Has Keeping Austin Weird Led to Its Startup Scene’s Success?

October 30, 2015

9:00 am

A cathedral made of junk. A massive bat migration every summer night. An outdoor art gallery specifically for graffiti. There are plenty of quirky locales and hidden gems that help Austin, TX hold its unofficial motto “Keep Austin Weird.” But beneath the almost Seussian charm of the city lies a culture of creativity and collaboration that makes it the ideal space for developing ideas — especially when it comes to the Austin startup scene.

In theory, startups should be able to launch anywhere; the reality, of course, is quite different. Many states and cities try to sweeten the pot with business-friendly tax breaks and startup incubators, but these perks only go so far. When it comes down to it, a city’s culture  – its unique character – can trump all of these factors. And for its size, nowhere does culture better than Austin; the city's “weird” culture has enabled the rapid and successful development of the Austin startup scene.

Culture Helps You Grow

When I talk about culture, I’m not merely talking about the consumables, such as a city symphony or an art museum; I’m talking about a citywide attitude of startups helping one another and recreational outlets that promote team building.

Startups demand a lot from their founding teams. They require time, creativity, and commitment well beyond that of a typical 9-to-5 job. Startup teams that are well-networked and have strong camaraderie will fare better in this challenging environment, and Austin makes that environment easy to create.

But it doesn’t happen by accident. There are two keys to making Austin’s culture work to help your startup grow:

  • Explore the city. Don’t just think of Austin’s offerings as things your team can do individually; think of them as things you can do together. Build your team by taking them to the world-renowned Alamo Drafthouse to enjoy one another in a non-work environment; use the trails, pools, and lakes as ways to encourage your team to stay healthy and fit; or support your team in helping out organizations such as BiGAUSTIN, which promotes the entrepreneurial spirit for teens and minorities.
  • Engage with other startups. Austin has an ecosystem of startups helping startups that is second to none. Start doing business with them. Our company uses YouEarnedIt, an online service that allows employees to show gratitude to co-workers by awarding them points that can be cashed in for items or gift cards. More than a good external networking strategy, it’s a great internal culture-building strategy. Companies like Honest Dollar are helping startups with bootstrapped budgets offer employee retirement plans by moving past antiquated, inflexible systems built for corporate America. Honest Dollar cofounder and CEO joined Tech.Co earlier this year to chat for a little bit at this year's SXSW:

Culture Helps You Recruit

Austin offers a wealth of exciting events and entertainment on a regular basis that’s enticing for new team members. When starting a company, offering your staff a business climate they’ll enjoy while they’re working is important. Offering it in a city they’ll enjoy when they’re not working is nearly irresistible.

What makes Austin’s cultural offerings so special is how they complement one another. On any given weekend, Austin residents can visit a music festival with some of the top acts in the world, then head to a Zagat top-rated restaurant for a meal before going for a morning canoe on Lady Bird Lake. Everything works together to enrich the lives of the people who live there.

And if music isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Austin isn’t a one-note town. When we were launching our company, we liked Austin for its variety. Our company is a unique blend of film, tech, art, and music, and no town in the country could offer a match to all those passions but Austin.

Culture Isn’t Expensive

Austin offers all that culture in a business-friendly state with a low tax burden. It’s easy to see why a lot of successful entrepreneurs are migrating from California (with its 51.9 percent combined state and local marginal tax rate on incomes over $1 million) and landing in Austin. Especially for tech entrepreneurs, Austin’s pairing of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism is appealing.

So don’t just come here or stay here for the music, the food, the low taxes, or the networks of startups serving one another. Come and enjoy all of it. With a city like Austin, you can craft experiences that help define your culture and delight your employees, no matter what their passions are.

It’s what makes Austin weird.

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Q Manning is CEO of Rocksauce Studios, which crafts custom mobile apps for all platforms. Rocksauce Studios’ goal is to create an amazing user experience that can succeed in the marketplace when coupled with powerful, eye-catching app marketing. Manning is on a constant quest to find the magical hook in each project to help it take the world by storm. You can find him hanging out in the Rocksauce creative loft, drinking coffee, or singing karaoke.