FROM CLEVELAND TO THE VALLEY 
THIS BLOG SERIES
As I began to communicate to my network that I was moving out to the SF Bay Area a few months ago, I was encouraged by several people to document and blog about my experience moving from Cleveland to Silicon Valley, focusing on my role as the CEO at a Cleveland based tech startup. Initially I was against it because I wasn't sure if that's really interesting content, but being out here I now realize there is some perspective to share with those interested in Cleveland's revival - particularly as it relates to startups and the early company tech scene. This may have relevancy to other areas outside of the major tech hubs, and my hope is that it's a unique perspective for anyone interested in tech and startups in general.
Having been out here for a short time now, it didn't take long for me to realize that I have a unique opportunity to document my current situation. The rest of the Tackk team is still back in Cleveland and we plan to co-locate in both areas for as long as we are around in current form. So while most people come out west and leave their former residence in a trail of dust, I'm still focused and involved on a daily basis with the startup and tech scene in Cleveland while being situated out in California. That is why the photo that I've chosen as the background of this series is allusive - I'm looking at a viewfinder into the city while living afar, and in the mecca of tech and startup activity to boot.
This will read a little like a journal and a little like an editorial, but it's really just a dump of insights, observations, and thoughts in narrative form in a semi-regular series I'll be posting here on Tackk.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: THE IMMERSION
And the benefits are obvious at a consumer level, but what you realize quickly is that everyone is thinking about how tech is making lives easier out here. And in that way, everyone is becoming a problem solver, looking for ways to do things even easier. New companies are formed by simply removing a single hurdle from an existing solution. And while that creates an absurd app saturation that is easy to parody, it also creates a level of innovation that can't be touched by any area not thinking about tech advancing everyday life 24/7.
The entire region is fully immersed in technology at a level that shocks the system when a midwesterner first gets out there. I immediately think about how far Cleveland is away from that and wonder how long it would take for the city to get both interested and immersed at a critical mass level like this.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: OWNERSHIP OVER SALARY
Admittedly I formulated this impression prior to coming out here with many trips to the west coast before making the move, but it's been substantiated already in my short time here. People out here place a much greater emphasis on ownership (equity) in an idea, company, or concept more-so than people do in Cleveland. They discuss it more openly and call it out as a way of vetting an opportunity. There is a much greater understanding of it as well - the types of employee equity grants, vesting rules and schedules and everything related is more commonly understood out here whereas back home that's not something that's openly discussed or even on the radar for many employees. There are even 'startups' that don't offer equity to employees back home, which is unfortunate because the employee takes a risk but without the tethered reward that should be accompanying that risk.
A lot of people (including very young people) have gotten wealthy out here with company exits because of that employee equity, and not just founders. Early employees and contributors alike. It's tangible, and enough wins have been had that show that even marginally talented individuals have had life-changing wealth events through that equity. I've always said that the biggest thing the Cleveland startup community needs is a few big wins from the region - companies that start, grow, and get bought or go public in Cleveland. But a big part of that is the employees (non-founders) responsible for that success need to be benefactors of that win as well. That way, the peers of those employees see it as a possibility, and will become more risk tolerant and entrepreneurially focused. It does the region no good to have a successful exit whereby only a handful of people get wealthy, and unfortunately that's what I see as the most common scenario when it does happen in Northeast Ohio.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: PROPRIETARILY BUILT IS DUMB
Having worked at small, medium, and large size companies back in NE Ohio I can say that the general propensity to build proprietary systems is crippling to the region's ability to move at a pace commiserate to out here. Fast, fluid technology moves at the pace of innovation, not at the pace of building from scratch when that is completely and utterly unnecessary. This is how systems and people become antiquated quickly, and I see a lot of that in the Cleveland tech scene. But because turnover of people and systems is costly, that antiquation stays in place and there is a damaging ripple effect that is felt far beyond just these organizations, it's felt regionally. It creates a 'rust belt mentality' to tech, and it screams incapability to innovate. I always thought that a good rule of thumb is to build proprietary your core competency, and source any features, technology, and capabilities that are outside of that. That has never been easier to do in this open API driven era, and that way everyone is always innovating at the core of their competency. That seems to be the thinking out here as well, and a secondary benefit is some powerful product partnerships have been formed in doing so, and this accelerates growth for all parties involved.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: NOTHING IN THE WAY
If the above points sound like unscalable hurdles, they are not and it's because of this realization: there is no difference whatsoever in the caliber of people out here than there is in Cleveland (or anywhere else in the midwest for that matter). In fact, most of the people out here are transplants from other areas anyway, as this map of where the Valley talent comes from indicates.
The key is how that talent and intellectual capital is harnessed, and it needs to become priority to improve the regional tech scene. Even to those who don't see an immediate benefit of doing so (those at cushy corporate gigs or safe at their startups because they are the only subject matter expert) need to take ownership of the responsibility to improve the capability of the entire area. There are dozens if not hundreds of ways of doing this, but all involve getting a little uncomfortable in stretching beyond current people networks.
OVERALL INITAL IMPRESSION
Honestly I am both encouraged and discouraged in equal parts. Encouraged by the fact that it doesn't seem like there is anything inherently stopping technology and startup progress other than the masses making a commitment to technology. But I'm discouraged by the fact that the desire doesn't seem to be there at a meaningful scale (my impression at least) in Cleveland. I encourage ideas or discussion below in the comment stream. Ideas that can help speed that process along or additional anecdotes, but I maintain my stance that the best 'we' as entrepreneurs in the region can do is have successful companies and other critical dominos will begin to fall.