A Story About Durham

This post was originally published at TriangleStartUpFactory.com.

I first visited Downtown Durham to take a tour of the American Tobacco Campus, which was still very much a work in progress at the time.  It was 2005 I think.  There was an 8 foot barbed wire fence around the property and there were trees growing inside of the buildings.  I was a Sales Associate at Bronto Software, which had 7 or 8 employees at the time.  Bronto moved to the American Tobacco several months after my tour of the campus yet-to-be and my love affair with Downtown Durham was born.

In December 2009, when my business partner Adam Covati and I pinched our respective noses and decided to take the plunge with Argyle, we knew that we wanted to move into a Durham office as quickly as possible.  After several months working anonymously in our respective home offices, we developed enough traction and raised enough money to move into a tiny office in the Snow Building at 331 W. Main St, right above Beyu Caffe.

I knew that we made the right decision the day we moved in.  Adam and I were struggling to move a couch (that we bought from UNC surplus for $20) into our building and Jud Bowman, the Founder and CEO at Appia and Durham start-up veteran, happened to walk by and hold the door for us.  We were bumping into guys like us on the street before we had even moved into our office.

Fast forward to today - Argyle has 21 employees and has carved out its own niche in Durham on Rigsbee Avenue, right around the corner from Rue Cler.  The city is our 22nd employee.  It helps us recruit, it keeps us entertained, and it inspires us to keep looking forward.

Durham is a momentum story - the culinary, artistic, and (of course!) start-up scenes have grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years.  There is a palpable sense of forward movement in Downtown Durham that makes it a great place to launch and grow a start-up.  I'm excited to see Triangle Start-Up Factory accelerate more good things in the Bull City.

The Risky Start-Up Myth

Argyle presented at Tech Jobs Under the Big Top last week.  Big Top is a very cool, circus-themed job fair put on by Durham start-up instigator Chris Heivly.  

The event was a lot of fun and we met quite a few interesting candidates that I suspect we'll phone screen over the next couple weeks.  We also met an endless stream of unemployed people - some recently, some more-than-recently - that had spent their careers at big companies like IBM, Cisco, etc.  

Many young professionals and graduating students look to these big companies as the "safe" place to work.  You can get experience, you can move up the ranks, and so on.  

There are certainly reasons to work for big companies, but I believe that this "safety" is a fallacy in large part because one has very little control of their own destiny at very large organizations.  A fluctuation in the share price or a decision from on high or a mistake four times removed from one's role might end up in cancelled projects, missed promotions, or worse.  The unemployed big company people I met at the event seemed perfectly capable, just unfortunate.

Sure - start-ups are risky...and risky beyond comprehension in the very early stages.  But one's scope of influence is much larger and the distance between input and output is practically zero.  Plus, one can actually eliminate risk at a start-up.  Most of my day-to-day actions at Argyle are focused on making our business more predictable, repeatable, and scalable.

To bring this full circle, imagine the irony when one of the larger companies that participated in the Big Top event "pitched" the audience by showing a video that featured its employees gushing about their job security and peace of mind.  I couldn't help but laugh to myself just a little...

Bull City Stampede...

...happens again this fall.  Details below.

The Bull City Startup Stampede is back! After a very successful spring season that brought 15 companies to downtown Durham for 60 days of free office space, the Stampede will be running again this fall. Participating companies receive free space complete with furniture and a 50:5 wi-fi connection and access to a wealth of startup experts.

A few participants will also be eligible for free startup law packages from Hutchison Law and Morris, Manning, Martin. Previous Stampede companies have used the initiative to garner media attention for their software or product, raise a seed financing round, and build a top flight network in the Triangle.

The application process is very simple and only requires a one-pager on your concept, team, and market opportunity. Applications close Friday, August 12 at noon.

To apply or for more info, visit www.startupstampede.com. The Stampede will begin September 16 and end November 18.