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.
It happened in a weekend.
Four days after Jameson Detweiler and his team at LaunchRock opened the doors of its launch campaign and analytics platform for startups, artists and others — created over 48 hours during Startup Weekend this winter — it was getting ink in Silicon Valley.
“In case you needed another ‘you know there’s a bubble when …’ tech post, LaunchRock, a startup that builds viral launch pages for other startups, is launching today via its own product,” TechCrunch wrote. Tech sage Robert Scoble brought Detweiler, who at the time, was President of Philly Startup Leaders, in for a long interview on Scobleizer.
It was very quickly clear where the company was headed. Recently, the company has hooked up with 500 Startups, a Valley business incubator — with a $50,000 accelerator investment — and the rest is history. The company is now based full-time in Mountain View.
It’s most notably the story of how the newly elected president of a local organization dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship in the Philadelphia region now says that Philadelphia “might not be the best thing for your business.”
But at the end of the day, Detweiler says, Startup Leaders is about encouraging smart entrepreneurship. Smart entrepreneurship that means business comes first, not your location.
How has the company grown or progressed since Startup Weekend?
Basically, we’re getting over startup mode, starting to feel like a real company. We went from nothing to something really quickly. There were a lot of growing pains, but we’re starting to get over it now. We’ve signed up a lot more people than we’ve let in on the site; very large numbers of people at this point. We’re still figuring out the metrics. Things have been good for us. Up and to the right.
"The guys who have done this before and were involved in the first tech scene have disappeared."
What does the company’s progress say about Startup Weekend?
It was opportunity to test a simple premise that I thought had some merit, that I could build in a weekend. It forced us to get things done at a speed that I had never been able to chase before, and just ship something. There’s a great community of people from Philadelphia blasting our stuff out. Continuing beyond that, the international network of Startup Weekend has been really helpful. At every Startup Weekend there’s people using our product.
When someone you meet there asks about Philadelphia and its tech/startup/gaming/creative community, what do you tell them?
There’s opportunity there. It’s growing and though it’s early, there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on. I think that people are a bit surprised by that. I think there’s a lack of awareness, but it’s the same for pretty much everywhere. People recognize that New York is interesting, and a few people recognize Boston and Austin, but you don’t hear it. People here live in their own bubble.
Was there anything that could have been done differently to keep you in Philadelphia?
Absolutely not. We got taken for a ride, where everything went really quickly. It was somewhat out of our control. It made too much sense to come out here. 500 Startups is a unique opportunity. They invest at literally every stage of the company up until Series C. They will start with $10,000 in something, then do an accelerator deal at $50,000, then help you at Series A. And they have an international network that is really connected. Our potential users are in this network.
Looking back at Philly from the outside, what is missing?
There’s a lack of capital. There’s always been a lack of capital, but right now there’s a frenzy, there’s extraordinary access to capital in San Francisco and New York, but not anywhere else. I don’t think Philly could ever match that. It’s also totally different here because everywhere you turn, everyone is in tech. It’s still amazing to me that when I go for a run, I run past Evernote, Firefox, and Meebo. Down the street is LinkedIn and Google. Out here, you can have a cup of coffee with anybody, and they’re willing to take a gamble because they know it will come back to them.
In Philly, there are generations of people who have been doing this, and in a lot of ways, I’m really disappointed. I think the older generation, the guys who have done this before and were involved in the first tech scene have disappeared. Not just for capital, but for mentoring, advice. They’re not available and they’re not around. I think Philly has done a really good job at guiding itself, this generation, but it’s starting from the beginning because there aren’t mentors and people there to provide that guidance.
There’s also such a disconnect between the suburbs and inside the city. There’s a lot more overlap between the Valley and San Francisco.
Do you think you would return to Philadelphia under appropriate circumstances?
I think I see myself coming back to Philadelphia some day, but I don’t see our business being based out of Philadelphia, based on our target and who we sell to. I could see us having an office in Philadelphia. There’s solid engineers who are eager to leave larger enterprises. There’s something of a glut of talent, but the question is, ‘how do you bring it out?’
What is the perception you most often find of Philadelphia?
Out here, people just don’t know about it.
What does it say for the President of Philly Startup Leaders to leave Philadelphia?
If you’re a seriously committed entrepreneur, your business is what comes first. As President, I wanted to see that community grow, but that was not my first priority. It’s not a nonprofit run by full-time people who are paid to do it. I was there to support the entrepreneur community because I wanted to create a better place for myself and whatever company I was building. Ultimately, the most important thing is that we’re building good entrepreneurs. I’m proud to say that we’re from Philadelphia and will always tell people about the great things going on there.
It’s an uphill battle to build certain types of companies in Philadelphia. If you choose to do that, then good for you, but that might not be the best thing for your business.
I’d love to do whatever I can to specifically help support Philadelphia startups. Anyone who wants to reach out about what Launchrock can do, is something that I’m really excited to do.