The year 2012 turned out to be pivotal in my life. Without much intention, 2012 became a time of recalibration of my life at a point when things were really good. My career had been thriving for years in the New York City area, my industry (insights) was reinventing around technology and my family welcomed our fourth child. Yet, I felt this persistent drive to change gears.
During one of the subsequent discussions with my wife, I shared an idea: I wanted to quit my position running North America for a leading industry tech firm and start my own company. I wanted to do it the right way and really invest in our people. I wanted to make solving problems the whole focus. But we had to figure a way to fund this startup ourselves.
My patient wife asked the right question: How can we do this given the financial commitments that came with our nice life in New Jersey?
Thirty minutes later, we were staring at a map of the United States. Armed with a list of ideal criteria, we vetted cities against our wants and needs. After some time debating the options, my wife (a born-and-raised Jersey girl) voiced our one true option: We should move to Cleveland.
The following months were a whirlwind. We made multiple visits to Cleveland during the cold, snowy winter to look at dozens of houses. Thanks to help from my cousin Bill, who previously made the leap from New Jersey, we found a house we loved and were on our way.
The next September — 2013 — OpinionRoute LLC was born to help companies in the insights industry produce better data more efficiently. Cleveland now had its own piece of a multibillion-dollar global sector.
Admittedly, my first year wasn't perfect. I networked aggressively throughout the city over meals and startup gatherings. I told my story many times and grew to expect the disbelief I encountered. "Why would you choose Cleveland?" "We don't hear stories like yours often." And my personal favorite, "Is your wife from here?" I learned that our move was so easy for our New Jersey friends to understand but tougher for people here to believe.
After more than six years, I am very happy to report that both my company and my family are thriving. In the last 24 months alone, OpinionRoute's growth continues to be aggressive. Revenue spiked 250% in the past two years, we've expanded into Europe and have quickly outgrown our Shaker Heights office.
Here are a few of the keys to our rapid growth story in Northeast Ohio:
Cleveland's talent pool is phenomenal. Our Cleveland-based hires over the years have been dynamic, committed and multidimensional. At the core here, I found a value set and worth ethic that aligns extremely well with OpinionRoute.
Many financial pressures that entrepreneurs face while bootstrapping a startup are alleviated by the value here. Housing prices and overall affordability of experiencing the city are real benefits vs. the New York City area. As a result, I have been able to bring a new industry to our region while creating new, well-paying jobs without subsisting on a ramen noodle diet.
While Cleveland is still figuring things out, there are very bright people doing tangible things to encourage entrepreneurship overall. I've been exposed to Promise Partners, the JumpStart Startup Scaleup event, and, most recently, EO Cleveland. These networks and organizations can play a major role in long-term success for startups.
As for my family, what's not to love about this region? My kids' lives are enriched because of the diversity, the educational opportunities and the cultural elements available here. We are living in a place that is infused with core values that support family and community.
As for my networking efforts, years later people still ask me, "Why Cleveland?" I could take the easy way out and say it was for work. The truth is I believe deeply that Cleveland offers a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to simultaneously achieve their business and family goals. I believe this so deeply, I moved my family of six here in the middle of winter to prove it.
McCarron is the CEO and founder of OpinionRoute LLC.