Yes, our company ReviewTrackers is based and built in Chicago.
But I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’d gone through this conversation, over and over — in pitches and networking events, in meetings with investors or partners. The shock on the other end is invariable: Oh, you’re based in Chicago?
Honestly. It’s more fitting to be asked, So what’s your business model?
We’re as Chicago as jumper cables in your car, the terra cotta of the Wrigley Building, Derrick Rose, and a slice of dill pickle on the side of a great sandwich.
When I founded ReviewTrackers — a software company that provides data and technology to businesses that are looking to improve their reviews, ratings, and reputation — it was on the heels of a “founder divorce” that saw my previous company (called Lakeshore Branding) come to an end on a stairway leading up to our old office on North Clark Street.
Because of that, I kind of decided to do things differently. I decided to travel the world, tick a few items off my personal bucket list, and explore alternative paths to entrepreneurial success.
Why we keep coming back to Chi-Town
In a way, I understand why some people assume we’re not in Chicago. In 2012, I moved to Medellin, up in Colombia’s Aburra Valley (where there’s a burgeoning startup ecosystem, by the way). Later that year, ReviewTrackers was selected to participate in Start-Up Chile, so I packed my bags again and lived in Santiago until early 2013. Then at the start of 2014, ReviewTrackers got into gener8tor’s winter program, so for a good chunk of last year I was staying in Madison, Wisconsin while the rest of the team worked from our Wicker Park office (we are now in the West Loop).
But make no mistake: the seeds were planted here. Of this, I couldn’t be more proud, and frankly I couldn’t think of any other city in the world that makes more sense for ReviewTrackers to call home.
Because Chicago is a great city for tech entrepreneurs. We have a lot going here, in terms of business climate and infrastructure, and I believe this makes Chicago an exciting place for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators.
Sure, the tech startup ecosystem may not seem as sexy or get as much attention as Silicon Valley or even New York, but as I’ve learned from growing ReviewTrackers, there is no shortage in Chicago of people who have the willingness to help entrepreneurs, invest their time and resources, share their networks, and give great advice.
Chicago is also home to top creative and entrepreneurial talent. A year ago, ReviewTrackers had 6 people working in the Chicago office. Now, we’re at 17 (and hiring!). The experience of being able to lead this growing team has been so rewarding, and it also serves as a demonstration of the kind of talent available here in Chicago.
We have serendipity-conducive spaces like 1871 where a lot of super smart, highly skilled entrepreneurs get their start, and we have communities like Built in Chicago, Technori, and TechStars which empower these entrepreneurs to bring their innovations to the market without having to start up elsewhere. And with companies like Yelp and Google establishing offices in the Windy City, I expect to see even more structured opportunities than ever for turbocharging the development of local talent.
Chicago suits ReviewTrackers’ strategic needs. If I was running a business in consumer Web, I’d understand if people tried to convince me to move to New York or San Francisco. Chicago has more of a corporate services heritage, and it’s a major center for corporate IT and B2B tech, with focus on developing sustainable, scalable business models with immediate revenue-generating capacity. And you know what? That’s right up our alley. The city’s natural strengths couldn’t be more perfectly aligned with what we do at ReviewTrackers, and I think this has definitely enabled us to offer compelling value in such a competitive market.
So yes, ReviewTrackers is built and based here. It may not always be obvious, given all the journeys and detours we’ve taken. But seeds grow where they are planted, and Chicago is the city we keep coming back to. It’s the place we call home.