software, I lived in Latin America. Twice.
I’m moving to San Francisco because I’m ready to turn the volume up and be immersed in the world of startups. I’m moving to San Francisco because of the fact that it is going to change me. There’s an author in Austin who says that in contrast to San Francisco’s mantra of intensity, Austin’s mantra is to “Be Yourself.” I think that’s absolutely spot-on. You can come to Austin and combine all the ingredients of what makes a good life to you, including startups, but also including a lot of other things. Austin is good at a lot of things, but it’s best at offering you the cultural freedom to “bootstrap your own identity.” You can move here and spend your time and energies putting together your version of the Good Life.
You move to San Francisco because it’s time to pour rocket fuel on your dreams and go big or go home. A mentor of mine from Tech Ranch, Jonas Lamis, moved with his startup, Rally.org, to San Francisco 2 years ago because they wanted access to that network, and this year they raised an incredible round of funding from investors that we all admire.
When Jonas moved, he told me that “San Francisco is the place to be for Rally.” At the time, I didn’t understand what he was referring to. But it was the right decision for them. Just look at their growth.
I want more than anything the opportunity to grow. That’s my core motivation. Give me an opportunity to grow, to learn, to contribute to something that matters, and then let me take some risks. I’ll make up my mind and make something happen.
For this stage of my life, San Francisco represents the next personal growth opportunity for me. And yes, that means having to leave Austin behind in some ways. “Austin from Austin” will no longer be such, and even though I’ll be back and forth to the WP Engine offices inside the Capital Factory (which is the most amazing “office” I’ve ever experienced), I’ll still be a new resident of San Francisco. As the American Archetype goes, I’m “going West to find my fortune.”
And in many ways, it feels like coming home.
I was born in a small hospital on the border between Nevada and California, and I lived in the mountains until I was 10. California always called to me, and I dreamed of living there. My whole family is from Texas, and I’ve lived in Austin for 16 years, but I’ve always called the American West my home.
On November 10th or 11th, I’m going to pack my little car and start the 1,800 mile drive to San Francisco.
I’m going to miss Austin more than I can express. In particular, I love everyone in the WP Engine offices, and knowing that I won’t be in the office with them every day hurts. I’m also going miss my friends and my community here.
I can’t wait to get out there and see what happens. It’s going to be an adventure.
A big thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey thus far. That’s a lot of people, and you’re all part of this journey for me.
I’ll be having a farewell party at 7PM on Thursday, November 8th at Easy Tiger. You’re invited to come by so I can give you a hug and say a proper goodbye. Please do stop by.