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What Makes This Phenomenon of ‘Miami As A Tech Hub’ Really Unprecedented
Is It Hype Or Is It Real?
[The following article was intended for Forbes but was re-purposed for this newsletter for now. Depending on feedback, it may be published on Forbes in the near future]
The technology industry has a special characteristic about it where a single individual can be responsible for creating new categories or drawing widespread attention towards something, which causes everyone in the sector to take a look.
Paul Graham did this when he created Y Combinator, a new model for incubating startup and business ideas. Elon Musk did this when he made the idea of building an electric vehicle company (Tesla) and a space company (SpaceX) something that was actually possible. Travis Kalanick did this when he made the idea of customer-centric on-demand transportation a reality (Uber).
In a smaller and much more unique way, venture capital investor Keith Rabois is doing this now too, but not with a technology concept. He’s bringing the widespread attention of the industry to a city that was long overlooked by many. He’s trying to put Miami on the map as the next tech epicenter that aims to unseat Silicon Valley.
People have started to listen.
Rabois has a massive following on social media, garnering nearly a quarter-of-a-million followers on Twitter. Months back, he decided to relocate from Silicon Valley to Miami, citing frustration with San Francisco’s political leadership over the years, inadequate city management, an increasingly unappealing social discourse, and groupthink, among other reasons. Then he used his megaphone to try to convince others to do the same.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find that venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and tech professionals from all over are looking at Miami as a potential new home destination. It appears that residents from Silicon Valley and New York are a large contingency of interested newcomers.
Much has already been reported about this phenomenon, including the stories of people making the move on a whim and the ‘who’s who’ of new residents to the city. However, after talking with people who have a front-row seat to the interest, speculation, and real action versus social media hype, it’s become clear that there is a lot more missing from the story.
As someone who was born and raised in South Florida, who now lives in Silicon Valley, I find this underlying narrative extremely interesting, particularly because nothing has fundamentally changed about Miami’s tech scene over the last year or two.
Still, it’s clear that this phenomenon is very real and is happening for more than one reason, with multiple trends converging at a time that makes Miami a key destination. Here’s what’s been missing from other reports on the subject.
A Recruitment Effort Unlike Anything Else
After Rabois and others started promoting the idea of Miami as an ideal destination, dozens of local tech leaders organically rallied to become professional recruiters for the city.
Other notable tech names like investor and Virgin Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar, venture capitalist Brian Brackeen, former Uber Chief Business Officer Emil Michael, and a host of other Miami residents immediately jumped in.
Add in rapid responses by local organizers like Maria Derchi of Refresh Miami and the team from Miami Angels, and you have a large frontline recruitment team that would make any industry professional take notice.
That brings us to the next big reason why this movement is different.
Local political leaders have also joined in and taken bold steps to drive interest in the area. To say that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been the most vocal recruiter for a city would be an understatement.
He and his team are actively leveraging social media to engage directly with anyone who is interested in moving to the city, including people who are currently in the San Francisco Bay Area. To someone watching from the sidelines, you would think the Mayor has carved out more hours in the day to do work on this front while also trying to manage a city during a pandemic.
Late in December, Mayor Suarez took to Twitter making his intentions clear.
“It’s a Mayor’s job to attract high paying jobs to a city. Tech is revolutionizing every industry. Every city should be fighting for a larger piece of the ecosystem. It’s not only beneficial for our generation but for our children. We can do it and focus on equity as well.”
More recently, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, joined in the effort. She’s also been connecting with interested spectators and virtual tourists.
Having this level of political firepower get directed towards inbound recruitment is catching the eyes of many in the tech industry.
Pandemic Mandates + Remote Work + Taxes = Great Timing For Miami
It goes without saying that the increasing adoption of remote work and work-from-home flexibility has given much of the tech workforce more options to relocate. However, this is just part of the story.
Changing sentiments about the way leaders in other markets like San Francisco are running things are also causing the exodus from Silicon Valley. Local lockdowns, quarantine mandates, and mask requirements on the west coast aren’t welcomed by everyone in those cities.
When you add in the fact that the cost of living is much cheaper in Miami compared to California or New York, the picture becomes much more compelling for some.
When I speak to folks in Miami, the phrase “Who else have you heard is down here?” is surfacing a lot. It’s clear that many are following the hype.
It’s being compared to the situation of when a company is raising venture capital and investors are looking for more validation from others before jumping in. Once one person jumps in, others rush to follow.
An Invisible History
Another component underpinning this interest in Miami is the broader awareness that Miami has, and has long had, the resources and ecosystem to support a growing tech environment.
Unlike other cities, Miami has actually had a long-standing tech community that flew under the radar until now.
San Francisco and New York serve as leading cities for tech, thanks to decades of history, growing networks, and investments.
Markets like Los Angeles, Austin, Boulder, and Atlanta seemingly went from a limited tech scene to a respected market comparatively quickly, although residents there may disagree. Meanwhile, Miami is just now experiencing some level of a meaningful breakout.
Those who’ve been in the South Florida region for a long time say that nobody gives credit to the work that was done over the last decade or more. A favorable business environment, numerous industry networking communities, relevant conferences, and experienced tech executives and investors who are said to be willing to meet with newcomers, are all staples of the area that have existed for years.
Companies like Ultimate Software, Motorola, Citrix Systems, Magic Leap, and many others have headquarters, or at least a large workforce, in South Florida. Further, many of the world’s largest tech companies have some office presence in or near Miami as a serving point for Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to Miami locals, what Rabois did is only possible through the efforts of entrepreneurs, supportive politicians, and the tech ecosystem that was constructed over the last decade.