I’m going to be blunt, this is the the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write: We’re moving out of Houston. It’s been processing for a few days now, but seeing the words written out have a certain cold reality to them. If you’re reading this in early June 2013 (or ‘Almost Summer’ according to our two seasons), then you’re not out of the loop – I’ve just done an exemplary job of keeping it quiet (a huge feat for me being such a loudmouth). I wanted to tell the Houston community that I love so much one time in public instead of dozens in private conversations.
Friends and Leaders (or, Careful Not to Trip Over Those Names I Dropped)
I’ve been able to keep this secret from my closest friends and startup community supporters including Kelsey Ruger, JR Cohen, Jeff Reichman, Jerald Reichstein, Grace Rodriguez, Brandy Obvintsev, Javid Jamae and the countless other people who deserve to be regarded as community leaders not because I’m good at hiding things, but because I don’t want to face the fact that I won’t see them regularly. I could go on for hours dropping names like Raissa Evans, Monica Danna, Tim DiSilva, Aimee Woodall, Wes Gamble, Brian Block, Jesse Wolgamott, Tom Kraft, Greg Wright, Allie Danzinger, Hesam Panahi, Justin Singer, Vlad Collak, Steven White, Ben Mayberry, Austin Fatheree, Aaron Baxter, Katie Laird, Kevin Lee, Yve Golan, Tory Gattis, May Borras, James Wroblewski, Deborah Mansfield, Ben Gillin, Heather Dunn, Brian Lang, Andrew Clark, Gira Desai, Colleen Brady, Bryan Hassin, Jonathan Birkholz, Kami Huyse, Rhonda Rhodes, Kerri Smith, Brian Cohen, Michelle Price, Laura Shapland, Mark Hayden, Maryann Maldonado, Jerry Alexander, Stacey Burke, Jonathan Fisher, Mandy Graessle, and dozens of others – all of whom I consider not only extremely talented, but good friends whom genuinely enjoy spending time with every chance I get. I’ve built strong relationships with Houston business leaders like Ed Schipul and his team at Schipul, Gaurav Khandelwal and the ChaiONE team, Chris Pappas and the Forthea team, Brad Burke and his team at Rice Alliance, and Walter Ulrich and the Houston Technology Center team, who have all accepted my many quirks as a balance to the energy that I brought to their respective companies.
But Aren’t You ‘Mr. Houston’?
I believe that I’ve been a tireless advocate and supporter of all things Houston, not just the technology startup world. From our incredible Art scene to our wildly successful Food Scene (both in our crazy good restaurants and experimental Food Trucks) to our business community at large – Houston has had a major impact on how I see the world. My personal identity and brand if you will is deeply connected with this city, but it’s really more about the people than the place itself. It will certainly be difficult to not be in place I love so much, but that’s life sometimes. I really do believe that a change will do me some good – a new place is a new challenge and offers the opportunity to meet new people.
So Why are You Moving?
The reason is really quite simple: we’re moving our family because my wife was offered a well-deserved promotion and it was an opportunity that we couldn’t turn down. I’m not leaving because I have to, or because Houston is missing anything that would make me personally happy (like the many close friends I have here) or professionally successful (like the often bemoaned lack of developers, investment capital, creative talent etc). There is more than enough of all of those things to go around, if you know where to look. So that’s the rub, after 35 years of being born and raised in semi-objectively the very best city on the planet, we’re leaving when everyone else has finally discovered how great we are at being a world-class city.
So Where Are the Nathans Going?
Would you believe Baltimore, Maryland? After some initial trepidation (I’ve heard it sometimes referred to as ‘Bodymore, Murderland’), I’m really excited about it. I know as much about Baltimore from HBO’s The Wire as most people know about Houston from John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. From what I can tell on a three day trip there last week, Baltimore is not exactly Yankee East Coast (thank goodness), is lush with green trees that actually turn another color than brown in these things called ‘seasons’, and has people that are super nice – like Southern-style Nice – which was a pleasant surprise to me.
Baltimore also enjoys a strong and growing startup scene. It’s anchored by a number of coworking and maker spaces, including the very cool www.betamore.com in the Federal Hill neighborhood (like our Heights, but completely walkable). I was fortunate to meet with two of the startup leaders there, Greg Cangiliosi and Mike Brenner who were kind enough to give me a comprehensive lay of the land up there. Baltimore has the equivalent of the HTC called the gb.tc for the startup business community and entrepreneurial-minded students and faculty at respected universities like Johns Hopkins, Loyola and University of Maryland. They also have a monthly startup pitch showcase called Tech Breakfast that I was lucky enough to attend last Wednesday that seems like a cross between the HTC’s Tech Champs Meeting and our Houston OpenCoffee Club.
Houston Lessons Learned
I originally wanted to use the title ‘So Long, and Thanks for the All the Schvitz’, but the people who might get an obscure and nerdy Douglas Adams reference coupled with a Yiddish word for sweat and connect it with Houston numbered in the single digits. I decided that I was going to go the opposite of a typical story about Houston – that is to say, I wasn’t going to apologize for the heat/mosquitoes/attractiveness first and then say how great we are humblebrag-style. Houston is emphatically and categorically great. period. The only problem with saying this as a Houstonian is that it makes it seem like we’re trying to prove something to others. That’s not really the case – we’re actually trying to prove it to ourselves, which we really don’t need to do anymore. I have heard that Houston often describes itself as the ‘Frumpy older sister of Austin’, This is not exactly fair, I look at Houston as the really accomplished, wealthy, down-to-earth, smart, family-oriented sister of Austin, who doesn’t need to flash their money like their cousin from Dallas. We have so much going for us in terms of jobs, cost of living, attractions, social life, shopping, business opportunities etc. that I almost don’t want more people coming here and ruining everything. I have said for a long time that Houston doesn’t tell it’s own story to itself very well. That’s probably because we don’t have one story or ten stories or 100 – we have thousands and they don’t all fit the exact same narrative. That said, the most typical story goes like this: ‘I came here to work for two years, but I fell in love and stayed for twenty’. I believe that if you’re not from here, as most people are not, it takes about a year to get used to Houston. It takes less time if you’ve been through a serious hurricane. I’m very lucky – I’m a second generation native and as a matter of fact, I’m extremely proud of the fact that no matter where we go, my daughters will be third generation Houstonians, even if they grow up as Baltimorians (yes, that’s what they’re actually called).
What are You Going to Do?
I plan on doing what I do best – connecting people. In my case that means actually getting paid for it as I (finally) launch my own recruiting firm. This has been in the works for a few weeks now – before I learned that we were moving. Recruiting is something that I’ve done in the past and really enjoyed. It’s also something I can do with a laptop and cell phone anywhere in the country – so I’ll still have a lot of Houston clients. If you know anyone looking for some help hiring outstanding technical, marketing or sales talent, please send them to my new company website T-Squared Agency, www.tsquaredagency.com
You’re in Good Hands
While I’m far from saying ‘Mission Accomplished’ when it comes to the Houston Startup Community, I feel that we’ve created a strong foundation for the next wave of leaders and startups. OpenCoffee Club gave way to GroundUP Houston, the various BarCamps gave way to the numerous Hackathons, StartupWeekends and 3DayStartups and HTC has given traction to coworking spaces like Caroline Collective, TX/RX, Platform Houston and STARTHouston as well as the new and upcoming MakerSpace Houston. SURGE Accelerator would not have had two successful classes and it’s own physical space, the SURGE Shack, without the groundwork laid by those that came before it. We have news outlets and journalists that care about the community: Michael Garfield, who runs the longest running Technology show in Houston, www.thehightechtexan.com, Dwight Silverman, the nationally recognized author and Chronicle journalist, who along with Jay Lee, Barrett Canon and incredibly talented photographer, Groovehouse co-host Technology Bytes and the regular Geek Gathering, Russ Capper, who’s hosted The Business Makers Radio show for over 400 episodes, Purva Patel a freelancer with the Chronicle who has continued Brad Hem’s noble work of showcasing Houston startups in the paper, Molly Ryan from the Houston Business Journal who regularly writes about startups in the same vein as Christine Hall did in her time there. We also have New Media outlets like CultureMap and the brand new Houstonia that help tell our stories.
More Startups Than You’d Think
Houston understands things in the ground like oil and gas, on the ground like real estate and is just started to understand the cloud. I’ve been lucky enough to able to see the growth of a number of emerging startups. I’ve been especially proud of several web-based startups like StrongRoom Solutions, NutshellMail, RecycleMatch, OnIt, Giftiki, SmartVault, Werkadoo, Qukku, FoodSitter, YouData and Fluencr, just to name a few. It’s always bothered me that a lot of tech related companies get overlooked when discussing the Houston technology scene like SnapStream, AlertLogic, White Fence, CPanel, Blinds.com, The RedHouse family of companies including The Planet (merged with SoftLayer, who just got purchased by IBM), Idera and Pentasafe, BlueLance and FuelQuest – all of them are well-established and hiring like crazy. Entrepreneurship is thriving in Houston outside of our traditional Energy and Healthcare influences, even in non-tech sectors like fashion (Chloe Dao), transportation (The Wave) and (a particular favorite of mine) Beer (Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co., Karbach, 8th Wonder, Southern Star, No Label and the estimable Saint Arnolds). All of this makes Houston a fun, dynamic and interesting place to live, work and play.
While I may be physically gone soon, my heart will always be in Houston. As bad as our teams might be sometimes, I can never, ever see myself being a Ravens or Orioles fan. I’m spending the next few short weeks stuffing my face with as much BBQ and Tex-Mex as possible and washing it down with locally brewed beer. #SLGT #drinklocal. Once I’m out, I will still be here in some sense in that my social media streams will be chock full of Houston startups making news and connecting Houston companies with the right Houston people. I hope that I’ve been able to pass on to y’all a legacy of unbridled optimism, unwavering support and a strong sense of community. Thank you Houston for all that you’ve done for me and all that you continue to do for the startup community.