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Philly Startups Open Up About Growth

At this year's 8th annual Philly Startup Leaders Entrepreneur Expo – part of Philly Tech Week – the Entrepreneurial Engagement team at Comcast talked 1-on-1 with entrepreneurs showcasing their startups at the event.

We had the opportunity to interview seven startups — Boxter, GoBabl, Red Queen Gaming, My Milkcrate, GuestNet, ROAR for Good and VeryApt — to get their perspective about what it means to build and grow a business in Philadelphia.


What do you love about building a business in Philadelphia?

Ian Leibovici, Boxter: It's gritty. It's cheaper to live here. There's a great community where you can reach out and talk to anyone. I've been here for fourteen years and it's the zone now.

Earl Knight, GoBabl: In Philadelphia, it really is an incubator city. It's one of these cities where you don't necessarily blow up, but you can really start your grassroots. All the way from a guy like Elon Musk or a Ben Franklin, they got their start here, and they went elsewhere to maybe blow up, but like Gobabl, we're making our way within the community of technology and business. Hopefully, we can stay here, but we will soon blow up, very similar.

Jason Hall, Red Queen Gaming: I am from Philadelphia, and I love Philadelphia in general. I feel like the culture and the community, both, in the start-up world and in the city, in general, is very warm and welcoming, and the people are great. It's been a pleasure.

Morgan Berman, My Milkcrate: You can eat well (the same as living well in my opinion) on a ramen noodle budget.

Jesse Bookspan, GuestNet: I love building a business in Philadelphia. The main thing is the resources that the city has in terms of talent from the academic institutions. UPenn, Drexel, and Temple have been very helpful to us to find really, really, good workers, who are willing to work at startup friendly prices for experience and to be part of something exciting. Just jumping at the opportunity and honestly, it's been incredible.

Yasmine Mustafa, ROAR for Good: The Philly Startup Leaders community. 

Ashrit Kamireddi, VeryApt: It's a really great community. If you're starting a business that's focused on millennials, it's a really good launch market. We're doing apartment search and we found that this is a really good test market because it has the right demographics for what we're launching. It's a really easy to run test because it's such a walkable city, in Center City, that we're really able to be hands on with the business, especially if you need to be interacting with consumers.


Give us one tip for building a business in Philadelphia.

Ian: Meet everyone. It's a very open community, there's a lot of great people in Philadelphia. They're all very open to talk and it's not like New York where you have to bang down doors to get in somewhere.

Earl: Be friends with everybody. Don't make any enemies. It's very important in that Philadelphia is a very small city. People know each other, and the more handshakes and smiles you can give out and genuine relationships you can build, the better.

Jason: I would say you need to have a killer idea, and if you have a killer idea, you have to keep working it. As far as Philly goes, networking and getting out there and meeting all the groups, and hustling.

Morgan: Learn to ride a bike in the city. You will fit in 2x more meetings, save money, and get exercise.

Jesse: Grit, man. It's not going to be easy but that goes with building a business anywhere. Grit means getting a hundred no's for one yes and being happy about it and excited to do it again the next day.

Yasmine: Get to know Archna Sahay of the City of Philadelphia and/or Yuval Yarden of Philly Startup Leaders to help connect you to resources and other entrepreneurs that can help you as you're starting/building your company.  

Scott Bierbryer, VeryApt: Explore the network. There's a great tech community and I would engage it. Between PSL, StartUp PHL, PIDC, Ben Franklin [Technology Partners], there's tons of opportunities to network with people who can help you grow your company in Philadelphia.


What is your favorite thing about Philly's tech community?

Ian: I’ve always loved the signature of it. It's just the meeting of everyone. I've seen it grow from the very first one to what it is now. Every year you get to meet more interesting people.

Earl: My favorite thing is everybody is so willing to help each other. We're a community of people that, right now, we're booming. This is a millennial city now. I don't know if you know, but Jay Z and Beyonce are moving to Philadelphia. The Pope just came here. GoBabl is here. This is an emerging city. Mark my words. We will be on the map for technology within the next year.

Jason: My favorite thing about Philly's tech community is definitely the people. Since I have gotten involved, I have met a lot of interesting, smart and welcoming folks. I think being in that world has been a lot of fun.

Morgan: Everyone is rooting for us. Our success is the Philly Startup Community's success.

Jesse: If you're willing to put in the time to reach out to the right people and reach out to them in an effective manner and follow up on the emails even after you don't get it, they're willing to help, right? They're busy people but if you go out of your way, and you make it so they can't avoid you, they respect that, and they're willing to help. Where I think elsewhere, they're not really just ready to extend a helping hand. It's more of a competitive environment. Here, you do the work necessary, you'll get their time, it's just are you willing to work for it?

Yasmine: Everyone is easily accessible. It's not difficult to get in touch with someone you want to talk to.

Ashrit: I'd say it's eclectic. Scott and I both went to Wharton and we see a lot of more Silicon Valley type startups. So we go to San Francisco to raise money. It's all very similar. I think Philly explores all parts of entrepreneurship, whether it's "I have a small food-type startup" and you're actually making your own things and you're delivering it yourself. Or you're trying to do something that is B2B or SAS, but I think it's a lot more. It's broader and it's a bit more personal, rather than "How do I grow this thing into a unicorn really quickly, so I can start my next company immediately?" I think people are a little more passionate about what they're doing.