There's no place like home, especially when it comes to starting a business. When my co-founders and I first started our company – Covo, a coworking space – we set up shop in our home city of San Francisco. It was where our people and networks were, and we understood the city's particular dynamics and civic politics.
But when it came time to open up a second headquarters, the whole continental United States was suddenly under consideration. Where to start? Which city had the best confluence of criteria we were seeking? After scouring options across the country, we decided that St. Louis was the perfect location.
We're not the only ones undergoing the search for a new place to call home. Amazon is, of course, narrowing down its list of candidates for its second headquarters, and companies like Apple are on the hunt as well.
While Amazon is reportedly zeroing in on East Coast options, Apple (which has employees in every state) has yet to announce any potential locations. It's something that, at some point, comes to the forefront of a lot of company leaders' minds.
Finding your company's new home
Looking for a second location is no mean feat. When our company started out, we assumed that the downtown area is the mainstay of every city and that public transportation is a must-have. But when it came to our second headquarters in St. Louis, those underlying beliefs were proven false; we plowed ahead, choosing to set up shop in a city that has loads of positives to its name, including the fastest-growing startup scene and support for new development.
Other business leaders looking to take the next step and open their second headquarters should keep an open mind. St. Louis and San Francisco are night and day from an industry perspective, but both cities work for our company. No two journeys to finding a second home for a business are the same, but no matter your industry, here are three steps to help you get started.
1. Make a list of specific criteria.
Having a list of criteria (including a welcoming community, affordability and navigability) gave us a concrete way to narrow down our options. Amazon is doing the same thing on a much larger scale. Shortly after naming its finalists for second headquarters, the internet giant started detailing the attributes it is seeking, including education, transportation and workforce. These attributes are just three on a list of 200.
Searching for specific attributes can help your team find out-of-the-box options instead of just following the money. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Boston might get more venture capital funding than other parts of the country, but other areas are working hard to innovate despite receiving less capital. The Kauffman Foundation's latest Growth Entrepreneurship Index reports that Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; Nashville, Tennessee; Washington, D.C.; and Austin, Texas, are the five areas undergoing the most entrepreneurial growth. Don't be afraid to follow your biggest priorities, even if they take you off the beaten path.
2. Use digital resources to narrow your search.
Whether you use Google Maps to see what amenities are in your prospective cities or research a city's walkability score (which was critical for our team at Covo), there is no shortage of digital tools to help your team find a city that meets all of your needs, no matter how small.
These digital tools can also help you discover how many startups are in your next area as well as how many accelerators or incubators will be near your team. All of these factors helped our team decide where to establish our second headquarters. Once you've narrowed your search to two or three markets, reach out to a broker in each of them. Get a real estate search going – it's free, and brokers have access to even more information than laypeople like us.
3. Visit your top choice before getting too excited.
Let's say you've found a city that meets all or most of your criteria. You've contacted a broker, and property options for your new office are on the table. Get on a plane or in a car and visit your top choice. You need to see, smell and walk around your company's potential new home. Meet locals and ask them questions. Talk to cab or ride-share drivers. If there's no spark, try a second search or journey to your second-choice city.
When our team realized that St. Louis, of all places, was our top contender, we decided to check it out. We went on a real estate tour to scout out numerous options and get a sense of the city itself. We looked at the tech, startup, food, coffee and brewery scenes as well as local education opportunities. Between those benefits and our lead investor comparing purchase-to-rent ratios, we fell in love. Visiting in person made all the difference for us and turned a city we knew nothing about into one we were excited to keep exploring.
Opening a second location isn't easy, especially in an unfamiliar market. You have to budget for more travel, and there will be complications you didn't expect – not to mention you have to make sure your first location stays strong despite your split focus. But it's worth it. You get to put all of your skill to the test while taking on unforeseen challenges. Follow these three tips to ease the stress of finding your second home base, and good luck!