Business development / Jobs / Startups

Notehall on Philly perception: ‘To be honest, generally, it’s not very good’

“Living on the West Coast for 24 out of my 25 years, I never heard a single thing about Philly's startup community.”

This is Exit Interview, a weekly 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.


In the DreamIT Ventures incubation community, it was big news when the team behind Notehall, an online marketplace for college study materials, decided in August 2009 to forgo its West Coast roots and stay in Philadelphia. By their first national TV appearance that October, they had remade a Manayunk rowhome into a quirky Web 2.0 office.
“DreamIT worked. We’re staying in Philadelphia,” Notehall Co-Founder Justin Miller said in summer 2009. Their team spoke about being embraced by the Philly startup community and exploring a new, big East Coast city.
By this May, a year after first coming to Philly, they had moved to San Francisco.
The core of this growing company still thinks fondly on this city, but we spoke to the company’s marketing officer DJ Stephan about moving on and what they remember best.
What is the primary reason Notehall left Philadelphia?
There were a lot of factors that lead us to leave the Philadelphia area. Although, I think the primary reason would be the fact that our entire team was originally from California.
Was there a specific event or moment that you realized you wanted to leave?
No. I think we always had intentions of coming back to the West Coast at some point. Considering we are a seasonal business and summer time is our slowest time, it made sense for us to relocate in May. Doing so allowed us a full three months to get set up for the fall semester here.
Was there anything that could have been done differently to keep you?
I honestly don’t think so. Raising a round of funding contingent on us staying in the Philadelphia area is the only thing that might have forced us to stay. As you know though, this would be ludicrous for an angel or VC to request.
Do you think you would return to Philadelphia under appropriate circumstances?
The circumstances would have to be absolutely perfect. Considering we are finding great success in San Francisco along with the fact that we are close to friends and family it would be very difficult to leave.
When someone you meet in the Bay Area asks about Philadelphia and its startup community, what do you tell them?
The startup community will surprise you.
Living on the West Coast for 24 out of my 25 years, I never heard a single thing about Philly’s startup community. I went in with an open mind and it blew me away.
The large amount of smart and successful people in the area who are willing to help you because they want to see the Philly start up scene grow — and because they are genuinely good people — is really remarkable. I would highly recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go through the DreamIT program or experience being an entrepreneur in Philadelphia to take advantage of the opportunity. I can guarantee you will grow more as an entrepreneur than you could ever imagine.
What is the perception you most often find of Philadelphia?
To be honest, generally it’s not very good.
[Updated: Stephan has clarified this in the comments below.]
What’s the latest from Notehall?
Growth, growth, growth!
We continue to expand to more and more colleges. We are currently seeing significant traffic at 45 university and look to be at an additional 30 by the end of this semester, making it 75 in total. We have made a few iterations to our product and have seen tremendous success that we look to continue for many years to come.

Companies: Notehall

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