Tableau CEO Chabot: Seattle is the promised land of startup America

We had a stimulating conversation with Tableau CEO Christian Chabot yesterday at our GeekWire Meetup. Chabot touched on a number of really interesting topics and had good perspective on Seattle as a startup city.

Chabot co-founded Tableau back in 2003 down at Stanford University but decided to bring the visual analytics software business up north to the Emerald City.

John Cook interviewed Chabot Wednesday evening at the HUB Seattle and asked him what drove Tableau to Seattle, and looking back, was it the right move?

Here’s what Chabot had to say:

Building a company here in Seattle over the last 10 years has made us realize that in many ways, I think Seattle is the promised land in startup America. It’s one of the best decisions we ever made. We did not make the decision for business reasons. We moved because we wanted to live here.

There were a few of us that were best described as Bay Area Burnouts and we saw this promise land of Seattle with nicer-sized city rather than the Bay Area Silicon Valley sprawl. Much of Silicon Valley is a series of strip malls and it’s sort of disgusting in a certain way. It’s a high cost of living and you spend a fortune on a postage stamp apartment.

We looked at Seattle as a great place to live with a great outdoors culture and a really vibrant startup and engineering community. We went primarily for personal reasons, but looking back from a business perspective, what a home run. In fact years after we moved here, SalesForce opens an office, Splunk opens an office, Facebook opens an office — just go down the list. In a way, we were early at discovering Seattle and it’s worked out well for us. 

Cook then asked Chabot about Seattle becoming a stronger startup or tech hub. His answer:

The one thing you kind of miss is the startup culture to the city. In the Bay Area, the thing that’s funny and cool is that everyone is either working for, or at some point planning to join that crazy disruptive thing. When you go to a coffee shop, everyone is talking about what tech startup they are working for. There’s a reason why Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley. One of the nice things about it is that people and couples will weave the idea of joining a startup into their conversation over the years. It’s just so baked in and Seattle doesn’t have that.

The one cold splash of water we did have in Seattle was realizing how many people were just comfortable at a big corporation — the Microsoft’s, the Amazon’s. I think Seattle has a ways to go there, but I sense that as I’ve lived here, it’s gotten better every year from that perspective. I think we’re on our way.

Previously on GeekWireScenes from the GeekWire Meetup, in pictures and tweets … Tableau CEO Christian Chabot: Why entrepreneurs should avoid venture capitalTableau CEO Christian Chabot: The power of perseverance over pivoting

A big thanks to our sponsors of last night’s Meetup: Outlook.comMicrosoft User ResearchBing and Seattle Children’s Research Institute

  • Ryan Dancey

    My father worked at Boeing for much of his life and retired in the 90s. He would tell me often that Boeing was able to recruit top engineering talent because a certain kind of person wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest. They wanted to raise families here, and enjoy the benefits of our amazing outdoors, great universities and strong stable communities. He was convinced that those people were the reason for the successes Boeing had when the competition with California aerospace was at its highest.

    I remain convinced that one of the advantages we have over the Valley is that we can attract and retain a specific kind of talent here, and that the kind of people who “get it” are also the kind who lay the foundations for incredibly successful global companies.

    It is no accident that the Pacific Northwest is the birthplace of global enterprises like UPS, Weyerhaeuser, Boeing, Microsoft, CostCo, Starbucks, and Amazon.

    There’s a tremendous startup environment here but it doesn’t look like the Valley so it may be flying under the radar of people who are looking for Valley-style culture. The entrepreneurs here are focused on many things besides simply tech, and many rewards beyond a quick high-value exit. Many are focused on businesses that aren’t necessarily designed to be flipped to return cash to a VC fund in less than 5 years. Startups in the Pacific Northwest have an inherent bias towards rapid global growth when the opportunity arises, rather than a bias towards finding a buyer when they achieve a breakthrough moment of momentum. When you live in a place that people drive to, not through, and you drive past a huge port facility every day, you absorb the message that this is a place connected to a wider economic system than what you can see from the top of the tallest building in downtown.

    It’s awesome to see that folks like @Christian Chabot get it.

    • johnhcook

      Well said!! Well said!

      John Cook
      Co-founder, GeekWire
      206-913-7926
      John@GeekWire.com
      @johnhcook

  • Hype Williams

    It takes courage to join a startup and leave the perpetually stocked fridge of Talking Rain sparkling water behind.

  • http://twitter.com/Zac_Ski Zachary Smulski

    As a person working with start-ups in the Seattle area, I have to echo what Chabot said about Seattle not having the start-up juices. Many Seattleites want to work for established tech companies. Start-ups and entrepreneurs are seen as intellectually challenged until they are wildly successful. There is little appreciation for a new business concept or idea, and almost no appetite for risk taking. Yes, it is changing, but Seattle is still fighting the “mothership” syndrome. Does the Talking Rain really taste that good?