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Startup Secret No. 26: Big fish, small pond

There are big advantages to hiring developers in small communities. A built-in protection against your employees being poached, for one thing.

"Stay in a small town."

--Tobias Dengel, CEO, WillowTree Apps

Tobias Dengel is CEO of WillowTree Apps, a development company in Charlottesville, Va. About 30 people at WillowTree build apps for various clients, some of which you've heard of. His company is working on The Verge's mobile app, for example. He also has his own new app, Likes!, which I'll cover soon, separately.

Uncommonly for an app developer, Tobias doesn't outsource or contract, and his developers work from the WillowTree office, not their homes. "We won't hire anyone who doesn't work here with us," he says.

And that office isn't in Silicon Valley. It's in a college town, where, Tobias says, "we have 27 developers who love the lifestyle. The cost of living is lower there, too."

Furthermore, "they can't get poached without moving."

In a small town, you have less competition for hiring, although a limited pool of job applicants. (Charlottesville has a population of 41,000.) In college towns, you are more likely to have a decent-enough pool of smart, young coders to pick from.

One generally doesn't think of tech startups thriving outside of the major tech hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, Boston). But not everyone wants to live the expensive, urban lifestyle. Some developers, and some CEOs, do better in more contained social environments. If you're one of those entrepreneurs, relax, you can find developers no less creative or hard-working who feel the same way.

Especially if you don't need venture capital. Some of the funding sources for new companies really don't like to invest beyond their own geography. (WillowTree is profitable already.)

Small-town startups have to be pretty tight families, though. Most developers need ideas for cross-pollination so they can stay creative over the long haul. If they're not going to get it from other engineers in their own town, you've got to make sure that you have a cohesive group in the company to give people the human and intellectual contact they need.

And what about the socialization that the company leaders need (see Secret #18: Stealth is nonsense)?

"We got to New York or D.C. or San Francisco for client meetings a lot," Tobias says.

Startup Secrets is based on personal interviews with people building companies and from their blog posts and news stories. Subscribe to Startup Secrets on Twitter or come back to Rafe's Radar every day for a new one. See all the Startup Secrets.