How 'Small Town' Entrepreneurs Can Use Location to Their Advantage
Many aspiring entrepreneurs think it’s necessary to move to San Francisco or New York City to launch a new business -- particularly if that business is a tech startup. After all, both areas are overflowing with top-tier talent, venture capital and a healthy helping of innovation pie.
But the grass, despite what they say, isn’t really greener on the other side. Some tech startups are actually trying to “de-locate” their operations from trendy areas because they are so expensive and competitive. Zapier, for example, is currently offering employees $10,000 to leave San Francisco. The company believes this is a financially savvy decision that will also help it attract remote talent.
In the modern era of entrepreneurship, location shouldn't stop anyone from starting a company. In fact, it could actually become a great asset.
Find your rural advantage.
This isn't to say there aren’t any uphill battles in smaller communities -- particularly when it comes to hiring, fundraising and public relations. But so what if there are challenges? Any geographic location will pose hurdles, and entrepreneurship is all about solving these problems. Here are three ways to overcome the biggest stumbling blocks of "small town" entrepreneurship:
Create a unique opportunity.
When we launched CoSchedule, it was more out of necessity than anything else. Neither my co-founder nor I could find jobs we liked in North Dakota, our home state.
While many people -- particularly young professionals -- opt to move to more urban areas to find jobs, that’s not an appealing option for everyone. So out of frustration and a desire to stay put, we created jobs for ourselves. And in doing so, we gave others a unique opportunity to do what they love and love what they do.
Listen to the conversations going on in your town. Take a look at the other companies in your region, and consider the types of jobs they don't currently offer. Then, be the company the fills the gap.
CoSchedule, for example, is the only business in North Dakota that builds enterprise SaaS software and uses a modern development stack to do so. This automatically makes us an attractive employment opportunity for local job seekers.
Become a recruitment machine.
Hiring is hard no matter where you're located, and recruiting in a state with a smaller population will only add to the challenge. While companies in big cities find themselves drowning in floods of applicants, you may find yourself wondering whether anyone even knows you have open positions.
But instead of hiring an expensive recruiter -- who could cost 15 to 50 percent of a new hire’s salary -- I suggest you take control of recruiting internally. My co-founder and I became experts at finding new talent, hitting LinkedIn Recruiter to interact with potential applicants across the nation on a daily basis. We honed our pitch, highlighting the benefits of working for us, as well as the advantages of living in a family-oriented, low-cost community such as North Dakota. And it worked. Today, we have people on our staff who hail from places such as Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
Our company -- along with Flywheel in Omaha, Nebraska, and Leadpages in Minneapolis, Minnesota -- are living proof that it’s possible to build a thriving company of 100-plus employees in locales other than San Francisco or New York City.
Leverage local resources.
On the surface, funding will appear to be limited in your immediate vicinity. In our case, we had one venture capitalist in the entire state, and the angel investor network was meager at best. To make matters worse, none of our potential sources of funding were very familiar with tech investments.
But as we learned, smaller communities are thirsty for homegrown entrepreneurship -- sometimes even more so than bigger cities. In our case, North Dakota was actively trying to grow its technology investments, and that ended up being a boon for us. We were able to find helpful, founder-friendly opportunities for capital that weren't available anywhere else.
Check with your state government to see whether it offers specific programs that can help with growth. Also, get involved with local causes, and sponsor events. Host a Startup Weekend in town, or present at a local TEDx event. By taking this approach, our community voted to get us into TechCo’s Startup of the Year competition, in which we went on to become one of the top five finishers in 2016. What’s more, our community also got us elected to pitch at Google Demo Day in 2015.
Don’t let location get in the way of your entrepreneurial aspirations. Instead, use it to your advantage. Wear your small town on your sleeve, flaunt the benefits of living there, and make yourself a mainstay in the local community.
If you follow the above tips, you can convince top-notch talent from across the nation to de-locate -- and you can show local professionals that they don't need to relocate.