What I learned from spending a week in Columbus - Ohio

Gui Carvalho
6 min readDec 19, 2018

A few weeks ago the company I work for announced we were expanding, opening a second office in Columbus, Ohio. Caught by surprise, I automatically passed on it in my head with a “very cool, but obviously not for me”.

Since 2011 when I left Brazil for the first time, I’ve been living in the SF Bay Peninsula for the most part, happily inside my bubble. In the beginning, newly married and childless, I used to enjoy many of the great things the Bay has to offer. I used to go out a lot with my (beautiful) wife Flavia, we would consistently do short trips to Napa, Big Sur, Tahoe, and Yosemite. We used to look at the constant blue in the sky and cherish the nice weather, I used to go practice archery in the woods at Kings Mountain and everything was fine. We didn’t have much space in our place, but we didn’t need much either.

Time passed and in 2016 we were blessed with our first kid, Marco. Then two years later our little princess, Lisa, followed suit, and now we’re a very happy family of 4. However, space became a problem.

Two years ago we scored a great place near downtown in San Mateo, close to the park, a renovated apartment/townhouse of 1400sq feet, 2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths that have been great for us, for the bargain price of $3,425 a month. No sarcasm intended, the place is great and is under market value, the problem is it has become a bit crowded for us.

Researching my options made me feel depressed, as we could either rent a bigger but worse place paying substantially more, get a bigger and similar quality one and pay a lot more or I could add a couple of hours to my daily commute. All options sucked and I gave up. Despite all that though, I never seriously considered leaving the Bay and I was quick to dismiss the Columbus option.

When my friend Grant, the leader of our Columbus initiative, started trying to sell me the idea, I had to reach out to justify why I wouldn’t consider it. It made me research Columbus so I could come up with a defensible excuse, but I ended up not finding one.

All I had to cling to were the weather and my fear of discrimination in a non-coastal state. As a brown immigrant, 6 feet tall with 220 pounds, it’s very easy to tell I’m not native and very hard not to see me anywhere I go. Given I’ve never lived anywhere else in the US, I had serious concerns that Columbus was going to be a Trump country, where immigrants and outsiders in general, are not welcome.

My wife and kids went to Brazil for the holidays and I had the perfect opportunity so I booked a flight to Columbus, got an Airbnb there for a week, rented a car, and went to check it out. I had to shine a light on my ignorance and this was the only way I’d trust the results.

Instead of xenophobia, what I found was the most friendly people I’ve ever met. I didn’t get a single weird look. I didn’t feel out of place at any moment and multiple times I could just not believe what was happening.

Through a few messages in a Columbus group slack channel, I met Karl, an engineer based there who turned out to be the nicest guy. He offered to meet me soon after I arrived, introduced me to a lot of people, gave me countless tips on the city, and even told me about neighborhoods and school district borders just in case I decided to move there.

Karl introduced me to Tracy, who later introduced me to Dan, the CTO of Root Insurance, one of the biggest startups there, at a tech party event. He was very welcoming, even fully aware of the possibility we would compete for the same kind of talent in the same area. The tech scene is growing there and they have a growth mindset.

Karl also introduced me to David, a real estate agent who took almost an entire afternoon to show me houses in Columbus. I was very upfront with him about this being a long shot, but that didn’t stop him from patiently showing me 8 different houses in a 10-mile radius.

In case you’re wondering about the cost of housing in Columbus, rents are between 50-70% less for a similar place, and buying is an incredible 80–90% less. No, I’m not kidding, check out this 4000 square feet house in one of the nicest suburbs for $440k. I visited that one and it is exactly what it looks like from the pictures.

Other than the things that naturally happened there, I kept going to random places, doing random things while trying to get a feel for how would it be to live there. I probably walked 10–15 miles there and the cold weather didn’t bother me as much as I thought. Granted I only got one day of rain and no snow or ice. But temperatures did hit the 20s and were about 30s most of the time. Not to mention if I lived there I wouldn’t be walking around in the cold at night. The cold is not a big deal if you gear up.

In one of these adventures, I went to a restaurant by myself and ended up getting to know a guy who introduced me to the owner of the place. They both spent 15 minutes trying to help me weigh the pros and cons of Columbus, how to convince my wife to move there, and even which school district I should try to land on. It wasn’t their problem, one of them was working, they didn’t know me, but they sincerely wanted to help.

Finally, after 4 days I told Grant that I’d be happy to take recommendations of where to go and what to eat and he recommended this place for a chicken sandwich. So I went there and told the lady at the counter that I was sent there to have the chicken sandwich. Everyone behind the counter smiled, saying I went to the right place, and since it was my first time it was going to be on the house. I could not believe my ears and ended up tipping almost the cost of the sandwich.

I also drove a good amount while there and went to a few restaurants for my preferred cuisines. It’s very easy to drive there and traffic seems to flow very well. It felt I could go from anywhere to anywhere else in 20-25 minutes. Everything that I tried was at least decent and the prices were about 30% cheaper without any sort of line anywhere.

  • Brazilian restaurant found through careful research was a 9/10, a bit better than Bay Area
  • The chicken sandwich place recommended was a 10/10, I still don’t know how they made it taste so good
  • Greek restaurant found randomly was 7.5/10
  • Turkish restaurant found randomly was 7/10
  • Hipster Tacos place recommended by Tracy was 8.5/10
  • Noodles place found randomly was 6/10

My guess is you can find at least one place that sells what you’re looking for but the best place in town for a given cuisine might not be as good as it is in the Bay.

Fast forward to today, I’m writing these words inside a plane coming back from Columbus, completely blown away by the city, trying to figure out how I’m going to sell my wife on the idea of moving there. But I know that if everything else fails, I can take her there for a week and let them do the selling for me!

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Gui Carvalho

Startup guy, engineer, product thinker. Currently living in Florida.