Nashville Tech and the Fool’s Errand

I’ll see another article every few days. They’ll talk about Nashville’s burgeoning tech community. They’ll talk about the potential that the city holds. Most recently, Eventbrite’s Kevin Hartz told a crowd that Nashville’s culture “does feel like Silicon Valley 10 years ago”.

Look y'all, no matter how much you want to stare at your own belly button, that ain’t a compliment.

Four years ago I wrote a piece for The Next Web about why there weren’t 20 Nashville startups that you needed to know about. The reasons were pretty clear:

Over the past few years I’ve seen an increase in risk, an increase in money and a sizable exit all happen, yet Nashville still seems to be stuck revving its engine.

So where did I go wrong? What point did I miss?

I missed the part where Nashville companies don’t want to compete.

In a city that demands $2-3000 rental prices for 1 bedroom lofts in the downtown area, a city in which public transportation is barely accessible, companies still want to tout our “low cost of living” as a key benefit, companies are unwilling to pay the money to get talent in the door.

I’m not talking about moving people here. We have plenty of talent. I’m talking about paying that talent what the market demands. I’m talking about offering benefits that are reasonable and on par with the technology sector. I’m talking about coming to a realization that $3,000 for an apartment in a gentrified part of downtown doesn’t count as “low cost of living” when you have to drive everywhere.

Over the past five years that I’ve worked in tech while living in the Nashville metro, I’ve had at least six offers to go work for local companies. Every single one of them has had four things in common:

  1. I must be in the office 5 days a week. That means fighting traffic for at least 90 minutes each way.

  2. On average, I’m offered salaries that are $30,000 lower than what comparable positions are offering elsewhere, while offering remote work. Thirty. Thousand. Dollars.

  3. Not one company has offered equity of any sort.

  4. To call the benefits packages sub-standard is an insult to the term sub-standard.

Nashville has potential. It has drive. It has people who aren’t afraid to get dirty, to work and to push hard. But it has a serious issue with paying these people what they’re worth. At this point, about the only reason to take a tech job in Nashville is simply because you want to work in a tech job in Nashville.

It’s time to step up, Music City. If it’s true that we reap what we sow, then expecting anything more than mediocre returns is a fool’s errand.


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