One Year in Music City, USA
Reflecting back on a calendar year in Nashville, Tennessee
Just over one year ago, on the 2nd of December, 2021, Mike and I packed up a U-Haul truck in suburban Boston, drove it up to the Saratoga Springs area of New York and packed it up some more, then headed for our new home: Nashville, Tennessee.
Yee-haw. Sort of.
While it did indeed feel like saddling up and headed for new frontiers, the actual cowboy influence in Nashville outside of the Broadway tourists is surprisingly minimal. I’d visited Nashville prior to moving, but not really for long enough to get a good grasp of what the city is all about. The cliché image I got prior to visiting was that of an acoustic guitar, cowboy hat and boots with the spurs, but a more realistic association one year into living in Music City USA would be a bulldozer, crane, excavator, dump truck and backhoe.
Nashville is growing. That is for certain. Everywhere you look, from the view from my apartment in the Germantown neighborhood near the Tennessee State Capitol to the view from the TIKI office in Midtown near the famous Music Row, there is construction. So much construction.
The theme for 2022 in Nashville has surely been building. Build, build, build. Build a blueprint. Build a product. Build a culture. Build a team, a vision, a strategy, a roadmap…a home. Everyone here is building. Whether you’re a construction worker or a tech founder, Nashville is accommodating for its bright future by knocking stuff down and building bigger things in their place.
Some of it is rushed, shoddy work. One of the negative aspects of a surge in population growth is the need to quickly build infrastructure to support it. Often times, so it seems, that involves the construction of something that may look glamorous from the outside, but upon entering you realize the management must have gone with one of the cheaper contractors to get the thing up in a timely fashion.
I certainly hope that this observation is limited to apartment complexes and not the growing start-up scene in Nashville. There’s so much potential, but with that potential comes the delicate balance of making sure things are done right and getting things out the door to prove to the world your idea can be actualized.
Coming here was a calculated risk. Mike will often mention that if we had gone to Silicon Valley instead, we may have already raised $5 million. But he also mentions that growing that much that quickly could have led us off a cliff. Surely the current iteration of our product, the TIKI SDK, may not have materialized if we had raised that hefty sum of money earlier on in the game.
TIKI is a bit of an oddball here in Music City. Clearly, medical technology is the big tech industry in the city. I have become quite acquainted with the Nashville hospital system after tearing three major ligaments in my knee (shout out Vanderbilt Medical), but I digress. A data ownership and marketplace start-up blossoming in Nashville feels a bit out of place compared to a Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston, or even Austin and Miami, two other cities we considered for our move.
But Nashville is the place. I’m learning to love it. I more and more envision this place as home, though the Boston area will always be capital-H Home. We’ve been able to build our own unique spot in the office that feels very “us.” A lot of that has to do with Mike, who is a builder of things not limited to technology. Our TIKI bar is sweet. The podcast studio is professional, and I can even semi-tolerate the borderline frat house vibes from the artwork that adorns our walls.
The main reason this place feels more like home is because of the people. The tech community is small enough where pretty much everyone has at least heard of everyone else if they’re working on a cool project in the space. That is something I didn’t really feel much of in Boston, even in the trendy co-working spaces where I spent a solid chunk of my initial start-up time.
If the city is to fulfill the seemingly unlimited potential it has cast in front of it, much of that will have to do with the relationships among those trying to bring Nashville to new heights. The city, for now, lacks the pressure that comes with innovating in a big, coastal city. It doesn’t yet have the reputation of an Austin or a Miami, which have passed the “up-and-coming” moniker in many regards. What it does have is an obvious and palpable collaborative network of individuals who genuinely want to see each other, and the city, succeed.
Many of these folks I now consider friends. Just take a look at our podcast history and ton of amazing people living out their dreams and aspirations in Nashville (shout out to Kathryn, Haley, Tim, Sagar, Warren, CJ, Trinity, Soula, Patrick, Clay, Chad, Taylor, Classic, Clayton, Molly, Shaun, Bingxu & so many more!). And even still, these are just a small percentage of the people who are contributing to Nashville’s growth and success.
We have incredibly lofty goals at TIKI in 2023. As 2022 winds down and 2023 is right on the doorstep, I can’t help but have the feeling that the next year is going to be life-changing not just for TIKI, but for many of the great people in this city.
I can’t say for sure what this blog would have looked like if I had spent the year in any other city, because dealing with what-ifs is purely guesswork and, as Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart et al. so masterfully displayed in 2004’s seminal work The Butterfly Effect (this was considered a work of genius in the eyes of 12-year-old Shane), every decision affects everything else. But I can say that I wholeheartedly believe moving TIKI down to Nashville was the correct decision. Our momentum is promising and the city, primed to make noise, is intelligently focusing in on the future as Web3 technologies gain traction in business development as well as in law and infrastructure (shout out to Jason Powell and Derek Brown).
Here's to 2023 and the future of this great city. Until next time, if you’re in the area or planning on making an arrival, make sure to take advantage of the soothing serenity of construction-free Sundays.