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Jacksonville's Startup Economy: Why I Stayed - Darren Bounds, SportsYapper

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Joe Wilcox
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Darren Bounds opened and closed his first two businesses in Jacksonville, but the city's business climate and talent pool has kept him here since 2008.As part of our Startup Economy Series we've asked those involved in Jacksonville's innovation economy why they have stayed in the city. Today we'll hear from SportYapper co-founder and CTO Darren Bounds.

"I founded my first startup in June 2008. At this point in my life I had been thinking about working for myself for quite some time and even made a few half-hearted attempts but I had never actually taken the plunge. Cliqset was that plunge."

"Cliqset was an amazingly educational experience. It taught me the importance of choosing the right investors and staying focused, as well as the pain and expense of over engineering. After raising nearly $2m and courting acquisition talks with Google and Yahoo, Cliqset shutdown in November 2010. It was a very humbling experience."

"As anyone who’s been a part of a startup knows, when you shutdown, the phones ring. Everyone from former competitors and entrepreneurs looking for co-founders to enterprise companies who’re looking for some of that “startup innovation” wants to talk. The opportunities were plentiful and so shortly after I was faced with a decision; stay in Jacksonville, or move. I chose to stay."

"I had recently been approached by Sean Paley, then CTO of a local Adecco brand Beeline. Sean was looking at all of the excitement around the social recruiting space and was interested in helping make Adecco part of it. At the time social recruitment was white hot with companies like BranchOut and TopProspect raising tens of millions and bringing startup celebrities like Shawn Fanning and Dave Morin on to their boards. It made a lot of sense. I joined and 6 months later Path.To, “eHarmony for hiring” launched."

"Path.To was an unique situation. The vast funding of a billion dollar business with the excitement and agility of a startup. How could we lose?! Well, we did. Why? Who knows. Lack of early market validation? Not being “lean” enough? Maybe it had something to do with our logo being misinterpreted as a sperm (yes, it was mentioned many times). Ultimately the product never really took off and was shut down early this past summer."

"I left Path.To roughly one year ago. “Intrapreneurship” was fun, but there was just something missing. It was time to get back to a company of my own. After Cliqset shutdown in 2010 I had received a call from Eric Goldstein, a former competitor of mine. Over the next year he, his colleague Dave Grossman and I became friends and eventually formed Yapp Media and a product called SportsYapper. Two years later, it was time for me to join full time as CTO."

"SportsYapper was essentially a blank canvas. We had raised capital and had already formed a great non-technical team in New York. Given our aggressive product development and engineering requirements, I was once again faced with a decision; build this team in Jacksonville, or go elsewhere."

"One thing I had learned while staffing Path.To is just how many amazingly talented, ambitious people we have in Jacksonville. While attracting talent was key and initially my only point of concern, Path.To had solved that. Now one year later in Jacksonville we have 12 employees and what I would argue is one of the strongest technical teams in the city. I wouldn’t change a thing."

"The energy in the city today, particularly the urban core, is palpable. Each day I hear of new companies starting up or migrating downtown and it’s easy to see why: Now more than ever, Jacksonville has great access to seed and venture capital. We’re regularly ranked as one of the major cities with the lowest cost of living. Commercial real estate is readily available with huge incentives on even a short term lease. It’s growing… rapidly."

"Needless-to-say it’s a great time to be a startup in Jacksonville and I’m proud to be part of the community and helping it grow."

Darren Bounds is co- founder and CTO of sports social networking app SportsYapper. He is also a mentor at the KYN business accelerator and apprenticeship program.

NOTE: This piece was first published in the KYN blog on Nov. 12, 2013.

You can follow Patrick Donges on Twitter @patrickhdonges.