When Chris Breene moved to Washington, D.C. five years ago, he didn’t expect to stay as long as he did.
But the notable D.C. Tech leader, who co-organizes the monthly DC Tech Meetup, found a home in the community he’s helped grow and develop over the past three years. Now, at the end of November, the community leader will close his D.C. chapter and move to Boston to grow his marketing firm, GFTB Digital.
“I came to D.C. with the expectation that I would move to another major metro just because I figured D.C. would burn me out,” he said in an interview. “I thought it was going to be more New York than it was like Boston. It is a bunch of different neighborhoods pieced together — It’s silo-ed, and it’s not silo-ed at the same time.”
Breene announced the move in a Medium post published today and spoke with DC Inno exclusively about the decision.
“It helps it feel like you’re never alone,” Breene said of the D.C. tech community. “I wanted to leave in year two — I was so sick of politics and then all of a sudden I found D.C. tech, and that’s why I’ve been here for the past three years.”
Breene said the decision to leave was two-fold: One, he’s from Rhode Island — he missed the snow, being closer to his family and the things that make New England unique.
The second reason answers the question of “Why now?”: Politics.
See, Breene has always been an outspoken proponent for universal healthcare. He’s one of the few local entrepreneurs who will speak on-the-record about it, and a lot of that is because of a few health complications he experienced at the beginning of last year. Breene’s pretty open about it: If he didn’t have access to health insurance, who knows where he would be today.
So, when President Donald Trump was elected in November with an incoming Republican-majority House and Senate, the idea of leaving D.C. entered his mind.
“The big piece of it was healthcare,” he said. “The insecurity of healthcare and knowing that D.C. doesn’t really have autonomy [in its budget decisions] — You can see how manipulative some Congress leaders can be. I’m scared of what will happen to the exchanges.”
In D.C., Congress has final approval on the city’s budget, and Massachusetts boasts one of the most accessible statewide healthcare systems in the country. For Breene, that was appealing.
“I’m a bit of a realist and a pragmatist, and I love this town, but the thing is that we have no autonomy,” Breene said. “At the end of the day, the way the law is written and the way it is, the change [in D.C.’s system] is going to happen.”
Breene played a pretty active role in the D.C. tech community in recent years. Formerly, he worked at iStrategyLabs, Brllnt and he built his own company with the advice of local mentors. Breene is a co-organizer for DC Tech Meetup, which attracts about 500 people to its monthly demos, and he’s a startup mentor on 1776‘s Union platform. “The bonds I’ve made in DC tech are eternal. I’ve even met the love of my life here, without whom, I don’t believe I would have survived the past few years,” he wrote in his Medium post.
As Breene prepares for the move to Boston, he doesn’t have plans to completely disappear from the D.C. tech community. He still plans to stay engaged on Twitter and offer his time as a mentor at 1776 remotely. Some of his clients will also carry over to Boston.
But he does have to say goodbye to one project near and dear to him: DC Tech Meetup.
With Breene’s departure, the group is on the hunt for a new co-organizer. Breene said, ideally, they want someone who has time to spare to work for the organization, who has the social media savvy and passion to take over the DC Tech Meetup Twitter account that Breene has been running and someone with a fresh voice. “We are striving to be significantly more inclusive,” he said. “It’s no longer just a bunch of white dudes hosting meet-ups.”
They aren’t putting out an open call for nominations for a co-organizer. Usually, the process is more internal, with current board members nominating an outside candidate. However, Breene said he’s open to hearing suggestions for the position, and he’s hoping he can train the incoming board member on all things DC Tech Meetup.
“I’ve been on the board for two years now. I’ve seen four or five board members come and go in that time,” he said. “DC Tech Meetup keeps going though. We’ve been doing this for six years now.”
This is a market where the bottomline isn’t always traction, traction, traction. Here, I find the VCs and board members, a lot of them are asking ‘What is your social impact?’
In moving to Boston, Breene hopes he can attract the best clients for his business. He’s looking for larger startups and corporations to work with, and in D.C., Breene sees a lot of startups and government entities.
“This one is only a half reason, because I love D.C. tech — but startups are unfortunately not my prototypical client, nor is government contracting,” Breene wrote in his Medium post. “There are simply more clients who match GFTB’s business model and service mix in Boston than there are in D.C., despite the early success in the past year here.”
Leaving D.C., Breene said he’s going to miss being in such close proximity to his mentors (Peter Corbett, Zvi Band, DJ Saul and Johnny Ray Austin), and the focus on social impact among startups. But ultimately, he knows he’s making the best decision for himself and his business.
“This is a market where the bottomline isn’t always traction, traction, traction. Here, I find the VCs and board members, a lot of them are asking ‘What is your social impact,’ and they measure different things here,” Breene said. “I didn’t think tech could have a social conscious.”
“That’s a big reason why I’m not fully disconnecting from D.C. tech.”