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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Where To, Cap’n?

I’m leaving Houston and going”¦ somewhere. I have the advantage of portability in my lifestyle – there’s a lot of crap to sell and that sucks but I’m not faced with kids in school or a spouse with a rooted career. That means the world is my oyster so I need to figure out where to go. I’ve made a list of the most feasible cities and fleshed out my criteria for choosing among them.

By necessity, there will be some pretty sweeping generalizations in this process but this is a high level analysis so don’t get all up in a twist about it if I’m missing the “underlying subtlety” or “charm” of a particular place.

Cities in the Running:

Austin, TX

Boston, MA

Denver, CO

Los Angeles, CA

New York, NY

San Diego, CA

San Francisco, CA

Seattle, WA

Professional Decision Factors:

Professional factors are interrelated with personal factors. A lot of what makes a city exciting and stimulating place to me also attracts the kind of people I am interested in working with. I’d like to comingle my work and personal life in a way that I never really felt comfortable doing in Houston with energy because I never quite felt like I could relate to the rest of the people in the industry (I never considered myself a “lifer”). I actually want to be a part of the startup community and get to know everyone in it. That said, the ability to leave the bubble and enjoy some time apart is also an important requirement.

When it comes down to it, the number one professional requirement is access to people who can help me grow my skills and, when applicable, my business. I want to be where the superstars are. If there must be a tradeoff, I’d rather pay more for better talent.

Access to Engineering Talent

Every product is built on the backs of engineers. Honestly, that was one thing that always frustrated me when I was studying engineering at Penn. I saw the road forward as a thankless servitude where others would reap all the exponential gain from my work. At the time, it wasn’t an insignificant factor in my transition towards business. It also left me with a substantial appreciation for the contributions of engineers of all sorts to the causes of business and innovation.

I want to be where the best engineers are and I want to make them superstars who are fully appreciated and recognized for their contributions. Ideas are nothing without execution and the difference between good engineering and bad is colossal. I’d rather not get to the explosive growth inflection point only to find that my cobbled-together back end is completely unscalable.

Access to Startup Resources ($$$, Mentors, Peers)

The business starts with talent but needs capital and advice to grow. “Access to startup resources” is another way of saying a well-developed startup ecosystem replete with entrepreneurs, angels, VC’s and educational resources.

The investors need to understand startups and be comfortable with their unique set of issues so they can focus instead on the actual businesses. There needs to be a strong network of other entrepreneurs and people with relevant skill sets who are willing to engage in a free exchange of ideas. Finally, there must be access to mentors and education either through the community or via individual connections.

Cost of Growing a Business

Cost is certainly a relevant consideration for starting a business. If costs are prohibitively high, you can never get off the ground. It’s hard to bootstrap a startup if your burn rate in the door is higher than you can afford. In my personal case, though, this consideration isn’t as high as the rest because I am willing to downsize my lifestyle as necessary to make my runway last and I am willing to pay up in fixed costs for the right environment.

Personal Decision Factors:

This may be a move with an eye towards professional development but personal factors are at least as important”¦ I do have to live there after all. As stated above, the two sides are highly interrelated anyway.

Culture of Intellect and Motivation

I’m a lot of things but I’ve definitely got a strong geeky side. I want to live where there are smart people who are highly motivated to succeed. I’d ideally like to get some of that high-powered Northeast flavor without going too heavy on the douchebaggery.

Culture of Creativity

I can’t live in an analytical bubble so the Final Destination needs to support a creative environment with access to all different kinds of people doing all different kinds of interesting things.

Access to the Outdoors / Good Weather

When I get out, I want to be OUT. I always went camping growing up and I’ve enjoyed the outdoors ever since. One unfortunate thing about Houston is that it is flat for 100 miles in all directions”¦ there’s really not a lot of natural beauty to speak of. You can’t just leave and get lost in the countryside. I want to live somewhere I can easily leave when it comes time for a break. I want to take awesome photos and be home in time for dinner or be in the thick of the wild for a weekend.

I hate winter. Some people love to live in misery 6 months out of the year”¦ I am not one of them. It can’t be hot enough. If I need to go skiing, I’ll travel to it and then return to my margarita when it’s all over. Sunshine and warmth 12 months of the year makes Erik a very happy camper.

Lifestyle Density

I can’t be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I want everything in the world at my fingertips. I want to feel like I’m missing nothing because it’s all going on nearby. The more options I have close to me, the happier I am.

Cost of Living

I’ll be living without a salary for unknown duration so I’ve got to do my best to make it count. I can live small but it’s nice for the dollar to stretch a bit and maybe even buy a beer or two.


I’ve lived for a year or more in 7 different cities and never had more than the faintest twitch of desire to settle down and make any of them my home. I don’t intend to “settle down” in a conventional fashion but I do want to be someplace where I can put down some permanent roots. Not a “stopping point”, not “just passing through”, but somewhere that has the potential to go the distance into the foreseeable future.

Next, I’ll have the short list and the reasons for my choices.