Seattle Travel Guide
In his professional and intellectual life, venture capitalist Greg Gottesman is an unabashed tech geek. But when it comes to spending time with his wife, family and friends, there’s no place he’d rather be than hiking in the mountains, getting a workout on a tennis court or relaxing near the water.
In Seattle, Gottesman has discovered he can have the best of both worlds. The Pacific Northwest offers a unique combination of stunning natural beauty and a thriving, innovative technology community. Gottesman can’t imagine any other city better matching his personal and business interests. And the rain? No big deal. “The people who aren’t from here are bothered by the rain,” he says. “I don’t mind. It makes Seattle beautiful.”
The managing director of Madrona Venture Group knows Seattle. He grew up in the suburbs, left for college and business school, and returned to the Emerald City to start his professional career. For the past 13 years, he’s been working out of the downtown Seattle off ice tower that Madrona calls home. Gottesman’s off ice windows frame a sweeping view of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains, allowing him to watch ferries, freight vessels and cruise ships travel back and forth across the water. When he steps out onto the city streets, he can easily walk to coffee, an after-work beer or a steak dinner with any of the local entrepreneurs whose companies Madrona funds.
Gottesman can’t imagine any city he’d rather live and work in. “Seattle is just an incredible place,” he says. “It’s vibrant from a technology standpoint, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”
After completing joint MBA and JD degrees at Harvard, Gottesman wondered if he’d need to stay on the east coast in order to find the job he wanted. In the end, he realized that he didn’t need to make any career sacrifices to return to the Seattle lifestyle. In 1997, he met with Madrona Venture Group, which was then only two years old. He hit it off with the partners, who asked him to become the firm’s first employee.
It wasn’t a hard decision for Gottesman. He spent summers during school working for major investment banks, and he’d always noticed that senior management lacked the zest for life that he hoped to have at their age. Madrona, he thought, was different. The executives expressed passion for their local business community, their city and their lives. “I fell in love with the firm,” Gottesman says. “When I asked myself if I’d want to be like the partners in 30 to 40 years, the answer was unequivocally yes.”
While Gottesman first questioned whether he could achieve the career he wanted in his hometown, he now sees the city as superior to most others when it comes to technology and venture capital. He believes that Seattle is well positioned to be on the forefront of innovation, and its reputation as a livable, active, creative city doesn’t hurt recruiting, either. “The city has been able to attract some exceptionally bright innovators and businesspeople,” Gottesman says. Giants such as Microsoft, Boeing, Expedia and Amazon attract talent from all over the country. After a handful of years, many employees leave the big companies to start their own operations.
The city’s tech community also benefits from the University of Washington. Ideas brewed at UW created 10 of the companies in which Madrona Ventures has invested. While the current recession has done damage to some Seattle firrms, Gottesman believes that the region was more shielded than much of the country because of the continued strength of the big players mentioned above, plus a number of startups. He sees no reason for an impending slowdown in entrepreneurial activity in Seattle, noting that the Puget Sound area has the talent to contribute to the fastest growing areas in the tech sector, such as cloud computing, mobile technologies and e-commerce. “I’m very bullish on the future,” says Gottesman. “We are well positioned in key areas of growth for the next decade.”
While he appreciates Seattle’s entrepreneurial energy, the executive thinks that no business traveler should come and go without experiencing the city’s outdoors. While Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City all rival his hometown in the hardcharging business world, Seattle stands apart because of its natural setting. Among U.S. cities, Gottesman feels, Seattle won the geographic lottery.
“What makes Seattle so special is not the stuff you can do inside, but what you can do outside,” he says. “Seattle is among the best in the world at the outdoors.” And this is a man who gets the outdoors. He grew up playing competitive tennis and now occasionally hits around with his brother. But these days, more often than not, he passes on tennis matches in order to take his wife and kids skiing, hiking or to local parks. “If you have a car in Seattle, you’re within a short drive of some of the most beautiful hikes in the world,” says Gottesman. On a recent weekend, they hiked to nearby Denny Creek, and they’re regulars on Cascade Mountain trails. The family often incorporates geocaching into their treks, using GPS coordinates to hunt for hidden caches filled with trinkets. That way, he and his wife can enjoy the exercise while the kids hunt for treasure.
Exploring Seattle outside can include everything from a visit to the downtown waterfront to a hike up Mount Rainier. For those with adventurous inclinations and a bit of extra time, Gottesman recommends a day or an overnight trip to the San Juan Islands. He also encourages guests to get outdoors in one of Seattle’s unique neighborhoods. Over the years, he and his family have lived in Green Lake, Wallingford, Laurelhurst and View Ridge, as well as on Mercer Island, and Gottesman believes that the neighborhoods make the city what it is. While a tourist could fill his time with Pike Place Market and other classic sites in the city’s core, the neighborhoods show Seattle’s true character.
Gottesman suggests a walk around Green Lake’s three-mile path or a visit to Alki Beach in West Seattle. Both popular venues combine outdoor play with people watching. If you’re visiting trendy Capitol Hill, Seattle’s hipster district, Gottesman recommends stopping at Molly Moon’s Handmade Ice Cream Shop for a scoop of salted caramel.