This is Exit Interview, an occasional interview series with someone who has left Philadelphia, perhaps for another country or region or even just out of city limits and often taking talent, business and jobs with them. If you or someone you know left Philly for whatever reason, we want to hear from you. Contact us.
CityRyde leadership is making some big changes.
The bike sharing consulting practice is due to relaunch under a new brand and, as of next week, the startup’s co-founders will be leaving University City to make their headquarters elsewhere.
CEO Timothy Ericson and COO Jason Meinzer, the startup’s two co-founders, have decided that if their six-person startup is going to continue to grow traction, the Quaker City isn’t the place to do it.
“Philadelphia claims that they want to be the greenest city in America, however they are the only major city in the Northeast that does not have direct plans to launch a bike sharing initiative,” said CEO Ericson, 25, a native of Fair Lawn, N.J. who says he fell in love with his new city while studying at Drexel. Despite both having Drexel ties, he met his co-founder Meinzer, 28, while they were in London. The pair visited Paris to see the launch of that city’s bike-sharing program, which prompted their venture.
The departure of an entrepreneur named Meinzer may sound familiar, considering that just in September Jason’s brother Ryan, who was behind language learning tool PlaySay, told Technically Philly that he was leaving and taking his startup with him to D.C.
Next week, Dec, 1, CityRyde leadership, too, will officially move, setting up shop in Cambridge, Mass. — which is to Boston about what Conshohocken is to Philly, if Conshohocken was home to two of the most respected universities in the world.
Below, Ericson discusses why this is the right move and if there’s anything Philadelphia could do about it.
Edited for length and clarity.
Why is Boston a better fit than Philadelphia for CityRyde?
A few months back we decided to apply to the TechStars Boston program. Since that decision, we have spent a lot of time getting to know the Boston community. We were impressed with the community as a whole, the talent that we would have access to and the companies and mentors that were located in the area.
We determined that one of the best ways to demonstrate our commitment to the TechStars program would be for the management team to relocate to Boston. We are still in the application process, but we feel that it is the right move regardless of our acceptance into the program. A lot of the companies in our industry, such as Zipcar, one of our investors from the most recent round, and the law firm we use, are all located in the Boston area.
For the time being we are still planning to keep our University City office [at 32nd and Arch streets, where two of six employees will remain], as we still have some team members that will remain in the area.
Why is Boston the right move, outside of applying for the TechStars program there?
After making the decision to move to Boston, we realized that other cities like Boston just offered more in terms of support, mentorship and investment.
We found ourselves gaining traction with various groups in cities other then Philadelphia. Moving to Boston in bittersweet, I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia and have made great friends and business connections but to really get our business to the next level, we needed to move to the city that could help us accelerate the traction we already built while in Philadelphia.
Was there a specific event or moment that you realized you wanted to move the company?
It was the application process for TechStars Boston program that made us realize that there was a lot of potential in the Boston area. Going through that process forced us to spend a lot of time getting to know the community and after awhile the decision was easy. After being involved in another entrepreneurial community, we started to see differences in the level of talent, companies and mentors in the area.
Was there anything that could have been done differently to keep you?
I think Philadelphia has a growing community of great entrepreneurs and companies but is still lacking behind other locations likes Boston and California.
All of the investment money that we ended up accepting was from entities outside the Philadelphia area. I think that the industry we are in, bikes and carbon credits, just did not fit the investment style of the investors in the region. Philadelphia claims that they want to be the greenest city in America, however they are the only major city in the Northeast that does not have direct plans to launch a bike sharing initiative.
There has always been a major push for bicycle sharing in Philadelphia, even before most of the other major cities in the U.S., yet it looks like we will be the last in the Northeast to launch one. It is really frustrating to be in the bike sharing industry and live in a city that doesn’t even have one.
Could you see yourself bringing CityRyde back to Philadelphia?
The next few months are going to be very uncertain, as we are really considering the move a pilot test to see if it will fit for us long term.
I wish that there was one thing I could list here that would motivate us to move back to Philadelphia but for all of the reasons listed previously, moving to Boston just makes sense at this point for our company. We will, however, miss the extremely low cost of living compared to Boston and other entrepreneurial hot-spots.
When someone you meet from outside the region asks about Philadelphia and its tech community, what do you tell them?
I would tell them I consider it to be a growing community. There is a lot of potential with great programs such as the Baiada Center at Drexel University, Dreamit Ventures and Philadelphia Startup Leaders. I cannot stress enough how important the Baiada Center was to helping our company get to the point where we are at today. If it was not for the Baiada Center, we would not be having this conversation today because CityRyde would not still exist.
What is the perception you most often find of Philadelphia?
I think that most people who have not spent time here are unaware of the growing entrepreneurial community. I know first hand that once someone gets to know the community, their expectations are certainly surpassed. Philadelphia has a reputation, a long standing problem the city is working on, where we are losing talent after graduation from the great universities located in Philadelphia to other cities.
What advice or specific action would you take to improve the tech community here and retain others in the future?
I am not sure that there is anything I can pinpoint specifically that would help improve the community. Our company was located in Philadelphia for three years and during that time we just kept getting traction with investors, partners and mentors from other cities. Just as a startup business needs to find their competitive advantage, I think Philadelphia needs to find its niche in the entrepreneurial marketplace.
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