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.

Escape From Silicon Valley

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.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.