Escape From Silicon Valley

That's not a sequel to "Escape From New York" (unfortunately!), that's what Debbie Landa, founder of Vancouver’s GrowConf, says investors and entrepreneurs need to do. Here's why the San Francisco resident believes that.

Debbie Landa is the founder of Dealmaker Media, whose Grow Conference takes place in Vancouver next week. We caught up with Landa to learn more about why she thinks venture capitalists and startup founders alike should learn to get over Silicon Valley and look elsewhere to build, or invest in, businesses.

FAST COMPANY: What’s wrong with Silicon Valley right now?

DEBBIE LANDA: You can’t find a place to live. You can’t. Forget it. There’s a girl I met who’s a super talented smart engineer. She’s been looking for two months straight, every morning, afternoon, and evening. Every place there’s a line, or people don’t get back to her at all. She emails me going, "Look at this place. It’s a studio, and it’s $1,800, not including utilities...." I get excited about what’s happening outside of Silicon Valley. So many other small communities are starting to bubble up. I get excited when I see investors get out of the valley and start fishing around.

With your conference in Vancouver, you’re encouraging investors to meet entrepreneurs from all over the country. Why not fly those entrepreneurs to the Bay Area?

No, the valley is just too noisy. You’ve got to get them out of here.

You mean, cars honking?

No, noisy meaning: This is the most dense population of startups you’ll ever see. You can’t cross the street without listening to startup conversations. People are constantly running around, and you don’t have the time. When you do a conference outside of where people live, they make the time, they come, they sit, they build relationships.

You’ve said you think valuations are inflated in the Bay Area.

They are. It’s a fact. Here, you’ve got 30 VCs all in bidding wars trying to get into deals. Sometimes you’ll have the old school drive up the valuations just trying to keep other people out. But there are some very smart investors, very scrappy investors, that are proactive about going hunting, quietly hunting...

Should Bay Area VCs travel more?

Absolutely. They need to go where the startups are. Don’t wait for startups to come to them. One thing I believe firmly: If you want to be great at what you do, you have to hunt.

You’re designing a tour for a VC. What are five unlikely places you'll send her?

Portland, Chicago, Waterloo, Vancouver, and Montreal.

And for someone founding a startup, what’s your advice?

Find a different city to build a startup. You want it to be pretty close to here. That’s the challenge. Waterloo, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston—they can all go to New York. They can fly here but it’s far and expensive. Whereas if you’re living anywhere along the West Coast, you can be anywhere and flying here to do business is just an hour to an hour and a half away. Just keep your business in your hometown.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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  • William Mougayar

    Great interview Debbie! Thanks for your work helping the Canadian ecosystem get better. Looking forward to your Toronto events, but I have one suggestion - why separate Waterloo & Toronto? Why not have 1 event for both areas, say in Mississauga or Guelph and force the 2 regions to work better together? That would be a breakthrough in my opinion.

  • JamielCotman

    I like what she said about how vcs are QUIETELY hunting.

     Scott Shane [vc] wrote about this in his book, 'The Illusions Of Entrepreneurship'. He mentioned how the best place to start a business, is where there are no businesses. Its logic. That would be the place where you have less competition. He also found that capital IS more abundant where there are more businesses. Popular opinion however makes us think the other way around. That businesses follow money. His findings showed, as did this article, that money QUIETELY finds businss oppurtunities.

  • Linda Dorman

    Thanks for mentioning Chicago.  Over the past 2 years, the confluence of Built In Chicago, Chicago Ideas Week, Chicago Innovation Awards and other local org's teaming with leading universities, city government, media and corporations are positioning Chicago as a midwest mecca for startups.  Come check it out! 

  • Heather

    Debbie, you make some great points. I had to laugh when I read this interview, heaven forbid you try to start a tech company outside of the Valley. I work for a startup in Houston, which is known for oil and gas and being Austin's less creative neighbor, but here we are, an online self-publishing platform based in Houston, TX. But hey, rules are made to be broken, right?! So we're a publisher not in NY and we're a tech startup not in the Valley, but isn't that the beauty of technology, the ability to not have to all be in the same place? Maybe you should add Houston to that list of unlikely places, and then again, I'm probably just biased. 
    Cheers, Heather