August 2, 2013
When young entrepreneur and documentarian Simon Walker landed in San Francisco after a red-eye flight, he headed to a neighborhood coffee shop for some fuel and a few bagels. On his way out, he asked for a plastic bag for his uneaten bagel – which seemed to displease the guy behind the counter.
“He was like – I’m paraphasing – ‘How about you stop killing the planet and I give you a paper bag instead?’ That was kind of like my welcome to San Francisco,” recalls Walker.
It was a rocky start to a visit where some of Walker’s reverence for the famed startup mecca was lost. He learned that startup employees there jump from one company to the next, not committing to anyone for the long term. And he witnessed some of the attitude that comes with being the best in the world.
“I was given the impression that people just thought they were top shit and didn’t have time for little guy,” says Walker, who’s from Melbourne. But he hastens to add that he met some awesome entrepreneurs at small coworking spaces in the city.
San Francisco was only one stop on Walker’s trip for the Leeap Project, which covered 10 American cities in 20 days. His goal was to produce a documentary about the reality of startup life in America, showing foreign entrepreneurs what opportunities are available in each city. All the videos are available on Leeap’s website.
For example, the 14-minute New York chapter covers topics like support and resources, challenges for startups, the scene’s history, and why you should move there. Walker did all the interviewing, recording, and editing himself.
One misconception he tackles is the prevalent idea that fundraising is easy anywhere in the United States.
“The assumption about America generally may be that you just have to go over there with a really good idea and passion and kick-ass team, and you’ll have money thrown at you,” he says. “I think that’s an unhealthy expectation.”
He found that only to be true in San Francisco (or almost true; no investors actually throw money). Across the rest of the country, you need a solid business model.
Also, foreign entrepreneurs often see the United States as one big connected tech scene, but Walker learned that each city has its own character. New York City excels at advertising technology, which Boulder is top-notch for biomed. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t flock by default to the Valley.
“When people think of America, they think of San Francisco. They don’t think of Seattle, or they don’t think of Austin, or they don’t think of Boston,” says Walker. “There are so many more opportunities in other places.”
Finally – and this is a realization I’ve heard from Malaysians as well – American entrepreneurs are much more welcoming than people expect. “Everyone’s willingness to go out of their way was infectious and incredibly addictive,” says Walker, who couchsurfed with an entrepreneur in each city.
While the target audience is foreigners, Leeap can be an eye-opener for any American entrepreneur curious about what’s going on in his backyard, or in the city next door.
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