This is Exit Interview, a weekly interview series with those who have moved out of Philly. We hear a lot of chatter about Philadelphia’s brain drain, particularly from our technology community. We’ve read the reports and heard the studies, but we wanted to hear from the people who have actually left. Why’d they go, would they stay, will they come back? If you or someone you know left Philly for whatever reason, we want to hear from you. Contact us.
Second in our series is Blake Jennelle, founder of Philly Startup Leaders and MyDunkTank. Technically Philly caught up with Jennelle via email to ask him why he moved and if he’d ever come back. Answers edited for length.
When did you actually leave? And to where?
I moved to New York City three weeks ago, just before Christmas. I hope Santa got my gift forwarding notice. If not, Merry Christmas to the whomever is taking over my apartment.
What are the primary reasons you left for your new location? Was there a specific event or moment that you realized you had to/wanted to leave?
It was a feeling more than anything specific. I had been spending a couple of days each week in New York for about six months. It was partly because my cowgirl lives there and partly to meet with clients for my charity fundraising startup, MyDunkTank.
As I spent more time in New York, I could tell that I was meant to be there – at least for a little while. I ignored the feeling at first because I absolutely love Philadelphia – and because on a lot of days, New York feels like a crowded, noisy, expensive, freak show kind of a place. In fact, I find myself using that phrase “freak show” often when people ask me about New York.
But at the end of the day, New York is the most creative city on the earth. It has the best and the worst of everything. And that lights me on fire.
Was there anything that could have been done differently to keep you?
No, I don’t think so. Philly was the perfect place for me these last five years. I mean that personally and professionally. I built a family here – not in the sense of rugrats, a house and a dog, but in the sense of amazing friends and community. All of us in the tech scene have built that family here.
There wasn’t much here just a few years ago. When we told people our plans – to make Philly a world class tech city – people looked at us like we had two heads. Now it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Philly is on its way there.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s going to happen. And all of us in the tech community can look out there and know that we did it.
I feel like we’re in our sophomore year as a city. By comparison, I think Boston is in its junior year and New York is a senior strutting around campus and getting all the attention (for good reason). Silicon Valley graduated a while ago and is starting to get tired of the working world.
For me, I feel like I’ve done what I could in Philly at this stage in my life. I feel like I know everybody and have tried pretty much everything here that I wanted to try. It’s an exaggeration, but I think you know what I mean. I see myself growing incrementally if I stay and in a much bigger way if I go.
Do you think you would return to Philadelphia under appropriate circumstances?
Absolutely. I love this place. You have no idea how much I love this place. My closest friends are here, the core of my network is here and it’s a beautiful, lovely city – despite what Philadelphians say when they are in a bad mood.
When someone you meet from outside the region asks about Philadelphia and its startup/tech community, what do you tell them?
I tell them that the startup scene in Philly is on fire. It’s one of the youngest in the country and is developing faster than anything else I’ve seen. I think we forget that sometimes from the inside. Things can feel so slow as you’re living them.
What’s the latest you’re up to that we can look forward toward?
At MyDunkTank, we have a pretty amazing redesign on the way. It’s more than a redesign really. It’s the first truly complete version of our product. It has some really cool new features and a look that finally does us justice.
I’ve also shifted gears in my consulting work. For the last year, I’ve been focused on marketing work with young companies. Now I’m writing software too. As an old hacker, I missed getting my hands dirty in the code.
What’s your background?: grew up, education, time in Philly, etc.
I grew up in the Philly suburbs – Bucks County – where I was a hacker and math geek. I had a softer side too and spent a lot of time reading and writing. Then I went away to college at Harvard, starting as a math major and ending up in social theory.
After college, I spent a few months out west doing political work in the 2004 presidential election. I hated it. Then I came home and started to look for political and non-profit jobs. Instead of getting a job, I ended up playing poker professionally for two years. It was an accident really. And I made a lot of money pretty fast, mostly online. I managed to save almost all of it.
Then I had this crazy startup idea that became Anthillz. I ended up pouring all of my money into it and then some debt too. I totally didn’t need to do that. Of course, I was dumb before I was smart. And by the time I was smart, the money was gone. When I started Anthillz was also when I started Philly Startup Leaders. I’ve had the startup bug ever since, which led me to TicketLeap, MyDunkTank, Missioneurs, Startup Corps, Good Company Ventures and on and on.