“It’s so cold,” Handy said from inside his garage office on Monday evening. “We’re wearing sweaters in here. This is a little different than California.”
But weather is certainly not why the Sherbert founders left the Valley. In a Medium post that Handy penned late last month, the 34-year-old entrepreneur went on a mini-rant that explained why he and Porter left San Francisco.
“I just did it on a Sunday night while I was drinking beers with my co-founder,” Handy told GeekWire. “He was plugging away and I just decided to write about why we were leaving. Everyone kept asking us. They’d say, ‘Why are you going to Seattle? We are in the tech hotbed. You guys could be shooting yourselves in the foot if you go to Seattle. There’s just boring enterprise stuff there.’ We were just like, ‘I don’t know. We just need to get away from all you guys. It’s so distracting.'”
Handy said he’ll miss the energy of Silicon Valley and the good people he met. But ultimately, he was tired of superficial entrepreneurs in a rapidly changing startup ecosystem that was creating an unhealthy environment.
“There are two groups of people there — one that really hustles and builds stuff, and the other ones that are posers,” Handy said.
We caught up with Handy to learn more about why he moved Sherbert — a Twitter-like app for four-minute instructional videos — up to Seattle. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
GW: Why did you leave the tech startup mecca?
Handy: “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the Valley, but a lot of hot air. It’s a lot of people just talking, talking, talking — no one is doing, doing, doing. No one is building. If you’re traveling around and partying and doing this and that, then who the hell is building your product? It’s just crazy. I almost want to create a mock startup, push the hell out of it, and get it on Product Hunt even though I don’t have a product and get people rooting for us just to mock the industry and show how silly it is.”
GW: In your Medium post, you seem frustrated with the funding climate in the Valley — particularly with young entrepreneurs.
Handy: “I’m 34. But I’ve been in the industry for over ten years, worked with a lot of startups, a lot of huge companies. When you get these young kids getting one, two, three million bucks, they go bonkers. They start going on expensive lunches, they get crazy office space in the cool part of San Francisco with expensive furnishings. It’s kind of outrageous to spend all this money on an office when it could have gone to making a product more successful.
You’ve just got a lot of young people raising $1 and $2 million seed rounds for dumb products. How are they going to make money off another photo or text messaging app? It’s like, c’mon guys, let’s challenge ourselves and do something better. There’s just a lot of that going on in the Valley. A lot of “me too” products. It’s hard to get through the weeds and find a flower. Really hard.
There’s just a lot of people doing nothing who are raising money and screwing up the ecosystem for founders really trying to do something.”
GW: They are screwing up the ecosystem? Really?
Handy: “Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur in the Valley. They go get a hipster startup kit, they drink coffee, and they tell people they are building a startup. They try raising funds right away. It screws up the dynamic for people actually building. It just puts it all out of wack, and investors just buy into it, too. They have a fear of missing out on the next Uber, or the next Mark Zuckerberg. It’s pretty easy to get funding in the Valley right now. I tell everyone, if you want funding, now is the time to get it.
There’s also a lot of old money in the Valley. A lot of these old school ballers that still live in the glory days and still think they are the king of the castle. These VCs are controlling what’s cool and what’s not, and that screws things up, too. Who are they to say what’s cool and what’s not when they haven’t had success in over 10 years?
I also see a lot of startups that try to build something because they know it will get funded. They are building for an investor, essentially. Their whole pitch deck is designed for investors. That is really weird to me. I build products because I am passionate about them. It’s what I eat, breath, and think about. I don’t give a shit what an investor thinks, or if it gets featured on Product Hunt. That is arbitrary, but it feels like a success metric in the Valley. It’s so weird and wrong in many ways.”
GW: You mentioned how a lot of people are just talking, and not building. Why do you think that is?
Handy: “There are more people trying to build products that have never built a product or don’t know how to code or design than ever. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s just kind of screwing up the dynamic. It’s hard to explain. They are coming in with different perspectives, which is awesome, but they also don’t know what it takes to build an exceptional product. They think they can build a product in a weekend, but a MVP and validation takes some time. I have no problem with people building startups who don’t know how to develop or design, but I wish they would find a partner that knew how and had more perspective and clarity on these things.
It’s just that, I work really hard to build stuff, and it gets me when some startup just comes in not knowing anything and shook the right hand or had a beer with the right person and they have a BS product that got $2 million or something. Then they are off to the races but still don’t have any idea of what they’re doing. Two years later they are out of money. It pisses me off. It’s not envy; it’s just that the same money could have went to a real startup that is really hustling and trying.”
GW: You make it seem like the Valley is a bad place for new startups.
Handy: “Look, the Valley is awesome. People there are awesome. They are so smart, so energetic, and really want to build something. People have a lot of connections and aren’t afraid to give you intros. If you are a startup and really want to test your product and see if there is anything there, bring it to the Valley — it will validate really fast and if it’s good, investors will flock to you.
You can also run a lot of user testing. You can go into a coffee shop and ask people to use your app, and they’ll be happy to. In other places, people might tell you to beat it. Tech and startups are just so in the culture there. It’s a way of life for people and you can talk startups with anyone.
It’s just the land of startup opportunity. A lot of magic has happened there — Apple, Google, Twitter were all born there. When I first got there, I drove around to the campuses and took pictures in front of the company signs. It’s just really cool in that respect. It’s like Disneyland for nerds.
It’s also beautiful there. Before we moved up here it was 80 degrees and we were in our flip flops and shorts. But to be honest, sometimes it’s a bit of distraction when you are locked away in a house trying to solve a crazy problem with your co-founders and it’s so beautiful outside and you can’t enjoy the weather.”
GW: So why move to Seattle?
Handy: “I don’t know it very well, but my startup friends here have nothing to say but good things. It seems like people here are more than happy to welcome new startups into the community when you come, like a family almost. I thought that was cool.
I was told it’s obviously not as rampant as the Valley, but that’s why we are here. I wanted to get away from the distraction, from constantly hearing who’s getting sold, who’s raising money, Meerkat this, Periscope that. When you get coffee, you can hear people debating about it — you just can’t escape it. It’s just too much, and you just say, ‘what the hell are we doing, man?’ I felt like we were designing our product for a San Francisco bubble just so we can get featured on Product Hunt and have a bunch of people in Silicon Valley say we’re cool. I don’t want to do that.
I have high hopes for Seattle. It feels like one of those cities where they embrace technology. It’s also beautiful here and we love the scenery. The rain is also kind of refreshing. It’s nice to put on a sweater, grab a nice hot cup of tea and start working. There’s something comforting about that.
We are just excited about being here. This is definitely rejuvenating, just coming here and doing all this. We want people to come to our garage and hang out and have beers and just shoot the shit.”
GW: What advice will you give entrepreneurs in Seattle, given what you’ve seen in the Valley?
Handy: “Keep your head down and keep focusing on product. Don’t worry about raising money and all that stuff. If your product has any validation from users, has good product market fit, has founders with some average-to-good credentials, it’s not hard to find funding once the product is in the wild. Technology is cheap to build and you don’t need money before you have a product that works. Those days are long gone. Just don’t get caught up in the drama and BS of startups and this and that. Just keep validating your product and let it do the talking for you.”