MATT MALONEY: Just as there is no right way to start a business, there is no city that is perfect for every startup. The ideal location for any startup should depend on the company’s industry, business model, talent requirements and the personal needs of its founding employees.
With that said, there were very specific reasons whyGrubHub was founded in Chicago. My co-founder, Mike Evans, and I saw Chicago as a litmus test for the culture of America. It was the perfect place to test an idea, because, in our eyes, if an idea worked in Chicago, it could work anywhere. On a more personal level, we had already established our families within the city and were entrenched in Chicago’s tech community.
I could write a 50-page dissertation as to why Chicago was the perfect fit for GrubHub’s founding, but here is my elevator pitch for why Chicago should be considered by any entrepreneur looking to relocate.
Two Degrees of Separation: The connectivity between entrepreneurs and business leaders in Chicago is unparalleled. In my experience, every major business executive, policy maker or influential city leader has never been more than two degrees of separation away. In fact, it was through Chicago’s supportive culture that I met local angel, OpenTable founder and long-time mentor, Chuck Templeton.
Finding the right people to provide feedback was among the most crucial elements of our early success. Anyone and everyone we could want to meet with was, and is, just a connection, or two, away.
The Proud Chicago Mentality: Perhaps it is the often-misinterpreted definition of “Second” in the Second City moniker that irks us, but many Chicagoans feel that we don’t get the national, or global, recognition that we deserve. Out of this disconnect is born a pride and group mentality that brings Chicagoans together to promote the success of its industries.
In recent years, tech companies and startups have been among the primary beneficiaries of this support. Companies that choose Chicago as home now have the benefit of entering a self-sustaining startup ecosystem. This mentality, when coupled with Chicago’s connectivity, means that some of the strongest business leaders in the city are working to improve the space for everyone.
From startup incubators like 1871 and Excelerate Labs to networks like Built in Chicago, the Chicago community understands that it takes teamwork and open collaboration to make our city a springboard for successful businesses. Today, finding guidance, feedback and the right investment opportunities is easier than ever before.
Big City with Big Talent: Chicago is a bustling metropolis with the nation’s third highest GDP. Our historic roots may not be synonymous with modern technology, but make no mistake that Chicago is built on an incredible base of industry and innovation.
The city is home to ubiquitous industry leaders like Walgreens, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s and Boeing, and each of these companies contribute great business minds to Chicago’s talent base. Many of Chicago’s marquee businesses don’t fall within the formal tech industry, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t using technology in innovative ways. Talent is absolutely in Chicago and excited to work for innovative companies that are solving real problems.
Talent Retention: Tech talent may be hard to find in Chicago, but this problem is shared by every major city in the country. However, once talent gets within the city limits, Chicago has an easier time retaining it. In addition to the many city resources for educational and professional growth, Chicago’s cost of living is low enough to ensure a high quality of life that can’t be beat on either coast.
A perfunctory glace at Zillow shows Chicago’s median home list price hovering around $230,000, with Washington, D.C. at $470,000 and San Francisco at $825,000. While numbers tell a convincing story, they don’t begin to touch upon the benefits of the Chicago lifestyle. Chicagoans have access to picture-perfect beaches, incredible food, an amazing music scene, free festivals every weekend and world-class sports organizations.
I think that Jorge Just said it best through Chicagoan Ira Glass in This American Life, “Chicago’s this wonderful dreamland where there’s a bar on every corner and the bridges smell like chocolate.” And on that note, I’m off to drink an Old Style and watch the Cubs game while I plan my annual Bears-Packers throw-down and reminisce on the Hawks winning the Stanley Cup… again