Today I hosted a delegation of 8 Korean college students brought to Seattle for a week by Kickstart Investment, a Korean business incubator. Sounds exotic, but I host a handful of foreign delegations each year from all around the world, often hosted by the U.S. State Department. It’s a fun way to meet entrepreneurs and people who help entrepreneurs without the accompanying jet lag.
We covered a few topics, but the one that continues to surprise foreigners is an overview of the startup ecosystem in the United States.
- Almost no one I meet, from any country, can tell me the third most populous country in the world. China has 1.4 billion. India 1.3 billion. The U.S. estimate is now 330 million. That’s not a small number of potential customers, but it’s not at all evenly distributed and except for an all online business, it’s a huge challenge to reach everyone.
- Most overseas foreigners don’t realize how big the U.S. is. It’s a five-day drive from Seattle to New York, driving 10 hours per day, if timed to miss the traffic in Seattle, Chicago, New York and the smaller cities in between. 5 days nearly always at 70mph (120kph) or faster. It’s a five hour flight going East and six coming West. And even top to bottom is big. Seattle to Los Angeles is 22 hours drive, if timed perfectly. The country is huge.
- Foreigners tend to think the U.S. as one big, single market. This makes sense coming from a country like Korea, where there is just one major city. They don’t understand the challenge of reaching 300+ million potential customers across 4 timezones, no national radio network, no single national newspaper, no single national anything.
- When I’m talking to them, they are sitting in Seattle, a hot spot for entrepreneurs, home to Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon. Today’s group laughed when I asked them if they’ve ever been to a Starbucks, and again if they had ever heard of Amazon. What they don’t realize is that there are only a half dozen (or so) cities in the U.S. where startups and startup capital are prevalent: San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, and Denver. Every other American city strives to make this short list and most of America is void of the startup culture they came to hear about.
We covered a lot more than this quick overview, diving into the process of turning ideas into startups, techniques for overcoming the challenges of launching in the American market, and more, but for that I pulled up slides from The Next Step books, and you can read that for yourself.