Dan Berger’s first taste of Boise, Idaho, was a one night stand with the city.
He and a handful of friends were travelling the country last year in his Tesla (“Like most tech bros, I drive a fucking Tesla,” he jokes). The group oscillated around the country, covering 15,000 miles and 22 stops in four months. One of the last stays was Boise: a place he wasn’t even planning on visiting until someone suggested it to the group when they were in Salt Lake City.
The 39-year-old had never been to Idaho. He’d grown up in New York City since he and his mom immigrated to the U.S. from Israel when he was nine years old. But after the stop, he couldn’t get Boise’s energy out of his head.
“Initially, I was drawn to the environment, the landscape, the accessibility of different hobbies, which as a city kid, I never really experienced,” he said. “I eventually realized there are a lot of business opportunities here and a lot of really interesting people.”
Life In The Shade
It wasn’t long until he went back — at first temporarily in an Airbnb and now permanently in a 2,500 square foot house he recently purchased for about $750,000, where he lives with his two dogs. It’s the first time he’s ever lived in a house, always living in dense metropolitan areas, he said. Now, he has fruit trees, a lawn, shade and a jacuzzi. Inside, he’s built what he calls a speakeasy, a moody, dark bar area with a DJ set, guns on the wall and photos of his friends. “It’s kind of like a small little world,” he said.
Berger, the founder of Washington D.C.-based Social Tables, became a millionaire overnight after Cvent, a McLean, Virginia-based event software group, acquired his company for around $100 million at the end of 2018. He left the company at the end of 2019 and the plan was to move back to New York. “I kind of envisioned this like, post-sale, lavish lifestyle. What better place than New York to be an eligible, rich bachelor?” he said.
He bought a large apartment in the East Village for $7 million right before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that vision quickly crumbled. “I couldn’t wait to move there,” he said. “And then I’m like, well, I don’t want to live there during a pandemic.”
A growing number of tech entrepreneurs — a disproportionate share of whom are young, mobile and wealthy — are moving out of big cities, drawn by the more livable communities and access to the outdoors. In the mad rush of the last decade, work-life in the hubs of Silicon Valley and New York wasn’t as livable as they wanted it to be. At the same time, the pandemic erased some of the perks of big hubs, like running into an investor, co-founder or tech luminary getting coffee.
In Boise, the migration has been “pretty dramatic,” said said Bill Connors, the president and CEO of Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. About 50 people per day are moving to the city, most of those people under the age of 40, which only benefits the startup community. This increase in people has put Boise on the map, hiking real estate prices and adding routes to the airport, he said.
It’s a boost Connors feels is here to say. “I think this is our moment,” he said. “And we’re going to see a lot of this continued migration for next 10 to 20 years.”
Though, he bristles a little at the idea that their city didn’t have strong business communities to start with. “We’ve had a legacy of entrepreneurship here,” said Bill Connors, the president and CEO of Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, pointing to Micron Technology, which has been based in the city since 1978. “As a result, a lot of startups sprung out from those, as well as a big migration from from the west coast cities, which we’re experiencing right now.”
After nine months in his new city, Berger has taken a stake in the entrepreneur ecosystem, connecting and investing in local founders and businesses.
Energy that’s ‘Crescendoing’
The people in the ecosystem made Berger’s transition simple. It’s a welcoming place — unlike other cities where senior, respected entrepreneurs wouldn’t give the new guy the time of day, it is quite the contrary in Boise, he said. Meetings are accessible to those who ask for them, he says.
Boise has a culture where people are welcoming and genuine, Berger says, something he never experienced in the cities he’s lived in. He points to the time he called a massage parlor to cancel a standing appointment after a hernia surgery, and the woman on the other end offered to pick up groceries for him. Or, when his friends called him when he was out of town because they noticed packages on his doorstep and wondered if he’d like them to take them around back. Or the time he sent out a draft of his blog to a group of Boise friends and received eight feedback responses within a day.
It’s the open atmosphere that’s contributing to the attraction of more entrepreneurs to the area; Berger described it as one that’s “crescendoing.”
“I just never experienced authentic community care as much as I have here,” he said.
“It’s people’s actions and their kindness and their hospitality that allowed for me to feel welcome and feel at home here.”
From A Hefty Exit To A Boise Startup Leader
Berger’s former company, Social Tables, was all about making connections. He started it after he was invited to a wedding where he knew practically nobody. He wanted a way to connect to the guest list before stepping foot at the venue, a way to curb his social anxiety. An original version of the platform allowed guests to connect on its software, but Berger and his team quickly pivoted it focusing on collaborative services for planners.
Equipped with the knowledge he’d acquired running a successful social company, he quickly navigated the Boise entrepreneurial scene. He started by reaching out to national entrepreneur organizations with local Boise chapters that he was already involved with, such as Young Presidents’ Organization. Then, he began calling folks in the tech community. One was the Boise coworking space Trailhead, which is run by one of the co-directors of Boise Entrepreneur Week, Tiam Rastegar. He joined a Synagogue to tap into the area’s small Jewish community (while he was raised Jewish in Israel, he said personally he is an atheist).
He also joined the Chamber of Commerce and an angel investor group, which helped him to start investing in local businesses. One of those businesses is Executive Cleaning of Idaho, a commercial cleaning company co-founded by Nikola Prvulj, a Serbian immigrant.
“I don’t have anything to do,” he said. “I just meet people and try to help out.”
Becoming an ecosystem builder has kept him busier than his former lifestyle post-exit in D.C. Then, Berger’s calendar had the sporadic appointment and he said he would sometimes spend his day watching up to 14 hours of CNN. Now, his days are jam packed — bouncing from meetings with founders, community leaders and new faces. He spends more time writing blog posts and works on a memoir he’s writing outlining how he built Social Tables.
A Humbling Test
He’s already the co-director of the city’s startup week event, a role that is putting him out of his comfort zone, but in a good way. He’s spent the last decade watching event planners use his platform to organize large-scale events, he’s never been in the director’s shoes before. “This is certainly me coming full circle for sure,” Berger said. “And it’s a bit of a test, a humbling test, if you will.”
He also hosts a monthly networking event called Founders and Firepits, where he gathers a dozen or so entrepreneurs in his back yard to talk shop, which he started during the winter.
Along the way, Berger met Greg Burroughs, who moved to the area in October from San Francisco after being laid off from his job in the music industry. Burroughs passed through Boise while he was playing music professionally and it stuck out as a place he’d like to live.
The two met for coffee and struck up a friendship.
“[Berger] just totally dove in headfirst, trying to not just make an impact and not just toot his own horn about him being there and being incredibly successful, but really wanting to help like offering his hand to really pull people up,” Burroughs said. “I don’t think everybody necessarily has that same mindset when they move to a new community.”
Berger says his Boise friends joke that he knows more people than locals do and he’s more Idahoan than Idahoans are. Despite being from the city, he’s picked up all kinds of outdoor hobbies, such as mountain biking and snowboarding. He’s also bought a bow and arrow and a camper since moving there, he said.
In the past he’s backpacked, but has never been super into outdoor activities before. “It’s a way for me to discover things about myself and what I enjoy in my ultimate quest of finding a hobby that I love doing on my own,” he said.
In April, he spent a week off the grid in Connecticut completing the Hoffman Process, a “soul searching, healing retreat,” according to its website. He emphasizes his attention to self care since moving to Boise– he’s approached it through methods from yoga and martial arts to hypnotherapy and botox.
He looks forward to showing others Boise. He counts five friends who are soon coming to visit him in the city. He also bought 40 acres in eastern Idaho, he said, where he plans to build a ranch to share the state with more people. “I love sharing what I love,” he said.
This story has been updated to reflect Berger’s 40 acres are in eastern Idaho, rather than northern Idaho.
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