Gotta get a gig: KC startups are buying homes to get Google Fiber

Mike Farmer of Leap2 praising the Google Fiber optical network termination box.

Businesses across Kansas City, Kan. cheered when Google chose their municipality for its new fiber-to-the-home deployment. Access to a gigabit fiber connection is something most businesses could use — even if they couldn’t use an entire gigabit just yet. But once Google started its roll-out of fiber in both Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo., the business executives and startups were disappointed. Google Fiber was heading to residential users first.

Google didn’t really explain its decision, but plenty of business people in Kansas City expressed confusion or complained about the decision in private, while lauding Google publicly. After all a $70, fiber-to-the-home connection for residents was still going to be great for the city. But the startup community wasn’t willing to settle — and since most of them worked from their homes, coffee shops or communal space anyhow, it wasn’t a big leap to decide to find a house in an area slated for fiber and move in.

Mike Farmer, CEO of Leap2 on the porch of the Hacker House in Kansas City

Tyler Vanwinkle of Leap2, a mobile search company, said his company was already based near a neighborhood slated to get fiber and a friend of his owned a house there. So he talked to his friend about renting space for the company in the house, now dubbed the Hacker House. “Google fiber the speed is phenomenal but it’s only residential,” he said. “Since we were interested in renting the house as office space and so were some of our friends, this has evolved into this common bond of entrepreneurship.”

Vanwinkle is part of the new KC Startup Village, a loose coalition of startups in the Hanover Heights neighborhood of Kansas City that are either buying or renting homes to take advantage of their awesome broadband connections. Even former Kansas City residents are taking notice. I spoke with Shashi Jain, the founder of ad startup Grepic, who is in Portland, Ore. but returned home to talk about the startup community’s efforts around Google Fiber. “I might buy a house there,” he said. He mentioned that he heard a home in the neighborhood had just sold for $48,000, while noting, “they aren’t great houses.”

Great or not, they come with a gigabit, and will also soon feature an established community of entrepreneurs who you can work with and learn from. Some of the startups there other than Leap2 are Eye Verify, a biometrics company; RocketFuel Partners, a innovation consultancy; Local Ruckus, a local event finding app; and several others. However, not all of the Startup Village participants have fiber. Laura Lightbody, a director at RocketFuel Partners, says she’s next door to the Hacker House in a commercial office building with other startups — many of whom are exploring residential options. “I think this will be an exciting and growing trend because of the barriers to getting fiber to the commercial space,” Lightbody said.

The KC Startup Village is also actively recruiting others to their neighborhoods, as shown on the map below.

View KC Startup Village in a larger map

In general, I’d be hard-pressed to pass up a gigabit, but it’s also unclear exactly what the entrepreneurs will get out of it yet. After all, Leap2 is a mobile application, so adding gigabit features won’t help its target audience. But Vanwinkle laid it out really well.

“We’ll get to be the first to experience a gigabit and see what the consumer could experience,” Vanwinkle said. “There’s no question that seeing that will be to our advantage, and give us foresight into the future customer experience. But with that being said the majority of the world doesn’t have a gigabit and we have to have a good experience for them.”

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