TechHui

Hawaiʻi's Technology and New Media Community

I have a new business in Virginia providing content and UX services for (primarily) small businesses. Since the business uses freelancers and has no brick-and-mortar office, my wife and I have wanted to try moving to Hawaii and using that as our base. I spent some time in Hawaii back in the '90's, and Hawaii is much more like my wife's native Japan than Virginia is. My concern is that there might not be enough business to support making the move. How is Hawaii for providing small business funding and incentives? Is the IT landscape vibrant enough to support local businesses?  Thanks!

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Aloha Chris,

I wrote a blog post about starting a tech company in Hawaii that you might find useful. In short, its hard, but it can be done if you are willing to invest substantial time in networking, building a reputation and learning how to sell in Hawaii. Feel free to post questions in the blog's comments.

Chris, so you want to sell to local Hawaii businesses? That could be challenging as (1) it's not a big market and (2) business is heavily relationship based. Of course, it depends on personality - if you like networking and talking story, etc. you probably can do it with some time and effort.

The safest approach, at least to start, is to have some existing clients and be able to service/support them from Hawaii.

I will be more blunt.  The only reason to run a business in Hawaii is because you love living here.  OK or perhaps you have a tourist oriented business.  There are no or minimal incentives (though one is working it's way right now through the legislature), the market here is tiny (we are a very small state both in size and population), the state IT department is acknowledged to be in the dark ages ("It was even worse than I thought" said the new state IT director when brought on board) and larger sales are made on "where you went school" - meaning "where did you go to high school?".

If you are doing business on the mainland then add the time and cost of a 5 hour plane flight at a minimum for every meeting. There is no venture capital here.  There is an active Angels organization, but it takes time to make it work.

On the other hand the small tech community is very open and welcoming - we want everyone to succeed.  

And then there's the weather.

If you are particularled skilled, esp. if you know Ruby on Rails then just get a job at Ikazo or Contix, it'll be easier than running your own business!

Ken

Wow, that's a relief. Now, I won't be taking the most negative position in this discussion :)

On the positive side, it is easier than ever to run a business that deals with people in the mainland and internationally. My company has literally 99.95% of its customers/members outside of Hawaii. The main annoyance for me is that I tend to wake up early because things are already happening in the US mainland/Europe during normal Hawaii sleep hours.

The most important thing is to be flexible in adopting your skills / personality to the somewhat unique benefits and problems that Hawaii brings.

i'm looking for  a "like" button, John.

ken

I'm okay with hard, it's impossible I don't like.  I'm from the Old South, so I get the relationship thing and talking story.  Everything in the South is part of the Good Ol' Boy Network.  I just want to make sure it's not something that's dead in the water before I even begin.



John said:

Chris, so you want to sell to local Hawaii businesses? That could be challenging as (1) it's not a big market and (2) business is heavily relationship based. Of course, it depends on personality - if you like networking and talking story, etc. you probably can do it with some time and effort.

The safest approach, at least to start, is to have some existing clients and be able to service/support them from Hawaii.

We do love Hawaii.  Our other choices are the DC area (hectic), NY, or CA.  All are acceptable to my wife.  But all of them are a pain in one way or the other.  And Hawaii is just so much more pleasant.  But we do IT stuff, so it's not really a tourism industry for us.  

Ken Berkun said:

I will be more blunt.  The only reason to run a business in Hawaii is because you love living here.  OK or perhaps you have a tourist oriented business.  There are no or minimal incentives (though one is working it's way right now through the legislature), the market here is tiny (we are a very small state both in size and population), the state IT department is acknowledged to be in the dark ages ("It was even worse than I thought" said the new state IT director when brought on board) and larger sales are made on "where you went school" - meaning "where did you go to high school?".

If you are doing business on the mainland then add the time and cost of a 5 hour plane flight at a minimum for every meeting. There is no venture capital here.  There is an active Angels organization, but it takes time to make it work.

On the other hand the small tech community is very open and welcoming - we want everyone to succeed.  

And then there's the weather.

If you are particularled skilled, esp. if you know Ruby on Rails then just get a job at Ikazo or Contix, it'll be easier than running your own business!

Ken

Nothing is impossible.  But you are entering a small crowded market, so it certainly won't be easy!  

Stay in touch and let us know what you decide.

Ken

From what I know of the Deep South, being white is as an asset in the good ole boy network. In Hawaii, it's kind of the opposite, especially if you weren't born here and, as Ken alluded to, didn't go to the right high school.

It's certainly not impossible, especially if you are nice and deferential to locals, even when their competency is far below mainland levels.

All that said, I like Hawaii overall but be prepared to enter a business world that's different from what you've experienced elsewhere.

Being white and connected/rich is an asset, just being white is only the status quo.  But I get your point.  I'm a sweetheart with a good sense of humor, so I should be too off-putting.

And to be honest, a different business world would be a refreshing change.  :)


John said:

From what I know of the Deep South, being white is as an asset in the good ole boy network. In Hawaii, it's kind of the opposite, especially if you weren't born here and, as Ken alluded to, didn't go to the right high school.

It's certainly not impossible, especially if you are nice and deferential to locals, even when their competency is far below mainland levels.

All that said, I like Hawaii overall but be prepared to enter a business world that's different from what you've experienced elsewhere.

Being white is not much of an asset here. Being rich/connected is an asset virtually anywhere.

There is DoD money here also that's not well-tied to rest of tech community. Depending on your skillset and background that may be a source of revenue.

Hawaii has pros and cons like any place. I've lived on islands my entire life and I think a line from Six Days Seven Nights sums it up for me. "It's an island [...] if you didn't bring it here, you won't find it here."

Great place, but will not solve life's problems with beaches and sun.

Don't underestimate cost of living, traffic, culture shock, and xenophobia. They're all both better and worse than you'll hear.

well said.

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