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Fleeing Silicon Valley for a Saner Lifestyle

How one couple transplanted their business to a calmer, more affordable place.


by Sarah Mahoney

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“We were paying over $2,000 a month to rent a run-down home in Campbell. It was sweltering in the summer, and leeched out expensive heat in the winter. And our landlord was increasing the rent. Again. We really felt trapped,” Erika Montgomery says. While plenty of people love Silicon Valley’s sunny climate and big-money success stories, “we were sick of it,” Erika, who’s 45, says. The problem was bigger than pricey real estate. The Montgomerys had tired of Silicon Valley’s relentless pace. “I felt this constant pressure to just go go go, and be aggressive. On one hand, it’s good—it’s how I built my business. But it’s also relentless, and we were both wanting to step away.” Because they own a business, they could relocate without switching jobs. Erika is the founder and president of a public relations and social media agency called Three Girls Media, and Dennis, 51, is its CFO. They made the decision to explore a move. “Our company is completely portable, with all our employees telecommuting and most client meetings happening via Skype, anyway,” Erika says. And with Kyle, her 20-year-old son, on his own, they felt free to make a change. The two decided to scout business-friendly Washington state. “Washington doesn’t have any state taxes, so that alone saved us thousands of dollars,” she says. Three of her eight employees already lived there and they raved about all the area had to offer. The Montgomerys started with Olympia, because “our most senior manager had moved to this area four years ago, and loves it.” The city immediately won their hearts, and three week-long scouting trips confirmed their choice. Built-in friends were part of the equation, but so was the town’s charm, and the surrounding countryside.

At Last, An Actual Office, A Real Desk! The couple rented a house for $1,400 a month, offering lifestyle perks that still flabbergast them, several months later. “Before, our house was 1,100 square feet, so my office was my living room couch. Now, I have a real office, with a desk and a window. I can see trees and flowers, and Effy (the couple’s pug-Chihuahua mix) can’t get over how much fun it is to slide endlessly on the hardwood floors.” There’s a yard, a Jacuzzi, and even a gourmet kitchen. “Something this nice was completely out of our price range in California.” So far, the move hasn’t affected the business, and she doesn’t expect it to. “None of our clients had a problem with the move, since we primarily communicate via email and phone. We work with clients nationwide and the cost of servicing them all is the same, regardless of where we are based.” Nor does she anticipate having to travel back to California. “I still have a team of employees there who can meet with clients, but this is rare, especially when I can use Skype and Google Hangouts to meet 'face-to-face.'” In their new town, the Montgomerys have set out to socialize any way they can, joining community organizations and the local chamber of commerce. “In California, many of my good friends grew out of business relationships, so I’m hoping that will be true here, as well,” Erika says. And they are lapping up area’s rolling hillsides, dense forests, and abundant hiking trails; Erika doesn’t miss her personal trainer or treadmill at all. “I’m finding it so easy to get out and exercise. You feel like you’re in the middle of the woods.” Best of all is leaving behind the intensity of Silicon Valley. “It's a total relief to be separated from all that, from people who work at the speed of light, all day, every day. Here, people don’t seem frantic,” she says. “They say hello to you on the street.”

What Erika Montgomery Learned From Her Move The Most Important Thing We Did Right: “Visit the area at least a couple of times for a week. We looked not just at touristy things, but the stuff that would affect us on a day-to-day basis, like grocery stores, pharmacies and traffic.”

The One Piece of Advice We'd Give Someone Else Reimagining His or her Life: “Have an open mind, look at it as a big adventure, and get involved in the community as soon as possible.”

Photo credit: Leah Nash