From The Valley To The Motor City: Why Stik Moved Back To Detroit

Matt Burns

Monday, December 10th, 2012
The founders of Stik needed a change. Silicon Valley wasn’t working. Something was missing. And, as I learned during our chats, they needed access to a new pool of talent. They found all that in Detroit.

Stik launched two years ago from the Bay Area. As Leena wrote at their launch, Stik attempts to create a recommended list of service professionals online through a user’s social graph. Stik now lists 175k small businesses with 2.7 million recommendations and reviews. But as the founders discovered, Silicon Valley is not an easy place to grow a long-term business. After two years of trudging through the Valley, the four person company packed its bags this summer and headed back to the founders’ hometown of Detroit.

Stik launched with the goal of bringing word of mouth referrals online. Co-founder Nathan Labenz discovered while attending Harvard and running a business on the side that word of mouth referrals are very valuable. Together with Jay Gierak, a hometown friend from Detroit and Harvard classmate, the pair launched Stik in November 2010. A $500k seed investment from Tim Draper got the company up and running.

stik-logoThe company grew to four employees and worked out of an office in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. “The Bay Area has an incredible culture. It’s very progressive,” explained Nathan Labenz to me one bright November morning in downtown Detroit’s bustling M@dison Building. But he countered saying, “Here in Detroit, there is a lot more sense of commitment, determination, grit, and loyalty, which makes up for it.”

Co-founder Jay Gierak added, “The conversations here [in Detroit] are shockingly similar. There is a larger volume of people in the Bay Area, so you get a bigger diversity of people working on things. There are 50 incubators, rather than just one. However, the quality of the conversation is not different.”

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