Lexington’s Drew Curtis (president/CEO Fark.com) has an excellent piece on GigaOm this weekend, Why Startups Outside Tech Cities Aren’t Totally Farked.
In it, he writes, “it’s a lot harder to run a startup in Kentucky than it would have been to do it elsewhere. It’s not impossible, mind you, but after having done this for 12 years and having compared my experience with friends at other tech startups, they had an easier time of it.”
Where’s the disconnect? Lexington (and the state of Kentucky) constantly (constantly) broadcast their interest in attracting the high tech sector to the region. (Mayor Newberry’s platform is Horses, Healthcare, and High Tech, in fact. Contrast this with the boots-on-the-ground Massachusetts approach to BioReady Communities. Somewhat controversially, the LFUCG website wasn’t even built by a Lexington firm; it was outsourced to a California company.)
Curtis says, “It’s not that Kentucky doesn’t want tech startups. They really, really do. They say so all the time. Constantly. I’m just not sure what they think Step 2 is. It’s like that single friend we all have who wants to meet someone (anyone), but never talks to people and rarely leaves the house.”
And it isn’t that Lexington is poor, or without resources. “There’s more money here than most people would think, especially in Central Kentucky. However, very little money is both accessible and focused on small startup tech companies. Every month, Kentucky hands out a dozen or so grants and loans to existing mid-size manufacturing operations to create hundreds of new $10-an-hour jobs, but nothing useful is available for smaller operations like Fark. We’re too small to qualify for tax incentives, too large from a revenue standpoint to qualify for startup grants, and the business loans available have somewhat onerous terms. I ran a few of the Kentucky grant and economic development programs by a Bay Area friend experienced in raising capital, and his opinion was they were only useful as options of last resort. He said that after he stopped laughing hysterically, by the way.”
Outside of frequent radio appearances, local media attention for Fark has been fairly scant. Curtis writes, “There are other drawbacks to being outside of a large financial center as well. Media coverage is somewhat hard to come by. Tech blogs and legacy media exist mainly in the larger cities. I’d probably get more tech blog coverage if I could hang out with them after hours.”
When Billy Hylton interviewed Drew Curtis in 2002 for the 2002 “Who’s Drew?” coverstory, he began the article, “Lexington owes Drew Curtis an apology.” At the time, Hylton cited Shift magazine’s ranking of Curtis as number 10 on a top 25 web personality list, finding Curtis “more fetching than some of the digerati elite, like Napster’s Shawn Fanning, Matt Drudge, and even gadfly Michael Moore.” (Drew has outlasted the magazine.)
|Drew with little Farker (bestoflex 2009)|
In 2001, Hylton reported “Fark.com received an astonishing thirty million page views, a number wildly out of reach to all but a handful of web sites.” For years, Fark.com was voted “best local blog” by Ace Readers in the Ace Best of Lexington readers’ polls, and for years, Drew Curtis would have to patiently explain, “Fark isn’t a blog.”
Today, Curtis reports the infrastructure here is sufficient, noting, “There’s enough Internet connectivity available to do pretty much whatever, including hosting a website locally that gets 60 million page views per month.”
Would he do another startup here? It sounds like it. “If I ever do another startup that takes on investors, I’ll argue all day long that the actual development arm be based in Kentucky. Or maybe I’ll just do it on my own again. Because at the end of the day, the major obstacle I had to overcome living in Kentucky was the learning curve. No one in the state had any idea how to grow, operate, and monetize a website the size of Fark. These days, there’s one guy who does know.”
Click to buy Drew’s Book, It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap As News
Drew Curtis will be addressing the Web 2.0 Expo in New York this month, and he will speak at 7 pm, October 18 in the UK Student Center Ballroom, kicking off UK’s Tech Week, sponsored by the College of Communications and Information Studies and its ICT Co-Lab.
Fark.com celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, and is based here in Lexington, Kentucky. Drew Curtis is a graduate of Lafayette High School.
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