A little while back, I wrote Part I, a tongue-in-cheek post on this region. People often ask me what I mean when I tell them that our firm’s investment focus is the area known as the “Intermountain West”. It was explained to me when I moved here 10 years ago that it is defined as the area from the Rockies on the east to the Cascades & the Sierra’s in the West. All in all, a pretty remarkable piece of real estate. After spending the first 35 years of my life in New York, Chicago, San Francisco & Boston, it’s been tremendously gratifying to live and work in a part of the world where you can get lost in the great outdoors at the drop of a hat. Most of the places where we have portfolio companies allow you to get out of cell phone coverage in a hurry and I think that is completely overlooked when it comes to the productivity and culture of our company’s employees.
Look, I’m not here to bash Route 128 or 101. There’s a degree of intellectual capital and experience in those places that’s hard to replicate. However, there’s certainly something to be said for the quality of life that folks enjoy in our region and how that translates to the contributions they make at work. For instance, I spend a good deal of time trying to get to know the employees at our companies. I’m not talking about lunch in the breakroom after a board meeting. I’ve skied, hiked, rafted, fly-fished, mountain & road biked and camped with folks that we’ve funded. Over a decade of working and playing with the tech workers in our region, I’ve learned that employees here seem to love their jobs more than their peers in the bigger cities that I’ve lived. I’m not talking about “a little bit more” either. I’m talking about people who are happier, healthier and have better dispositions by a long shot. One of the areas where I see a real difference in this region is employee attrition. Folks don’t walk across the street to the next high tech company for a 10% raise. While it sounds glib, I believe people feel a greater sense of loyalty to their start-ups here.
Why? My theory is that people who live in this region do a better job of recharging their batteries than most other places and that translates into employees who bring a better attitude to work each day. For starters, the average commute of most of the employees in our portfolio companies is 5-15 minutes and many ride their bikes to work. The time not spent behind the windshield in traffic (battery draining) is often spent outdoors (battery charging). Taking this one step further, I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of these folks don’t just “get outside” a little more. It’s in their DNA. They live to hit the mountains and rivers and trails. Out here, cars aren’t status symbols, gear is. If you look at most garages around here, the car goes outside because there’s no room for it with all stuff. Bikes (mountain, road & cruisers), skis (alpine, nordic & now skate skis), kayaks, boats, fishing & camping gear, etc. At the end of the day, I think all of this makes a significant contribution to a start-up’s culture and energy.