Central Texas has been a technology hub for years. Known as Silicon Hills, Austin is a top destination for tech venture capital. Software companies, semiconductor makers, and biotech firms all contribute to the booming local economy.
Besides well-known companies like Dell, smaller tech firms also conduct business in Austin. Many are in start-up mode. They find that Austin’s vibe meshes well with new-company culture. It also helps that Texas is a business-friendly state, offering incentives like the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to attract new tech companies.
Software Advice is a great example of a dynamic tech transplant that’s grown rapidly since moving to Austin. Founder and CEO Don Fornes employed just five people when he left Northern California. Now, his crew is almost seventy strong. I recently connected with Don and asked him about his experiences moving to Texas. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about Software Advice!
Software Advice is a trusted resource for software buyers. Our website provides detailed reviews, comparisons and research to help organizations choose the right software. Meanwhile, our software analysts provide free telephone consultations to help each software buyer identify systems that best fit their needs. In the process, we connect software buyers and sellers, generating high-quality opportunities for software vendors.
How long have you been doing business?
About eight years now. I started the company in late 2005, but the website launched in June of 2006. Our COO, Austin Merritt, joined later that year and together we really got momentum in late 2007 and early 2008. It’s been rapid growth ever since.
Who are your clients?
We work with buyers and sellers of software in about 25 different markets, such as construction, medical and CRM. This could be a small retail business looking for a simple point of sale system, or a large manufacturing company seeking technology to automate their entire enterprise. When a buyer is researching potential software for their business, they call us to help narrow down their options. We work with about 800 software vendors who can meet their needs, and they pay us when we introduce them to great opportunities.
What do you love about your job?
I love growing the business and the team. When we moved to Austin in 2009, we only had five employees; now we have around 70. We’ve grown more than 1,000 percent since moving here and the momentum isn’t stopping. Solving the challenges of rapid growth and innovation is exciting, but it’s really the people that motivate me most. I love the team.
What’s your history?
Before starting Software Advice, I had a ten-year career in the software industry. I was an ERP analyst at an investment firm, then a corporate development executive at a pioneering CRM software company. Becoming an entrepreneur was always my plan, so in 2004 I set out to do just that. I quit my job and started my own search fund. I was researching a number of software markets, looking for software companies to acquire. I realized I’d done so much research on my own and that there was no place on the web that intelligently consolidated this type of research. So I set out to fill that gap.
What drove you out of California? One event or series of events?
It was definitely a series of events. The Bay Area was my home for a long time and I love that place, so I didn’t take the decision lightly. What initially got me thinking about the move to Texas were taxes. The individual income tax rate in California is the highest in the country. And with Texas having no individual income tax, it was enticing. But the real reason to move was access to more talent. In Silicon Valley, we were competing for talent against Google, Facebook and every other start-up. In Austin there was a large population of great people to hire and less competition for talent. Of course, that’s changing.
Why move to Texas over other states?
Once we decided to move, we considered Raleigh, North Carolina; Salt Lake City, Utah; Seattle, Washington; and, of course, Austin, Texas. So aside from taxes, we looked at the overall cost of doing business (salary averages, living expense and office rates) as well as making sure we chose a town that had a large talent pool and a major university. Texas offered that. And since my wife’s family lives in Houston, there were some points to be earned with my father-in-law.
Why choose Austin?
What made Austin rise above the rest was the access to talent. Austin is turning into the next Silicon Valley, so for a tech startup it was a great fit. The University of Texas at Austin graduates 12,000 students each year with neighboring colleges that offer great talent including Texas State University, St. Edward’s University, Texas A&M University and Texas Christian University. Austin was also a culture fit. When we were visiting and scouting office space, we loved the healthy and outdoor nature of the city. The festivals, live music and lively surroundings make it a desirable city to live in, and a place that we knew we could recruit and retain talent.
How did your friends and family react when they heard you were coming to Texas?
My friends were disappointed that I’d be leaving. We’d been together for a long time and had an unspoken pact to stay together. But they also knew how focused I was on my business, and they fully expected me to make big sacrifices and take on risks to make Software Advice successful. My parents were excited because my father has always had a fondness for Texas. And my wife’s family was thrilled because they got their daughter back in Texas.
What can people expect when they move to Texas?
Based on my experience in Austin, it’s been tremendous, despite having to apply a lot of sunscreen. We have a great neighborhood with great neighbors that share the same values and interests. However, you do have to get accustomed to the heat. I do miss the Sierra Nevada mountains sometimes. While there is a beautiful hill country in Texas, the rest is relatively flat and we’re far from the ocean. But I often visit the Bay Area and my family takes advantage of our company’s “work abroad” program to go somewhere interesting each summer.
Do you like living and doing business in Austin?
Absolutely. Our office is located in the ‘funky’ SoCo (South Congress Avenue) district of Austin, which is close to downtown, the food trailers, music venues and TownLake. Our employees are predominantly in their early ‘20s to late ‘30s, so the active lifestyle is appealing. It’s a great place whether you’re a recent graduate or wanting to start a family. I also enjoy being able to go to work in shorts and flip-flops. It’s a very laid-back city.
In your opinion, what is Texas doing wrong?
Texas needs to figure out how to handle the population growth. There are flood of people moving here daily and if we don’t have a solid strategy, we’ll be dealing with issues, such as water and infrastructure, more than we already are.
Any plans to go back to California?
I don’t think I’d move back and it doesn’t make business sense to move back either. My family and I have laid down roots in Texas. And from a business standpoint, Austin is the place to be. And while I miss all of my friends, some are talking about moving here.
Don, thanks for speaking with us! Small technology firms may not employ as many people, or generate flashy headlines like the big boys. But firms like Software Advice grow, sometimes exponentially. And, they create jobs. And those jobs add up over time….it’s one of the main reason why Texas is booming.