On April 1st, 2016, BrandYourself.com opened up an office in Lancaster, PA at 53 West James Street. While we started the company in New York, where we’ve grown until this point, we decided we wanted the future of the company to be somewhere new. That’s a big deal–and a decision that may seem shocking and unusual to people in the tech world.
As a fast growing company that’s been hiring rapidly–we grew from four employees to 75 employees over the last three years and plan to add hundreds more over the next few years–choosing a new physical location was an incredibly important decision. It affects everything in the business from who we hire, to who we serve and who we do business with.
Conventional wisdom in the tech world would tell you that you need to be in a major city like NYC or San Francisco to grow a serious company, so naturally many are wondering why we made this decision. I thought I would shed some light on why we decided to expand BrandYourself’s horizons beyond the scope of New York City, and why we’re excited to build our future in Lancaster, PA.
First, it’s important to understand what we do and who we hire
BrandYourself.com provides tools and service that help people look better online, especially on Google, Facebook, and other popular search and social engines. This includes suppressing unwanted results–like an old divorce record or ill-advised tweet–as well as building strong, positive information to promote someone’s career. It all started when my co-founder Pete Kistler couldn’t get an internship because he was being mistaken for a criminal with the same name.
While many of our customers use our DIY software, those with more complicated issues often opt to use our service which provides a team of BrandYourself staffers to do the work for them. This includes strategizing about the individual’s brand, building websites and social media profiles like LinkedIn and Twitter, optimizing properties for search engines, and most importantly, keeping those updated regularly with blog posts, tweets, etc.
Since we are dealing with personal reputations it’s essential that we have skilled employees on the job. We hire people who are great communicators, both written and verbal. We can train on everything else–website design, search engine optimization, content marketing–but more than anything it’s essential that they can communicate with the clients and write on their behalf.
Why we wanted to move outside of NYC
Up until now we’ve grown the company in New York, starting in Syracuse then moving into Manhattan where we’ve thrived for the past several years. So why do we want to move out of New York City?
There are three major reasons:
- Cost: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Unlike some businesses, we do not need to be in NYC–one of the most expensive cities in the world–to service our customers. So why should we be? As a company that’s growing and new, every dollar counts, so the idea of exploring a more cost-effective area was attractive.
- Community & Culture: As prices in NYC have gone up over the last decade, professionals have become more and more stressed about making ends meets. Many New Yorkers have only one foot in the door and one eye on the next opportunity; it’s all about survival and leveraging new opportunities, even if you like your job and what you’re doing. That’s why the NYC turnover rate is one of the highest in the country. While that’s great for some industries, we want people to be able to work here for years to build a happy culture and stronger relationships with clients. We’re proud that our directors have been with us for an average of five years, a rate that will be difficult to keep up in New York City.
- Values: The same people who believe you can only grow a tech startup in a major city also buy into its culture of excess, which we’ve witnessed crashing around us. When you’re in a major city like New York, there is a constant pressure to spend on lavish offices and lavish events. Because of this we’ve seen many good companies in NYC and San Francisco fail overnight due to capital inefficiency, and that’s not a culture we want to be a part of. We believe in lean and sustainable operations because that’s the only way to ensure we’ll be there for our customers. We wanted to find a place that reflected these values.
What we were looking for in a move:
- A cost effective area: Again, this was an obvious priority for relocation.
- Access to the type of talent pool we need: We needed to make sure we could find smart, hardworking people who are great communicators and fast learners. In NYC we’ve generally recruited people from the media industry–agencies, PR, advertising, and journalism–then trained them on technical aspects of the job. We needed a place where we could find people with skills similar to these.
- Accessible to major cities: We believed that a region with reasonable access to major cities like NYC would help widen the talent pool.
- A community we could see ourselves growing with: This was really important. We wanted a place where we could make a difference in the community and be a part of something amidst exciting development.
As you can imagine, we did extensive research, whittled hundreds of cities down to a dozen, and eventually picked Lancaster, PA, though you could also say that Lancaster picked us.
Why Lancaster won us over
When we first mentioned we were considering Lancaster, the entire community got involved. The first time we visited is a testament to that: we were picked up from the train station, not by a car service, but in an old Volkswagen van driven by a friendly volunteer who took us to an event in our honor at Clipper Stadium. There we were met by enthusiastic community leaders telling us why they loved their town. They were even kind enough to let me go out on the field and throw a pitch–meaning I technically threw the first pitch of the season–and yes, it was a strike. After that, I received messages from almost everyone I met individually asking how they could be helpful in our decision-making process.
We decided on Lancaster because it met all of our criteria and more.
The city knocked off all the tangibles on our checklist:
It’s a boon to the company, in terms of transportation and talent, that Lancaster is accessible to major urban hubs like NYC, Philadelphia and Baltimore. It also has a low cost of living, and the talent pool was impressive–when we put postings out and started working with the local colleges, we were amazed at the results. We also found that work ethic was uniquely engrained in the fabric of the Lancaster community. We’ve not only seen in it the employees we’ve hired but in everyone we’ve interacted with—from the community leaders who recruited us to the contractors who helped build our office.
It knocked off the intangibles, too:
The community in Lancaster is a delight. We had help from so many people, from our friends over at Lancaster City Alliance to the local business owners and more. Everyone was welcoming: we got picked up by the Two Dudes Painting van and the local businesses hosted events for us. Figuring out office space was a pleasure, and it truly felt like everyone worked together as a city to help the community flourish, with us as a brand new addition.
As for the quality of life, we could not believe it. From the shops to the bars, to the parks, Lancaster is a beautiful city. When we took people to visit, everyone walked away feeling amazed.
That type of community is the kind that exceeds all expectations and the kind we want to be a part of. We could not have chosen Lancaster and come to know the opportunities it presents without the help of many key groups and individuals deserving of our gratitude, from PA Governor Tom Wolf, to the city, local businesses, investors and community leaders. The list could go on and on.
Ultimately we chose Lancaster because of the enthusiasm and mission the city has put forward. Lancaster has the unique opportunity to be an exceptional business community. It has all the necessary ingredients, including access to major cities, strong colleges and universities and a growing talent pool. But what separates it most is its devotion to community and its commitment to succeed. We feel proud and honored to be part of that effort.