In the summer of 2011, I cofounded a seed-funded internet company that operated within the death-care space. You could think of us as Yelp for Funeral Homes. Yes, really.
Given that we were first-time founders in a place like Cleveland, Ohio, my cofounder and I were always looking for opportunities to learn from other founders who were much further along. One of our investors introduced us to a well-known internet veteran who’d had a couple of successful exits in his past. He lived in a major tech hub and was running a company that would eventually go on to be sold for several hundred millions of dollars. Our investor set up a friendly phone call between this founder, my cofounder, and myself. We jumped on that call with moleskins open, pens at our fingertips, ready for whatever golden nuggets of knowledge this super-founder would be gracious enough to impart.
The conversation started with some friendly banter and led to us sharing a bit more about ourselves and our vision for the company we were building. And then, it happened.
“Fellas, let me give you a piece of advice that I think will really help you.”
This was it! We were ready. We lowered our ears to the speakerphone and awaited the wisdom that was about to rain down upon us.
“Y’all need to move out of Cleveland. You’ll never make it if you stay there.”
I’m not quite sure how the rest of the conversation went. I was a little numb after hearing him so confidently reject the place I called home for myself and my family. My cofounder and I weren’t two fresh-out-of-college kids with no ties to anyplace. We were both married. Our wives were both pregnant. We both had houses, mortgages, and extended families located nearby. And we actually liked being in Cleveland. But now we had to leave if we wanted to be successful?
The answer, of course, is no. Of course not.
Unfortunately, though, this seems to be the prevailing school of thought for not just Cleveland but many Midwest cities. Sure, you can start a business here, the thinking goes. But if you really want to make it big, you can’t do it here.
But what is “big”?
While the Midwest is no Silicon Valley, it’s actually had its share of big exits. Just in the past few years, there have been several nine-figure acquisitions in Cleveland alone (OverDrive, Explorys, and TOA Technologies). More recently, CoverMyMeds was acquired for over $1 billion. Of course, in other parts of the Midwest, like Indianapolis and Chicago, billion-dollar exits…
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