I'm proud to announce that I have accepted a new position as Vice President of Software Engineering with Stipple, a tech startup in San Francisco. Stipple has created an exciting new platform that turns static images into dynamic marketing channels, pioneering a new form of advertising that is much more effective than banner ads or (shudder) popovers, while being much less obtrusive for the end user.
As excited as I am about the opportunity with Stipple, the decision to leave Memphis has been a very difficult one. I love Memphis, and one of the reasons for moving back here in 2008 was to help grow the Memphis entrepreneurial community and, in the process, start up a successful tech business of my own. To this end, I led the launch of both MarksMenus and Ernie's over the last couple of years. Through hard work, the teams I've had the pleasure of leading on these projects have accomplished a lot and seen some real success, but not enough in terms of revenues or investment for these businesses to really take off.
When considering why we didn't make it one could point at the people involved and say I was the wrong leader or that Mark, Eric, Christian, Mike, Irvin, Brad, Sam, and the many others that worked with me on these projects just weren't talented enough people. My own leadership notwithstanding, let me unequivocally dispel any doubt about the wonderful folks I've worked with. There are lots of extremely smart and talented folks here in Memphis and it's been my great privilege to meet and work with many of them on these business ventures.
So why didn't we make it? In reflecting on this question, I recently read another of Paul Graham's wonderful essays on technology and entrepreneurship and I believe he nails it. In "Why Startups Hubs Work", Mr. Graham writes that it is the natural outcome for startups to fail. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to succeed — just very, very hard. Without any mitigating factors, failure is far and away the most likely outcome. Graham goes on to argue that the San Francisco Bay Area has attained a critical mass of startups that — in and of itself — increases the chances of success of any tech startup within that ecosystem. As he states, this doesn't mean it's impossible to succeed elsewhere, just much harder.
So, this is an admission that I don't have it in me to continue the much harder path of creating a successful startup in Memphis. I sincerely hope others do. And I strongly encourage the local business, investor and political communities to wake up and smell the coffee. The world isn't just changing, it has already changed. For Memphis to grow economically, she must invest in and support the creation of new companies. A radical shift in perspective is needed. A lot of local attitudes need to change. I fear the alternative.