My exploration into the San Diego tech startup scene has alerted me to a common gripe for startups that revolves around venture capital funding and talent. That is, many would argue venture capital opportunities in San Diego are slim, and keeping talent here over Los Angeles and the Bay Area is difficult.
However, what’s an entrepreneurial life if there are no hurdles? We’ve seen the folks at 1120 and EvoNexus work to overcome these obstacles just as we’ve seen SDSU, UCSD, and USD unite to funnel high grade talent into the scene: these problems are 100 percent solvable.
When I met with SweetLabs, based in the Gaslamp, I was inspired and excited to see that they had overcome both the issue of funding and talent. In fact, SweetLabs is flourishing strongly under the leadership of Darrius Thompson, CEO and founder.
Initially, Thompson got his start as a co-founder of DivX, which was headquartered here in San Diego. When the company eventually went public, Thompson and his group of co-founder buddies decided they weren’t ready to jump off the startup wagon, so they banded together once more and founded SweetLabs.
To date the app distribution company has over 70 employees in San Diego alone and they have raised a collective $21.5 million over 3 separate funding rounds. And they were able to entice some of the big dogs to invest, namely Google Ventures and Intel Capital.
Given the aforementioned issues though, it begs the question of how. At a very base level, Thompson has accrued a strong network of individuals to help in addition to years of cultivated experience.
But going further, Thompson and the SweetLabs crew always chose to focus on the opportunities they present people with over San Diego. They stress the importance of what impact an individual can make on the organization instead of luring people here with the promise of good weather and beaches.
Additionally, SweetLabs proactively hunts for talented individuals to join them versus waiting for them to approach.
“We try to eliminate the passive approach to talent hunting,” says Thompson. “After all, most talented people aren’t looking for jobs or looking to live in San Diego.”
It all circles back to opportunity. Potential SweetLabs hires like the fact that they get to work with a solid company, but more importantly, these potential hires enjoy the opportunity to grow on a personal level in a comfortable environment: they can truly be their best selves at SweetLabs.
Clearly the strategy works, so Thompson and the team decided not to change much when it comes to the funding side of the equation. Investment hunting also requires that you eliminate the idea of location in order to be successful.
They think only about who would be the best investor-fit for their company, and they abide by a focused approach over a spray and pray methodology.
“You always have to be thinking ahead. Will the investors you pick attract or repel other potential investors,” says Thompson. “At the end of the day you have to tell your story and vision well, and that’s what gets investors and talent.”
So, while some might argue that San Diego won’t foster a startup company the way Silicon Valley might, we have proof speaking against it. If we can stop being so obsessed with success based purely on location, we might all reach the level of success that Thompson and the fine folks at SweetLabs have cultivated.
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