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Aug 14 2018 by

Collecting and Connecting Dots

A year ago, Brad wrote a post titled Effective Networking, where he discussed how producing good work can be a useful mechanism for building meaningful connections. While power-networking can also be an effective strategy, it is not the only path to developing great relationships. Brad’s post was heavily influenced by two essays by Adam Grant, the professor and writer: Networking Is Overrated and To Build a Great Network, You Don’t Have to be a Great Networker.

I savored that post earlier this year when suffering from a bout of conference fatigue, and decided to write about it in a post titled Introverts and Networking. I have found that the most meaningful professional relationships in my life have typically sprung out of a common appreciation about something that I or the other person did—not from hitting it off in a conference lobby or at the post-event reception. That has happened of course, but it’s not the dominant theme, at least for me.

Because of this, I was excited to discover this recent TEDxPortland talk: An introvert’s guide to building community, given by Rick Turoczy—a leader in the Portland startup community. The talk is not about how introverts per se can build community, but rather, how he as an introvert used some counter-intuitive advantages that introverts possess to do this type of work—namely, a desire to make connections one-to-one, or what he calls collecting dots.

But for Turoczy, this is only the beginning. The real magic of building community occurs not through the collecting of dots but through the connecting of them. By collecting many dots, and through the power of introspection and patience, community-builders will begin to see patterns emerge—uncovering dots that need connecting but haven’t been yet. These connections will eventually seem obvious, but aren’t at first—otherwise they would have already been made. It is the process of collecting and reflecting—along with your own unique perspective—that the connecting naturally unfolds.

For me, the real beauty of this talk is what it reveals about Turoczy himself—he views the process of networking not as a means for helping himself, but as a means for helping others. And that’s the whole point of building community. It’s almost certainly a key reason for why he is so good at it too.

May 9 2018 by

The New York Yankees and Startup Communities

Startup communities are examples of complex adaptive systems. This means many things for understanding and influencing their behavior, but today I want to focus on two concepts: non-linearity (the sum is greater than the parts) and synergistic integration (interaction between the parts matters a lot). To make my point, I’ll draw on an example from my favorite sport.

The New York Yankees won four World Series titles in five seasons between 1996 and 2000, following a drought of 18 years. With this newfound success came a big television deal, a higher revenue stream, and much more money on the field. After winning four championships with the team they had, the Yankees tried to buy additional titles through a collection of All-Stars.

The result? No World Series titles and a steadily declining regular season winning percentage during the next eight seasons. What happened?

The demise of the 2000’s Yankees can be attributed to a failure by management to recognize the complexity of a team sport like baseball. The Yankees applied linear systems thinking to what is an inherently complex system. They believed that simply adding more of “the best” inputs (players) would predictably and reliably produce the desired result (wins, championships).

Linear thinking works in individual sports like tennis or golf, but not in team sports like baseball, where the integration of the pieces (the players) can be more deterministic of the outcome than the sum of the parts (the combined talents of the individual players).

By all accounts, the Yankees clubhouse was toxic and in a sport like baseball where the team is together everyday for most of the year, poor interactions among the players can be fatal. And for the Yankees, it was. Having the nine best players on the field won’t guarantee a winning team. The Yankees learned that the hard way.

Startup communities are also a team sport. They might even be the ultimate team sport. Having the “best players” alone won’t work, just as it didn’t for the New York Yankees. The interactions between the parts (people) make all the difference in the world. Healthy attitudes, behaviors, and ideas are the key to vibrant startup communities.

I recently wrote about The More of Everything Problem, whereby too many startup communities believe that large-scale, top-down interventions are the key to success. Many mistakenly take a linear systems approach that prioritizes resource accumulation over resource integration. But for complex systems like startup communities, integration really matters—human relationships are the whole ballgame.

I see a simple yet powerful lesson for startup communities participants here: focus less on the pieces and more the interactions. Evolve from asking “how many” to “how well.”

The New York Yankees forgot this lesson and paid dearly over the course of a decade. They are back to their winning ways again, and their success is being built from the bottom-up—by a group of young, relatively unknown players, matched with a few elder veterans, who are hungry for success, and are playing like a team.

This article originally posted at

Jun 6 2017 by

Feeling Isolated? Build a Diaspora

Lately, I’ve been talking with entrepreneurs and other civic leaders in cities throughout the US and globally for the new startup communities book. Many find themselves struggling to attract and retain talent—particularly in smaller cities and college towns. One common sentiment is along these lines: “We have a lot of bright young people graduating from University X, but because there are fewer opportunities here for after graduation, they go off to City Y or City Z and start their careers or businesses there. We just don’t have the jobs to support them.”

Talent flight is a real problem. Not just for college towns, but for major cities and regions outside of coastal innovation and knowledge hubs like Silicon Valley and New York. The US Midwest, for example, is notorious for producing high rates of engineering and science graduates from top-flight schools, only to see them flee for the coasts (though, this trend may be changing somewhat).

Over the long-term, city leaders need to think hard about how to make sure that would-be local entrepreneurs and other talented individuals have the resources they need to stay at home. But, let me suggest another course of action that can be taken right away: build a diaspora.

Though most commonly used in a specific context to reference Jews living outside of Israel, the term diaspora generally refers to the movement or dispersion of a group of people from their ancestral homeland. In this context, I’ll use the term “ancestral homeland” loosely to mean a place that has a deep emotional connection to a person (e.g., where they were born, grew up, or went to school).

People leave these places for any number of reasons—self-discovery, employment opportunities, following or finding a partner, and so on—but choose to remain connected, in some way, to their roots. Perhaps they even maintain the hope of returning one day when the time is right. What is overlooked among these short-term “losses,” is the potential for what is learned “out there” to have significant value for the community back home, if properly cultivated.

In the context of building startup ecosystems, this is doubly true, where the process of starting and scaling high-growth businesses is niche, and best learned at an arm’s length (learning by doing/seeing). This is why places like Silicon Valley continue to attract talent, even as the practicalities of living there seem to be untenable—the resources, the culture, the tacit knowledge, all make the congestion and exorbitant cost of living worth it.

And yet, with the right mindset, what’s learned there can be transferred elsewhere.

In her 2006 book, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy, AnnaLee Saxenian of UC Berkeley chronicles how foreign-born engineers and managers working in Silicon Valley were able to transfer localized knowledge—on how to build and invest in scalable technology ventures—back to their home countries. She specifically points to a critical mass of motivated Taiwanese and Israelis in the 1980s, and Chinese and Indians in the 1990s, as essential to the burgeoning innovation ecosystems we see in those places today.

Some of these migrants stayed as expats, others returned home, while others still migrated to California to replace those leaving. What was common among them was their connection to home and a desire to bring what was learned abroad back there. Instead of Silicon Valley as a central source of “brain drain,” a group of motivated, patriotic, opportunistic individuals became a pipeline of “brain circulation”—where invaluable knowledge obtained at the frontier of technology and entrepreneurship was transferred back home, planting the seeds of the next generation of booming global innovation that followed.

So, what can be done today to build a vibrant startup community in smaller, more isolated cities?

First, of course, make your city as attractive as possible to talented individuals that do not want to leave. Provide the sort of infrastructure, cultural amenities, and mindset that knowledge workers in the creative economy desire. Make sure they have access to the necessary skills to innovate and start great companies, and get them connected with experienced local entrepreneurs. Play the role of convener and do what you can to increase the frequency of interaction among new and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. Organize “catalytic events” like Startup Weekend and 1 Million Cups. Celebrate entrepreneurship, champion local founders, and encourage them to serve as mentors to the next generation.

Second, make sure that the young people who do want to leave have the right skills to be employed at the best companies in leading innovation hubs. If the secret sauce to technological innovation is best learned at the likes of Google, Amazon, Sand Hill Road, and Kendall Square, ensure that departing members of your tribe have a fighting chance to gain access to that knowledge, experience, and network.

Finally, and perhaps most critically—don’t ignore those who have left, or resort to a sense of frustration at the inability to “keep talent at home.” Instead, view it as an opportunity. Build stronger ties with your diaspora, learn from them, engage with them, keep them emotionally tied to the region and interested in its success. Some may return to live there—be prepared for them (see #1 above). Others may choose not to return. But make sure they, too, have constructive ways of engaging with the startup community there—as mentors, investors, or advisors.

Think it’s impossible? Look no further than the story of Microsoft, when Seattle’s native sons Bill Gates and Paul Allen relocated the company there simply because they wanted to go home. As UC Berkeley’s Enrico Moretti described in his book, The New Geography of Jobs:

This was not a business decision. Gates and Allen were both from Seattle, and they wanted to go back to the place where they had grown up… Seattle was not an obvious choice for a software company. In fact, it seemed like a terrible place. Far from being the high-flying hub it is today, it was a struggling town.

I don’t mean to infer that the Microsoft story is likely, or even probable. Bill and Paul are remarkable, few-in-a-generation talents, whose mold is unlikely to be recast. But the point remains: today’s outbound traffic may be tomorrow’s inbound local heroes. Don’t miss a golden opportunity to keep tabs, keep ties, keep engaged, and keep the brain circulation moving ahead at maximum speed.

May 11 2017 by

How to Understand Your Startup Community

Guest Post: Max Rehkopf is Head of Growth at Hardbound, a startup that makes five-minute illustrated summaries of the best books in business, history, and science (Sign up here). Hardbound is constantly on the lookout for the best business books. If you’d like to recommend they make a Hardbound about one of your favorites (including books here on Startup Revolution) let them know here.

Its my great pleasure to share with you Startup Communities, a video series explaining each of the participants in a startup community. The story behind this series is explained below:

It’s rare that you can attribute years of your life to the happenings of one day. For me, that day was April 1, 2015. This is not a joke.

On April fools day in 2015, I was offered to pitch my startup to Julie Penner, Director of Techstars Boulder. Julie is a pillar of the Boulder startup community and I was introduced to her through my school’s startup competition.

My team and I crowded into a very small conference room, and I did my best to deliver our pitch.

Julie was gracious. She let us know right then and there that were not ready for Techstars. We were crushed, yet what she said next changed my life.

She did as all leaders in startup communities should, she was radically inclusive, and said that if we needed anything, we should reach out.

Somehow, maybe from the look in her eyes, I could tell that she actually meant it.

After our meeting that day, I did reach out, and she gave me the job that I spent the next two years of my life doing. In my case, investing in the startup community, starting first with my universities entrepreneurship program, opened the doors to one of the greatest experiences of my life.

In my two years at Techstars Boulder I saw the power of community firsthand, and was inspired.

I was inspired to take long walks with other pillars of the community and ask them how a startup community really works. From those walks I produced a short video series explaining the roles and contributions of each and every member of a startup community.

It was my gift back to the startup community, and all 10 videos premiered at Techstars Boulder Demo Day 2017.

With this series anyone can, in 10 minutes, learn about their startup community and how to get involved. If you’re lucky, like me, you’ll run into a leader of the community. With effort, new doors will keep on opening. Enjoy!

May 4 2017 by


Engine, the non-profit organization that supports technology startups through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy, has been producing profiles of startup communities throughout the United States on its blog.

The series, #StartupsEverywhere, launched in January and has produced 14 profiles so far, including Baltimore, Cedar Rapids, Connecticut, Honolulu, Jackson (TN), Kansas City, Madison, Memphis, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, Santa Barbara, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Tulsa.

#StartupsEverywhere is designed to celebrate these diverse, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are growing across the U.S. The project will showcase exciting developments in a variety of rising communities through weekly interviews with startup ecosystem leaders. The profiles will look at issues ranging from the challenges faced by these communities to the unique qualities that set them apart from traditional technology hubs.

The folks at Engine tell me the series will continue indefinitely, and they’re always on the lookout for cities to profile and interesting stories to tell. So, if you’d like to get involved, you can reach out to Emma Peck.

You can follow the series directly with this link. I encourage you to check it out.

Apr 25 2016 by

Thoughts on Building A Startup Community in Scotland

Kenny Fraser, the founder and CEO of Sunstone Communication, has a thoughtful post up titled Is There A Right Or Wrong Way To Build A Startup Ecosystem?

In it he asks a number of good questions to ponder, starting off strong by asking “Why try to build what already exists in California? Why not ask ourselves what our community has that Silicon Valley doesn’t have. And build on our positives to create something different and better.”

Jul 22 2015 by

Fred Wilson and Andrew Sorkin Have A Discussion About Startup Communities

Fred Wilson, partner at Union Square Ventures, and a huge leader in the New York Startup Community, along with the VC community in general, has a great 20 minute interview with Andrew Sorkin on building startup communities around the world.

Jun 5 2014 by

Startup Community in a “One Horse Town” – Nick Such

The PR Tech Summit just finished up and there were some great conversations about how to build startup communities and stories from startup community from around the world.

One standout presentation was from Nick Such. He talked through his experience of building a startup community in a “one horse town”, otherwise known as Lexington, Kentucky.

The presentation touches upon Brad Feld’s Boulder Thesis from Startup Communities.

You can find the deck used for the presentation here. A big shoutout to Nick Such and the community from Lexington, KY.

Jan 23 2014 by

Why We Start Up Startups

This is a guest post by Victor W. Hwang, CEO of T2 Venture Creation and the author of The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley.

Pause for a moment.  And ask yourself some simple questions you probably don’t think about every day.  Why do we build companies?  Why do we innovate?  Why do we care about creating new inventions, products, and solutions, when we could simply leave things as they are?

These are questions that I think a lot about.  On the surface, the answers might seem deceptively easy.  For instance, some people want to make money.  Others like the thrill of the hunt, like a form of legalized gambling.  And others like the independence, the freedom.

But those answers seem incomplete to me.  If you’re an entrepreneur, you already know there’s more.  There are much easier ways to make money.  There are much easier ways to get a thrill.  And there are much easier ways to feel independent.  Therefore, we innovate and build companies for reasons that are deeper.

I am lucky to see a lot of the world through my work.  In particular, I get to observe a lot of entrepreneurial ecosystems.  It’s not just an academic pursuit.  I think this issue matters a lot.  In most parts of the world, they don’t build new companies fast enough, so unemployment often metastasizes like a cancer.  They don’t innovate fast enough, so standards of living creep slowly downward.  What I’ve discovered is that the underlying essence of innovation has a universal quality.  This is true whether you’re building a startup in Silicon Valley or running a family business in a Latin mercado, Asian alleyway, or Main Street in America.

Here’s what I’ve concluded.  The desire to build ventures, devise solutions, and bring ideas to life is core to the human condition.  Underneath it all, we create because we care about things.  We build because we believe in what is possible.  We innovate because we are inspired by others around us.  When entrepreneurship and innovation don’t thrive, after you strip away everything on the surface, it’s always because people somewhere, for some reason, have stopped caring, stopped believing, or stopped being inspired.  I’ve observed this phenomenon everywhere.  It’s always the same.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.”  He might also have said that nothing worth doing can be achieved by a lone individual; therefore we must create together in teams.  That’s what startup companies are.  They’re just human beings working together to do meaningful things.  Building innovative teams is the only way to solve the problems that really matter.

When we talk about innovation ecosystems, therefore, we simply mean environments where it’s easier to build the needed relationships to achieve common aspirations.  Ecosystems are powered by cultural norms that accelerate the human dynamic of bonding and building together, namely diversity, connectivity, trust among strangers, willingness to experiment, and a pay-it-forward mindset.  If you think about it, this is actually quite profound.  It means that soft things create hard economic value.  It’s a new paradigm for our economic lives.  And it provides a new model to govern our societies, manage our companies, and create communities together.

Why do I write these things?  Because the new paradigm is right under our noses, but is still largely invisible.  What’s missing is a way for the builders of ecosystems to convene together, share lessons learned, and create practical methods to design ecosystems more effectively.  To make the invisible visible.  That’s the reason we started the Global Innovation Summit.  (Brad Feld’s been a fantastic supporter and advisor.)  The event is a celebration of the spirit that gives rise to vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems.  It’s a place for the builders of ecosystems to get together in person, connect with each other, and create a new set of tools, frameworks, and case studies together.  Last year, we had 49 countries participate.  The next Summit happens on February 17-19 in Silicon Valley.  I financed the whole thing last year on my personal credit card, and it’s not been easy, to be honest.  But it has to happen.  I hope you can participate.

If you’re not into conferences, we also feature lots of free or low-cost activities.  We call it Global Innovation Week, and it runs February 17-21.  A group of organizations are hosting over 20 events throughout the region related to ecosystem building.  There’s also an “indoor street festival” on the Art of Innovation, featuring over 30 creative artists and performers, sponsored by the City of San Jose as its official welcome to the world.

I hope you can join us for this celebration of the ecosystems that drive entrepreneurship and innovation.  Ultimately, we start up startups because it is what human beings do.  Entrepreneurs and innovators in the trenches already know certain truths intuitively, deep down inside.  Handshakes are more durable than contracts.  Altruism is more efficient than selfishness.  And silly things like trust and dreams and love… they actually do power the world.

Jan 7 2014 by

Startups Think Outside the Silicon Valley Box – Marketplace Tech

Today on Marketplace Tech, another blooming startup community was given a great write up. The article, Startups Think Outside the Silicon Valley Box, walks through some reasons how and why Salt Lake City, Utah is a fast up-and-comer in the startup scene. It might be because of the engineering research coming out of the University of Utah. It might be because of the low cost of living (making wages that startups can afford to  pay top talent). It might be because of the foundation of a strong work ethic and perseverance due to the Mormon faith. Either way, entrepreneurs are choosing to build companies in Salt Lake City and venture capital is flowing in.

Read or listen to the full piece here at Marketplace Tech.