Remote work has been one of the silver linings of the last year and a half and а positive shift in work culture as a whole. A lot of companies suddenly realized that in order to run a digital business you don’t have to be stuck in traffic jams every day and that meetings are just as (in)efficient on Zoom as they are in person.
Some people even speculate that the remote work movement is the key solution to creating living and vibrant economies in small towns and villages, which have been in rapid decline in the past decades.
While all of this is true – there are a lot of positives of working in remote startups, as a startup founder you need to be fully aware of the huge opportunity costs of distancing yourself physically from cities.
Have you heard of the Milanese Leonardo? No one has – there is no such person. For some reason, all great Italian renaissance painters come from Florence. Surely, there were talented people in Milano, but talented people also need an environment that supports and amplifies their talent.
“At any given time there are a few hot topics and a few groups doing great work on them, and it’s nearly impossible to do good work yourself if you’re too far removed from one of these centers. You can push or pull these trends to some extent, but you can’t break away from them. (Maybe you can, but the Milanese Leonardo couldn’t.)” – Paul Graham
Industry clusters are very important mainly because of serendipity. You will meet a person at a party/convention/the office building, who would know a person who’s interested in your field, etc. This will often be the main way you’ll find co-founders, investors, early employees, even early customers.
And while the quality of life in a small town with clean air and a lack of traffic jams is high, such places can also lack a concentration of people relevant to your undertaking. This means you’ll have much lower chances of serendipity.
It’s not a coincidence that most big successful startups come from Silicon Valley, or more recently – from other growing startup clusters like New York, etc. Venture capital funds would sometimes even pass on investments that are geographically far from their office for that reason. So, while you can found a startup outside of these clusters, making it successful would simply be much more difficult, and making a startup successful is insanely difficult anyway.
With that in mind, it should be said that there are things you can do to alleviate this situation. In the twenty first century office buildings, parties, and conventions are just as important as before, but people also meet online. While there are physical, geographical industry clusters, there are also digital ones. Online events and courses, online communities like forums and Facebook groups, Slack communities, subreddits, etc. are all kinds of digital clusters.
While participating in such digital clusters is recommended even if you are working on your startup from a city, it’s absolutely mandatory if you’re working a long distance away from the geographical startup clusters.
Serendipity isn’t as likely online, but it’s still possible – it’s the opportunity for human connection that counts, rather than the actual place.
In summary, even if you can’t completely move, try to frequently visit a place where there is a high concentration of people interested in the same thing. If this is not possible for you, make sure to find these people online and establish a real connection with some of them. Cultivate habits that make serendipity likely.