Where to locate your startup is not a simple question. It can be dependent on many different factors, from the professional support network you might have to various personal reasons. It's not an easy question to answer. And in some sense, it can't be answered in a generic way. But all things being equal, many people feel that it is "better" in some (perhaps intangible) way to locate your new company in the crucible of Silicon Valley than in Des Moines.
What sort of numbers can we marshal to compare different metropolitan areas for their startup friendliness? In my mind, I think about numbers in two categories: environment measures (i.e. the regulatory, tax, and labor environment) and outcomes measures (number of startups, amount of financing, growth over time). In my experience, popular attention has largely focused on the latter, posing questions along the lines of "what cities have more startups and have more venture investment?" Indeed, some forthcoming work from myself and others at the Foundation will be looking at Inc. 500 firms and where they have located over time.
What do these startup numbers mean in terms of startup friendliness? To use a recent example, an article in The Atlantic Cities discusses a report that examines the amount of money invested in U.S. metropolitan areas (and the number of companies invested in) as well as the total number of startups in those places. And the usual suspects indeed jump out: Silicon Valley, Boston, NYC, Austin, Seattle, and so forth. This provides a nice ranking but glosses over something more important and fine-grained. Even though cities shrink distance between individuals, distance still matters: neighborhood variation shouldn’t be overlooked. For example, while Denver and Boulder are grouped together, there is a large difference between the thriving Boulder startup community and the Denver metro area. Similarly, locating one's startup anywhere in the NYC metropolitan area does not position oneself to take advantage of the network benefits of being located near Union Square, for example.Ultimately, while these reports point to thriving cities, startup founding is a much more microscale phenomenon and neighborhood-based than these kind of reports might indicate. In other words, don't judge a whole city; judge your neighborhood. And if it fits what you need for a startup to grow, go for it. If at some point you outgrow that neighborhood, then you can worry about where you should go next. But at the start, just start.