In the past two years, D.C. tech scene has blown up! According to Fosterly’s 2016 Startup Census Report, most of the greater Washington D.C. region’s startup companies were founded in the last five years. What’s more astounding is that 25% of them started in 2016. That’s crazy growth. Here are the qualities of SF tech startups and D.C. tech scene that I wish I could mesh together. And things that we could possibly learn from each other.
Sense of Community
What I miss most about SF is the sense of community I felt there. People are willing to help each other out and share resources and information. They’re always ready to meet up to pick each others’ brains and stay connected. In SF, I saw CEOs and executives reaching out to one another to get opinions and discuss challenges.
I have wondered if the D.C. area is too siloed. If D.C. tech was more collaborative, would there be more significant and sustained growth of startups? For example, there’s a huge momentum in D.C. around supporting women-owned businesses. There are organizations and programs offering grants, as well as holding pitch contests and events geared towards women entrepreneurs. Instead of providing a few thousand dollar grants here and there for a certain category they need to fall under, or doing panel presentations, what could we do collaboratively to have broader impact for women entrepreneurs.
SheWorx is a great example of an organization that has done an impressive job of partnering with others (e.g., VCs and Crunchbase) to help women entrepreneurs. They hold SheWorx100 Summits, where women entrepreneurs are connected to top venture capital firms and get one-on-one feedback. As a result of these events, women have received follow-up meetings from investors and some even received funding. SheWorx has also established a partnership with Crunchbase to list female-founded companies looking for funding; this has brought more exposure to women entrepreneurs and gives investors one less excuse to close the gap.
Still, there are companies that I have run across in the D.C. area, like PockitShip, who have found opportunities to partner with other D.C. area businesses to build a community and as a result, grown quickly. They collaborate with companies like WeWork, MakeOffices, RedPeg Marketing, Long & Foster, and Town & Country Movers to create mutually beneficial relationships. It’s a win-win over and over again.
Treat People like Humans
Is it me, or are people in D.C. more transactional and risk-averse? People joke that when you meet someone new in D.C., the first question they ask is, “What do you do?” Who cares. Can’t we just genuinely get to know each other as people?
In SF, many startups offer benefits that I think ultimately, result in employees producing more because they are treated like humans – things like unlimited vacation days, on-site meditation sessions, generous paid parental leave, and experience-based reward and recognition programs.
More and more companies are also moving to a remote workforce because it allows employees to structure their day in a way that is more conducive to enhancing their best work habits. Startups like InVision and Zapier have 100% of their employees working remotely; this allows them to tap into the best talent around the world.
Allowing employees to spend more time with their loved ones or to have experiences outside of work renders results! Whether it be traveling or to pursue a hobby, allowing this results in loyal employees, job love, less burnout and better performance.
Maybe in D.C., we need to be less intense. And more open to changes and approaches that make employees feel more human. Managers and leaders should spend more time finding out what their employees need. What are their biggest challenges and pain points? And also in thanking them for a job well done. Good talent is so fuggin’ hard to find, after all! So why not invest in your people and their growth? This ensures they feel like they have a purpose are just as important as investing in your product and sales. (Hey startup without a Head of People and more than 50 employees, wtf? :-))
Okay, so SF can get a little ‘buck wild’ with the perks that they offer their employees. One thing SF can learn from D.C. is to be more fiscally responsible! Put your business hat on more. Maybe you don’t need to offer employees free daily lunches and dinners, kombucha on tap, and packaged hard boiled eggs. The salaries offered by SF companies can be ridiculous. How about offering market competitive compensation now and waiting to offer significantly above market compensation until you are profitable? Or, forgo the four different kinds of milk and LaCroix and start offering a 401(k) match instead.
Elianas Murillo, Google’s Head of Multicultural Marketing had a great quote at the 2017 Good Summit held in D.C. by Phone2Action; she said, “We need fewer dating apps and food delivery services, and more apps to help people find jobs.”
In D.C., 69% of startups are choosing to measure success not just by revenue, but by a social mission. D.C. is the mecca for social entrepreneurship and D.C. area techies do certainly want to change the world – more so, I think, than Silicon Valley.
Each city’s certainly got their quirks, but I think we can continuously learn from one another. Individuals should also support each other. If you stop along your journey to help others, you’ll mutually benefit from each other, and help not only your businesses grow, but also grow personally. Be a giver, not a taker.