I spent 13 years of my life in the Pacific Northwest living on the Eastside.
I worked at Microsoft. Then, I did my first startup in Redmond. After that, most of my gigs were on the Eastside.
When I joined Russell Benaroya to build EveryMove last year, it was the first time in my life that I’d jumped to the Seattle side. On one hand, I was a spoiled Eastsider who got used to free parking, easy traffic, Costco, Bellevue Square and many of the other perks. On the other, I was very excited about experiencing life on the Westside of the lake.
I’ve been commuting daily from Redmond to Seattle for nearly a year, and I have to say that I love it. I don’t regret the commute a bit. And things are just getting better, primarily because of the 520 tolls. [Related from GeekWire's Todd Bishop: "A big day on the 520 bridge: Why I’m happy about the tolls"]
Using 520 wasn’t bad before. If you live on the Eastside and work in Seattle you are typically going against the rush hour traffic (Seattleites working at Microsoft in Redmond), so it would take me about 30 to 35 minutes to get to work in the morning and 35 to 45 minutes to get back every evening. After tolling took effect, the traffic virtually disappeared. It now takes me 20 to 25 minutes.
Now, I could talk about the nitty-gritty of traffic and transit, restaurants, parking, office space, prices, etc. all day.
But there’s an even bigger difference between Eastside and Seattle startups (And this part may get some people upset).
It’s the culture. Not the city culture, the startup culture.
The entrepreneurial density is much larger in Seattle (the Eastside is enormous if you measure it from Issaquah to Bothell and from Bellevue to Sammamish). What that means is that you can be working in Bellevue, building your startup day-in, day-out, and you don’t bump into other entrepreneurs, investors, bloggers or startup service providers during lunch, coffee or dinner.
In Seattle, if you’re in Fremont, Pioneer Square, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Belltown or Downtown, you’re very likely – I would say almost guaranteed – to bump into your peers.
It’s also more favorable to have your startup in Seattle when recruiting.
As a rule of thumb, Eastsiders might prefer working close to home, but they also like Seattle. Just a bit of push is enough to affect the inertia of staying on their side. Now, from my own observations, working on the Eastside is a deal-breaker for many Seattleites, primarily because of the traffic. (If it’s not a deal-breaker, these folks are usually grumpy about it).
There’s also a difference in the type of startups being built, tied to the corporate make-up of the founders. Microsoft alums are more likely to build enterprise and “platform” solutions, while Amazon.com alums are more likely to build consumer web and mobile services. I don’t think there is advantage in terms of what you are building to be on either side of the lake.
Picking the Eastside or Seattle is a matter of personal preference for the founders, as it should be. After all, the last thing you want is a founder who doesn’t like to work at his or her own startup.
At the end of the day, founders should pick locations (and technologies, markets, partners, etc.) that make them happy. And, if you’re building a company with an exciting opportunity, you can find great talent to join you on either side of the lake.