Now that I’ve given props to the place I left, I wanted to write why I’m so excited about my new home, Durham, NC or as it’s called — Bull City.
Part of the reason I’m excited to move here is it just feels right. Coming from New York and finance, I love that it’s called Bull City. Like New York, we have a Bull statue downtown. In the early part of last century it was home to “Black Wall Street” — a mecca for black owned businesses which helped create a strong Black middle class here. I absolutely love that.
I also love bulls. Bulls are optimistic. Bulls are builders. There is no better time to be bullish than right now and I’m bullish on Durham and bullish on building a company here.
Durham is part of the larger metro area of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, with the business community referred to as the Research Triangle, or more commonly “The Triangle”. Durham is one point in the triangle and has been the center of the growing startup community in the area.
Durham and the larger Triangle area is already booming and has been for quite some time, but I’m really excited for the next 10 years, and I believe it will become a major startup hub — similar to Austin over the last 10–15 years.
The Business of Business
When I look at the companies the Triangle is known for, as well as the startups in the area, I keep thinking that the companies here are in the Business of Business. Many of the large companies sell software and hardware services to businesses and many of the startups are following suit building enterprise SaaS or API Service type businesses. The companies here understand business and are built to be businesses, which is honestly really refreshing to see. Red Hat is a great example. They took Linux an open source OS, and built a services business on top of it. That’s the Triangle. The Triangle may not hit the next $250B consumer home run, but it is well positioned to hit many $1B — $50B singles and doubles. It just feels like they are playing highly efficient small ball here, and thats not a bad thing for an up and coming city.
Low Cost of Living, High Quality of Life
For me, this was one of the major reasons I moved down here. It’s much cheaper to live. Housing is cheaper, food is cheaper, life is cheaper. Many salaries at big companies, however, are fairly competitive with the Northeast — as they have had to compete for talent over the years. While I don’t believe we are moving to a completely “Work from Anywhere” future, I do believe the impact from COVID will arbitrage away many of the salary disparities between geography — so I expect any gap that remains to continue to close.
This lower cost of living is great, but there is also just a much better quality of life. The culture here is not the same as NY or SF and much more balanced, and supportive of a life outside of work. Plus the weather is pretty great. I’m at a point in my life where this is important. My wife and I both have a tendency for work to consume our lives, so living in a place where it doesn’t is a good check on that.
For entrepreneurs this means more flexibility and runway to get started. If you have money saved up or a spouse that is working full time, it’s just easier to take that shot, bootstrap and get started. If you raise a little seed capital, it can go much further as well. The better quality of life will also be attractive to talent in other geographies. The last 10 years were characterized by catered lunches, gym memberships, and cold brew coffee taps as competitive perks for employees and recruiting, but did nothing for work/life balance. I believe the next 10 years will be about geographies, processes, policies, and perks that enable a healthier work/life balance. This is, perhaps, one of the less talked about effects on offices from COVID — it has shifted power to workers to control how they work. This is power that won’t easily be taken back.
Location, Location Location
The Triangle is located in a perfect area of the East Coast to absorb Northeast talent. Think about living in NY and wanting to start a tech startup somewhere a bit cheaper, but still close enough to your roots. Start to drive South. Philly? Would be good place to build, but you have been programmed to hate it. Baltimore? You watched The Wire 3x during quarantine and now irrationally biased against it. DC? Too close to the cops, and houses are expensive. Richmond? LOL. Raleigh-Durham? Cisco, Red Hat/IBM, SAS, Epic Games are here. You’re 1.5 hours by plane to NY. 9 Hours to drive. Done.
While obviously tongue-in-cheek it’s true. When it comes to tech, the Triangle is the most serious city in the South. So if you are looking to move South, you will be looking here. It’s an easy trip up north by plane and drivable for a visit with friends and family.
Within the area, geography is even more interesting. After I moved here, I noticed that no matter where I wanted to go I was 15–20 minutes away. I live in South Durham and brought up the map and realized I’m in the center of the triangle. Research Triangle Park (RTP) — a planned community of campuses for healthcare and technology companies is right near me. It then dawned on me that this was all planned from the start. The big business district is in the middle of all three of the cities (with many more located in the cities themselves). From a real estate perspective this means that there is plenty of room to build. While housing costs are certainly rising, especially inside the beltway in Raleigh and downtown Durham, the spaces in between still have plenty of room to sprawl and they aren’t really sprawling away from any major hub for business. The area should be able to maintain an attractive housing supply that can keep up with the demand for talent — something that is difficult for a metro area to do.
Swimming in Talent
The Triangle has 3 major universities — UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, and NC State. The first one is great and I won’t hold anything against the other two. There are also large tech companies that either call the Triangle home or are opening up a second home here — Cisco, Red Hat/IBM, SAS, Epic Games, Fidelity, and major startups like Bandwidth, Pendo, and Policy Genius are here. There are many more.
Additionally you have tons of Pharmaceutical and Medical Device companies here. As software begins to eat the medical world, Raleigh is well positioned as a source of talent to build health tech companies — a trend already underway.
If you are starting a company, there is a ton of talent to recruit from entry level college grads to seasoned vets looking to make a career change.
I am very bullish on Epic Games. While most people know them for Fortnite, they have one of the top gaming engines in the business — Unreal. It’s very possible that gaming engines are going to be the future development platform for many things. This writeup on Unity’s S-1 is a good explanation of that vision.
Just as Atari was an important company for software in Silicon Valley, Epic could be that company for the Triangle. Gaming is a big software business, and the total addressable market is continuing to get bigger as Esports and the convergence between gaming and more traditional tasks and workflows grows.
I’m excited to build, contribute, and help grow the startup community in Durham over the next few years, and happy to call Bull City home.