Startup vet Tony Wright to set sail for Silicon Valley: Entrepreneur says good deal terms hard to find in Seattle

GeekWire's John Cook interviews entrepreneur Tony Wright at last year's Seattle 2.0 Startup Awards

Tony Wright — a well-respected Seattle entrepreneur who previously co-founded CubeDuel and RescueTime and sold his first company to Jobster — announced tonight that he plans to relocate to Silicon Valley to build his new mobile travel startup Tomo.

“I’m — somewhat sadly — moving down to the Valley for a bit,” said Wright who is relocating with co-founder Montana Low.  “I don’t know how long ‘a bit’ is. It’s a bit of an experiment.”

Wright isn’t going quietly, writing a lengthy blog post about the decision.

In the post, Wright calls the decision bittersweet, and notes that he loves Seattle, its startup scene and the underdog mentality.

So, why leave?

Well, venture funding for one thing. Wright says that there are some great investors in Seattle, some of whom have invested in his latest company. But with future fundraising  in the cards, Wright said that raising money “is easier, faster, and more likely to close with better terms in the Valley.”

 The key there for me is faster.  Fundraising is expensive.  It saps attention from your product and it takes time/money.  The other key is “more likely.”  I’m pretty confident that I can raise money anywhere in today’s market.  But I don’t know where the market is going to be in 12-24 months.  I *DO* know, that if the market goes south, my odds will be strongest in the Valley.  And, while I don’t want to be a “douchey deal optimizer”, the best Seattle terms I’ve heard of are merely adequate in the Valley…  And terms that are good in the Valley are virtually unheard of in Seattle.

Obviously, that’s not a huge vote of confidence when one of the region’s top entrepreneurs decides to pull up roots and head south. It’s certainly a blow, but let’t not forget that Wright came to Seattle from Alaska when Jobster bought his Anchorage startup Jobby.

Nonetheless, this departure is going to sting. After all, for many months, we’ve been debating how Seattle compares to the Valley, and wondering why more angels aren’t getting off the sidelines. Many entrepreneurs have bemoaned the lack of capital in the region, poor deal terms and an investor mentality that seems to be locked in the dot-com bust era.

Wright isn’t ruling out a return to Seattle at some point.

“My heart is certainly in Seattle and it’s hard to imagine that I won’t someday end up back here.  The way Seattle’s startup scene has grown over my 6 years here has been pretty inspiring,” he says in his email to GeekWire.

But his blog post ends with a slightly different tone, with Wright noting that there’s just more optimism in the Valley.

I’ve often said that startups only die from 1 thing.  They run out of optimism. They no longer believe in the opportunity (or they believe in a different one).  You can run out of money, but if you believe, you’ll find a way to soldier on.  You’ll raise money, max your credit cards, eat ramen, or otherwise do whatever it takes.  Strangely, I think it’s easier to keep your optimism tank full in the Valley…  In the church of startups (with miracles on display for every sermon), you can’t help but believe.

It’s going to be an interesting ride.  Some of my favorite entrepreneurs from Seattle have blazed a trail southward and, despite their apparent love for Seattle, they haven’t felt compelled to return.  I’m going to head south with an open mind and see how it goes.

  • http://twitter.com/erickoester Eric Koester

    I am just glad that Tony linked to me on the word “Favorite.”  Knowing Tony, this feels incredibly ironic.  It’s a positive for Seattle to send someone with positive vibes about the city to the Bay Area.  When is Geekwire doing a Bay Area event to celebrate all the Seattle folks now down in SF?

    • johnhcook

      We’d love to do an event down there some time. We’re pretty locked down on Seattle events this year, however. Speaking of which, you should get some of the best SF foosball and ping pong players to make the trek to Seattle for the big summer bash and ping pong/foos tourney.

      http://www.geekwire.com/events/geekwire-summer-bash-ping-pong-tournament/

      Let’s settle this Valley-Seattle debate once and for all where it matters, on the pong table!!

  • Guest

    Congratulations and happy trails, Tony! Show those wheatgrass-sipping softies how business really gets done.

  • http://www.Empower.me/ Bryan Starbuck

    I’m very sorry to lose you.  I think Seattle losing you is an important loss.  I think the deal terms factor is something putting a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs in Seattle and I worry it will cause others to follow you.

  • Rayburt456

    Obvious follow up for John — some reporting on the different deal terms folks like Tony and Eric get in SF versus what they get here.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/robofhood Robert Hammond

    I would be a lot more worried if people were leaving Seattle for Portland.  

  • Grass not greener

    I love Tony as an entrepreneur, and really like the direction of his new project, Tomo. I’m optomistic it will be a big win.  But I find it paradoxical and puzzling to publish (yesterday) a link to an authoritative, 52 page report on how broken VC is, and juxtapose the 10+ years of data that Kauffman has amassed against the idea that for entrepreneurs, its somehow better in the Valley than here.  Venture is broken here, its broken in the Valley, its broken everywhere.  What Kauffman was writing about was the track record of Valley investors for the most part.  The goal of doing a startup isn’t simply to get funding, on favorable terms.  Its to build companies that have value to BOTH investors and to the management teams/entrepreneurs who build them. If venture made next to no money over the past decade, even the so-called top quartile, then I can assure you that entrepreneurs in aggregate made less.  We have to get beyond a business built on Black Swan events.