So Why Lightbank?
So why Lightbank? Why now? Why Chicago?
We now have over 3,000 people working for our companies (InnerWorkings, Echo, MediaBank, and Groupon), and given their current growth, we’re adding nearly 100 people a month – engineers, sales reps, account managers, customer service, accounting staff, designers… A new person starts at one of our companies every 90 minutes of the day. The pace is staggering, and it appears to be accelerating, not slowing down.
So, in the midst of all of this growth, why start an investment fund to expand our number of companies? Why invest money and time into Lightswitch, Bellyflop, Poggled, and Lucid? And of equal importance, why do it in Chicago?
The answer lies somewhere in the chasm between emotion and logic. The emotional part is that I live in Chicago with my wife and 3 kids and we’ve fallen in love with the city. The logical part is that I can’t think of a better place to build a tech company. Not only are we the 3rd largest city in the U.S., but we have a plethora of everything you need to be successful – an intelligent, energetic and committed workforce, world class entrepreneurs, our fair share of big companies, a vibrant downtown, plenty of capital, and some of the finest academic institutions in the country (Northwestern, University of Chicago, etc.)
But as my millennial psychologist pointed out, the logical answer sounds like the stuff that people in Youngstown say about themselves. When people ask me why Chicago, the simplest answer is why not? Being in Chicago hasn’t stopped us from building 4 of the fastest growing tech companies in the country and I don’t think there has been a single minute in the past 10 years that Brad (my partner) and I have looked at each other and said “boy, we could really be successful if we just relocated to the Valley, or New York, or Boston, or Dubai, or Youngstown”
If the success of your business is co-dependent on your zip code, I have bad news for you – your business isn’t very good.
So what are we missing? Why isn’t Chicago known as a hotbed of innovation? I think the answer has far more to do with perception than reality. For too long our media and business community has suffered from Second City syndrome. We somehow have come to believe that if something is truly innovative, it must have been invented elsewhere. And why? Because somewhere along the way we lost our ego, and you need some level of ego in order to take risks. It takes confidence to innovate, because by its very nature innovation will lead to failure some percentage of the time. The cliche is unfortunately dead-on — “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”
The Valley thinks they’re the most innovative, Boston thinks they’re the smartest, and New York, well they believe they’re unstoppable. All of those communities have healthy egos and as a result, they take risks, they innovate, they provide the seeds to grow great companies. So what about Chicago? Where is our ego? Somewhere in the midst of the articles about same stores sales declining at McDonalds, or the Com Ed bills being too high, or Sears struggling to stay relevant, and somewhere in the midst of all of the hotdogs, railroads, and political scandals, we seem to have forgot that we’re also the home of the Internet browser, nuclear power, the transistor, and the cell phone.
As for why Lightbank, I guess we just got tired of all the chatter that you can’t start and build great technology companies in Chicago and so we started Lightbank to prove that you can. Not just 1 or 3 or 10, but hundreds. If all goes according to plan and lady luck continues to shine on us, we hope to start, seed, launch, assist, finance, and generally support as many good ideas and innovative business models as we can get our hands on, so that maybe one day when that kid in Utah or Denver or Atlanta has a brilliant idea, instead of jumping into his car and heading for the coasts, he’s make a pit stop first in Chicago — where the real innovation occurs.