Why companies move to San Francisco…

In the Atlassian interview I ask Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian, why he moved his company to San Francisco (it was started in Australia and still has most of its engineering there). That part of the interview is about 12 minutes into the interview.

He isn’t the only one. I’ve noticed a ton of companies moving their headquarters to San Francisco from around the world. When I interview them I ask what drove them to do that.

The reasons I’ve heard so far:

1. Access to talent.
2. Access to marketing/PR.
3. Access to money.
4. Atmosphere (more geeks per square foot here than anywhere else in the world, they tell me).
5. Weather.

Do you know of any other reasons?

Comments

  1. I can give you a bunch of reasons on why not to move to the STL. Weather is one of them! :)

    Seriously, I need to get my butt re-located to the SF area. Since my job is with two area companies (Lookery and Lending Club), would make sense to be in the area. Not only that, but I miss all the social interaction of the conferences; ie… I like to talk to people, meet new people, etc…

    Rex

  2. I can give you a bunch of reasons on why not to move to the STL. Weather is one of them! :)

    Seriously, I need to get my butt re-located to the SF area. Since my job is with two area companies (Lookery and Lending Club), would make sense to be in the area. Not only that, but I miss all the social interaction of the conferences; ie… I like to talk to people, meet new people, etc…

    Rex

  3. All of the above, and a very creative, more open culture. More artists per square foot, too, and a diverse population. Front edge thinking, political activism, a joie de vivre attitude mixed with can-do. I hope San Francisco can continue to live up to “the City that Knows How” motto.:-)

  4. All of the above, and a very creative, more open culture. More artists per square foot, too, and a diverse population. Front edge thinking, political activism, a joie de vivre attitude mixed with can-do. I hope San Francisco can continue to live up to “the City that Knows How” motto.:-)

  5. On points 2 and 3, San Francisco is superior, on 1 and 4 they are even, but on #5 Triangle NC wins. That is why I telecommute from balmy Chapel Hill (for the Sa Francisco organization) while you are freezing over there in the Bay (I know, I froze all summer there) ;-)

  6. On points 2 and 3, San Francisco is superior, on 1 and 4 they are even, but on #5 Triangle NC wins. That is why I telecommute from balmy Chapel Hill (for the Sa Francisco organization) while you are freezing over there in the Bay (I know, I froze all summer there) ;-)

  7. Timezone sweetspot.

    You can schedule conference calls with Europe in the morning, East coast just before lunch, and Asia in the early evening.

    You can also do upgrades on Friday afternoon local time when most of the world is asleep.

  8. For a long time, there were relatively few large companies with meaningful engineering presences in San Francisco. You also have a set of folks who insist on living and working in SF. It’s almost a separate labor market, especially for engineers. I’m curious to see if the arrival of Google (and perhaps others) will change that dynamic at all.

  9. Timezone sweetspot.

    You can schedule conference calls with Europe in the morning, East coast just before lunch, and Asia in the early evening.

    You can also do upgrades on Friday afternoon local time when most of the world is asleep.

  10. For a long time, there were relatively few large companies with meaningful engineering presences in San Francisco. You also have a set of folks who insist on living and working in SF. It’s almost a separate labor market, especially for engineers. I’m curious to see if the arrival of Google (and perhaps others) will change that dynamic at all.

  11. I recently moved myself and my company to SF from Denmark for pretty much those reasons.

    The atmosphere one is probably one of the most important ones as there are so many people here who are thinking ahead of the curve. In Denmark one of the few opportunities to actually talk to like minded people was at Reboot (http://reboot.dk), where here you can pretty much just go to lunch everyday anywhere in SOMA for the same experience.

    I wrote a post about some of the issues facing Danish startups and why more and more of them are moving here:

    http://stakeventures.com/articles/2007/07/01/silicon-vikings-talk-on-danish-entrepreneurship

  12. I recently moved myself and my company to SF from Denmark for pretty much those reasons.

    The atmosphere one is probably one of the most important ones as there are so many people here who are thinking ahead of the curve. In Denmark one of the few opportunities to actually talk to like minded people was at Reboot (http://reboot.dk), where here you can pretty much just go to lunch everyday anywhere in SOMA for the same experience.

    I wrote a post about some of the issues facing Danish startups and why more and more of them are moving here:

    http://stakeventures.com/articles/2007/07/01/silicon-vikings-talk-on-danish-entrepreneurship

  13. As someone who has been in startups in the bay area and is now a CEO for a startup in Seattle, the number one reason to move to SF is because people in SF like to work with people in SF.

    I’ll probably be back soon enough.

  14. Bora: if you are freezing in San Francisco just drive five miles away. Get your company to locate in, say, Mountain View instead. There it’s hot all summer long.

  15. As someone who has been in startups in the bay area and is now a CEO for a startup in Seattle, the number one reason to move to SF is because people in SF like to work with people in SF.

    I’ll probably be back soon enough.

  16. I wish I could help you on that one, but I am experiencing the exact opposite. My wife’s company moved from SF to Raleigh , NC three months ago. Since I work online, her work took preference.

    I miss living in Burlingame, that is the truth! Nothing against Raleigh, except it feels like living in the sticks, the weather sucks, there are too few geeks per square foot, I get my money from places other than Raleigh, and, well that is enough. I would not want someone from Raleigh to read this and try to have a hit put out on me ;-)

  17. I wish I could help you on that one, but I am experiencing the exact opposite. My wife’s company moved from SF to Raleigh , NC three months ago. Since I work online, her work took preference.

    I miss living in Burlingame, that is the truth! Nothing against Raleigh, except it feels like living in the sticks, the weather sucks, there are too few geeks per square foot, I get my money from places other than Raleigh, and, well that is enough. I would not want someone from Raleigh to read this and try to have a hit put out on me ;-)

  18. Hmm, I guess no other start-ups have chosen an old airfield outside of London. We fail on points 1-5. Still we get to watch Top Gear from our boardroom window!

  19. I heard an interesting statistic from an angel investor here in Portland recently. San Francisco is ten times larger than Portand and the number of technical workers there is I don’t remember how many times bigger, but the investment money available to technical workers here is $2,000 each, while in San Francisco, it’s $200,000 each!

    I would never move my company to San Francisco. Having to deal with the traffic alone wouldn’t be worth a million dollars to me.

    We lived in Vallejo 20 years ago…well, Mare Island, actually. I was the Califoria State Director for a student foreign exchange organization and drove all over the Bay Area all the time. I loved it back then. I don’t even recognize the place anymore.

    I’m actually glad people are going down there and not up here, though I suspect that will be changing in time, as the quality of life is so much better here.

  20. I heard an interesting statistic from an angel investor here in Portland recently. San Francisco is ten times larger than Portand and the number of technical workers there is I don’t remember how many times bigger, but the investment money available to technical workers here is $2,000 each, while in San Francisco, it’s $200,000 each!

    I would never move my company to San Francisco. Having to deal with the traffic alone wouldn’t be worth a million dollars to me.

    We lived in Vallejo 20 years ago…well, Mare Island, actually. I was the Califoria State Director for a student foreign exchange organization and drove all over the Bay Area all the time. I loved it back then. I don’t even recognize the place anymore.

    I’m actually glad people are going down there and not up here, though I suspect that will be changing in time, as the quality of life is so much better here.

  21. San Fran is a great city, but as others have mentioned, it can be pretty cold at times.

    The main problem I find with it is that if you’re not of “the hive mind”, or “common wisdom” of that place, you’ll be ridiculed beyond belief. For a place that supposed to be tolerant, I’ve seen it be quite the opposite, sometimes violently so.

    If you can live with that, it’s a neat place to be.

  22. San Fran is a great city, but as others have mentioned, it can be pretty cold at times.

    The main problem I find with it is that if you’re not of “the hive mind”, or “common wisdom” of that place, you’ll be ridiculed beyond belief. For a place that supposed to be tolerant, I’ve seen it be quite the opposite, sometimes violently so.

    If you can live with that, it’s a neat place to be.

  23. This is similar to a list Tom Peters uses in his PowerPoint decks, about success in the Palo Alto area:

    Entrepreneurial magnet
    Talent in general
    Critical mass
    VCs (all levels)
    Immigrants-Diversity
    Research Universities
    Climate-Way of life
    Attitude! (Everything is possible!)
    IBM? Who cares?
    Etc

  24. This is similar to a list Tom Peters uses in his PowerPoint decks, about success in the Palo Alto area:

    Entrepreneurial magnet
    Talent in general
    Critical mass
    VCs (all levels)
    Immigrants-Diversity
    Research Universities
    Climate-Way of life
    Attitude! (Everything is possible!)
    IBM? Who cares?
    Etc

  25. If I were such a company, I’d move to Pittsburgh (USAirways schedule cuts notwithstanding.) Great culture, friendly people, top talent, top universities, inexpensive real estate, etc. And if you like football, there is no better place…

  26. If I were such a company, I’d move to Pittsburgh (USAirways schedule cuts notwithstanding.) Great culture, friendly people, top talent, top universities, inexpensive real estate, etc. And if you like football, there is no better place…

  27. People move to SF because of the weather? Astounding. That would be my number one reason to move away. Well maybe number two after the crazy prices for housing. And then there is the distance from the east coast. I’m an east coast sort of guy and being too far from it would just not feel right. But of course I’m not working for a start up either and not sure I want to.

  28. People move to SF because of the weather? Astounding. That would be my number one reason to move away. Well maybe number two after the crazy prices for housing. And then there is the distance from the east coast. I’m an east coast sort of guy and being too far from it would just not feel right. But of course I’m not working for a start up either and not sure I want to.

  29. For the Triangle/Raleigh commenter’s. Those of you who said the weather sucks are right. We get 1.5 months of nice spring, and 1.5 months of nice fall (less this year) everything else is either cold and wet, or hot and 90+% humidity. RTP/Triangle looks great on paper, until you realize 1. how far away everything is, and 2. how far away everything is.

    Live in Raleigh? Want to see good live music? Well get in your car and drive to Chapel Hill/Carrborro, because they own the music scene. Want to see good art? Drive to Durham because they own the art scene. Raleigh somewhat owns the geek scene, but they aren’t SF/NYC type geeks. More IBM/RedHat geeks.

    This place is a triumph of marketing over substance.

  30. For the Triangle/Raleigh commenter’s. Those of you who said the weather sucks are right. We get 1.5 months of nice spring, and 1.5 months of nice fall (less this year) everything else is either cold and wet, or hot and 90+% humidity. RTP/Triangle looks great on paper, until you realize 1. how far away everything is, and 2. how far away everything is.

    Live in Raleigh? Want to see good live music? Well get in your car and drive to Chapel Hill/Carrborro, because they own the music scene. Want to see good art? Drive to Durham because they own the art scene. Raleigh somewhat owns the geek scene, but they aren’t SF/NYC type geeks. More IBM/RedHat geeks.

    This place is a triumph of marketing over substance.

  31. I moved my first startup, Surpass Software (it became Quattro Pro when Borland bought it) to California in 1986. We started in Houston, Texas. It was cheap, there were plenty of good colleges providing talent, and most of us knew very little about California.

    Why did we move? Because there’s more to life than writing code (Doh!). I went on a media tour to launch the product and I spent all of my time in New York and California. NY was out of the question, but California made sense. Lots of folks to talk to, and it was a natural base.

    To this day I am amazed at how easy it is to get successful people in the Valley to take a meeting and help you with your idea.

    Best,

    BW

  32. I moved my first startup, Surpass Software (it became Quattro Pro when Borland bought it) to California in 1986. We started in Houston, Texas. It was cheap, there were plenty of good colleges providing talent, and most of us knew very little about California.

    Why did we move? Because there’s more to life than writing code (Doh!). I went on a media tour to launch the product and I spent all of my time in New York and California. NY was out of the question, but California made sense. Lots of folks to talk to, and it was a natural base.

    To this day I am amazed at how easy it is to get successful people in the Valley to take a meeting and help you with your idea.

    Best,

    BW

  33. The five reasons pretty much nail it down. That’s why I plan to do my next startup in California – if it will be SF we’ll see in 3-7 years ;-).

    Robert, I’m in SF (my first trip to California!!!) beween 28th Oct until 4th Nov. Time for a coffee?

    Greetings from Switzerland
    Remo

  34. The five reasons pretty much nail it down. That’s why I plan to do my next startup in California – if it will be SF we’ll see in 3-7 years ;-).

    Robert, I’m in SF (my first trip to California!!!) beween 28th Oct until 4th Nov. Time for a coffee?

    Greetings from Switzerland
    Remo

  35. One question to all that relocated in SFO. If you come from Europe (exclude UK as they have commercial treats with US), how do you obtain a Visa to move to the US? If so, which type of visa, and what has been your experience with that?

  36. One question to all that relocated in SFO. If you come from Europe (exclude UK as they have commercial treats with US), how do you obtain a Visa to move to the US? If so, which type of visa, and what has been your experience with that?

  37. I love to visit SF. I just wonder why a company would move to SF due to the cost of everything. Rent, employee wages, insurance, commute, and parking.

    So just not sure if there are not better choices out there.

    Jeff B

  38. I love to visit SF. I just wonder why a company would move to SF due to the cost of everything. Rent, employee wages, insurance, commute, and parking.

    So just not sure if there are not better choices out there.

    Jeff B

  39. San Francisco is less than a million people in a region of several. San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley (home to all the big companies) has one of the better climates. There are five microclimates in the bay area, a region 100 miles wide. Just to clarify.

  40. San Francisco is less than a million people in a region of several. San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley (home to all the big companies) has one of the better climates. There are five microclimates in the bay area, a region 100 miles wide. Just to clarify.

  41. No, really, that’s enough reasons!
    I left Sicily a few years ago and miss the sun as much as the sea (and both are pretty good also here in Rome).
    Catania (the second biggest city of Sicily) has missed the opportunity to become what was called the Italian Silicon Valley (dubbed the “Etna Valley” fron the volcano Etna!).

    BTW, i’ll have a trip to SFO in 3 weeks from now, anyone wants to meet somewhere? ;-)

    @Remo: sorry, I’ll arrive on the 6th of November! It’s easier to meet in Lugano! :D

  42. No, really, that’s enough reasons!
    I left Sicily a few years ago and miss the sun as much as the sea (and both are pretty good also here in Rome).
    Catania (the second biggest city of Sicily) has missed the opportunity to become what was called the Italian Silicon Valley (dubbed the “Etna Valley” fron the volcano Etna!).

    BTW, i’ll have a trip to SFO in 3 weeks from now, anyone wants to meet somewhere? ;-)

    @Remo: sorry, I’ll arrive on the 6th of November! It’s easier to meet in Lugano! :D

  43. Not sure I would move my company to SF. The costs are way too high! I agree with @Harry Bovik. Pittsburgh and other cities that have a tech culture are better from a business standpoint. Keep costs low – profits high.

    If we are talking culture and personal reasons – then SF all the way.

    Joel Mark Witt

  44. Not sure I would move my company to SF. The costs are way too high! I agree with @Harry Bovik. Pittsburgh and other cities that have a tech culture are better from a business standpoint. Keep costs low – profits high.

    If we are talking culture and personal reasons – then SF all the way.

    Joel Mark Witt

  45. Culture trumps any of those reasons. Succeeding here is all about getting along with the Indian guy and the sorority girl and the guy with blue hair and black nail polish. When lots of different types of people work together they’re unstoppable.

  46. Culture trumps any of those reasons. Succeeding here is all about getting along with the Indian guy and the sorority girl and the guy with blue hair and black nail polish. When lots of different types of people work together they’re unstoppable.

  47. I moved to sf in 1984 when there really were a lot of artists per square foot. People used to come here to find themselves & build their crazy yet delightful dreams.

    The reality that $1300 per month is what you’ll pay for a studio in the Tenderloin has killed that scene a long time ago. The punks squatting south of market in their live/work studios were chased out by city gentrification plans that brought in the million dollar condos. Gone are such fabulous places like Club 9 & the Art Motel.

    The only thing to do out-and-about these days is go to an expensive restaurants. No arty clubs, no poetry readings, no nothing except what you can buy at Diesel or Banana Republic.

    SF is now a city of project managers, directors, CEO’s, & money managers. You may see folks in this town that look ever so hip but don’t be fooled. Look closely & you will find they didn’t make it happen they just simply bought their dream of hipness at Nordstrom’s.

    Why stay in SF? I wish you’d all leave!

  48. I moved to sf in 1984 when there really were a lot of artists per square foot. People used to come here to find themselves & build their crazy yet delightful dreams.

    The reality that $1300 per month is what you’ll pay for a studio in the Tenderloin has killed that scene a long time ago. The punks squatting south of market in their live/work studios were chased out by city gentrification plans that brought in the million dollar condos. Gone are such fabulous places like Club 9 & the Art Motel.

    The only thing to do out-and-about these days is go to an expensive restaurants. No arty clubs, no poetry readings, no nothing except what you can buy at Diesel or Banana Republic.

    SF is now a city of project managers, directors, CEO’s, & money managers. You may see folks in this town that look ever so hip but don’t be fooled. Look closely & you will find they didn’t make it happen they just simply bought their dream of hipness at Nordstrom’s.

    Why stay in SF? I wish you’d all leave!

  49. Router ACL Coupled IDS and null routing to create solution. IDS sensors are distributed throughout campus.
    Initial rollout focused on a single high confidence rule.

  50. We lived in Vallejo 20 years ago…well, Mare Island, actually. I was the Califoria State Director for a student foreign exchange organization and drove all over the Bay Area all the time. I loved it back then. I don't even recognize the place anymore.

  51. As someone who has been in startups in the bay area and is now a CEO for a startup in Seattle, the number one reason to move to SF is because people in SF like to work with people in SF.

  52. I hate to spoil the fun, but that bike isn’t a Ninja 250. Note it has dual rear disk breaks and dual front disk breaks. It also has a under mounted exhaust. Sorry folks that is a ninja zx-10 1000cc supersport bike not a ninja 250r.

  53. Culture trumps any of those reasons. Succeeding here is all about getting along with the Indian guy and the sorority girl and the guy with blue hair and black nail polish. When lots of different types of people work together they're unstoppable.

  54. San Fran is a great city, but as others have mentioned, it can be pretty cold at times.

    The main problem I find with it is that if you're not of “the hive mind”, or “common wisdom” of that place, you'll be ridiculed beyond belief. For a place that supposed to be tolerant, I've seen it be quite the opposite, sometimes violently so.

    If you can live with that, it's a neat place to be.

  55. if you are freezing in San Francisco just drive five miles away. Get your company to locate in, say, Mountain View instead. There it's hot all summer long.

  56. For a long time, there were relatively few large companies with meaningful engineering presences in San Francisco. You also have a set of folks who insist on living and working in SF. It's almost a separate labor market, especially for engineers. I'm curious to see if the arrival of Google (and perhaps others) will change that dynamic at all.

  57. All of the above, and a very creative, more open culture. More artists per square foot, too, and a diverse population. Front edge thinking, political activism, a joie de vivre attitude mixed with can-do. I hope San Francisco can continue to live up to “the City that Knows How” motto.:-)

  58. Hmm, I guess no other start-ups have chosen an old airfield outside of London. We fail on points 1-5. Still we get to watch Top Gear from our boardroom window!

  59. The main problem I find with it is that if you're not of “the hive mind”, or “common wisdom” of that place, you'll be ridiculed beyond belief. For a place that supposed to be tolerant, I've seen it be quite the opposite, sometimes violently so.

    If you can live with that, it's a neat place to be.

  60. People move to SF because of the weather? Astounding. That would be my number one reason to move away. Well maybe number two after the crazy prices for housing. And then there is the distance from the east coast. I'm an east coast sort of guy and being too far from it would just not feel right. But of course I'm not working for a start up either and not sure I want to.

  61. If I were such a company, I'd move to Pittsburgh (USAirways schedule cuts notwithstanding.) Great culture, friendly people, top talent, top universities, inexpensive real estate, etc. And if you like football, there is no better place…

  62. As someone who has been in startups in the bay oyUn area and is now a CEO for a startup in Seattle, the number one reason to move to SF is because people in SF like to work with people in SF

  63. I find with it is that if you're not of “the hive mind”, or “common wisdom” of that place, you'll be ridiculed beyond belief

  64. I heard an interesting statistic from an angel investor here in Portland recently. San Francisco is ten times larger than Portand and the number of technical workers there is I don't remember how many times bigger, but the investment money available to technical workers here is $2,000 each, while in San Francisco, it's $200,000 each!

    I would never move my company to San Francisco. Having to deal with the traffic alone wouldn't be worth a million dollars to me.

    We lived in Vallejo 20 years ago…well, Mare Island, actually. I was the Califoria State Director for a student foreign exchange organization and drove all over the Bay Area all the time. I loved it back then. I don't even recognize the place anymore.

    I'm actually glad people are going down there and not up here, though I suspect that will be changing in time, as the quality of life is so much better here.

  65. Forced to move by their funding sources and then wouldn't feel comfortable about telling you the real reason :-)