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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!
Some of you may have noticed a new “author” posted today on what has primarily been Brad’s other blog. Well, let me introduce myself. I am you.
Entrepreneur? I was a co-founder of MapQuest a long time ago and have a few small wins and a few startup failures since. I am you.
Investor? I ran a corporate venture fund in the late 90’s spending most of my time up and down 101 in the Bay area and had pretty good success. About 5 years ago, I co-founded two accelerator funds in Raleigh/Durham, NC which has yet to play out with 42 investments TBD. I am you.
Community Builder? I have spent the last 7 years playing a key role in the Triangle or RTP or Raleigh/Durham – whatever you want to call it. I refer to my new home as the nations best kept entrepreneurial secret. I am you.
A few weeks ago, I added a new role – EIR @ Techstars where I will be focusing on startup community development and working with Brad and his team on Startup Communities – the Sequel. 2017 promises to be an incredible journey for all of us that wake up thinking about how to accelerate our community development.
I commit to sharing my observations, my opinions and your thoughts as well. Want to connect and share stories? Find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Helt, the director of Startup Week at Techstars has a great post up titled What Can Startup Communities Do for Rural America? I encourage you to read the whole post, but I’ll except a specific section about startup communities and rural America.
“First, it gives people the inspiration to develop the idea they’ve been working on in the back of their mind. It shows them there’s a path forward, and if done properly, can lead to real opportunity. All it takes is access to the internet. The internet has created a true egalitarian system that gives entrepreneurs access to customers anywhere in the world.
Second, startup communities share best practices and mentorship. Through shared learning, startup founders are much more likely to succeed and avoid the pitfalls others have experienced.
Third, communities that have strong startup ecosystems retain talent and attract outside investment. These dollars stay in the community and lead to business growth, which ultimately leads to job creation. The more businesses that are started, the more people are employed. (For examples, see the resources at the end of this post.)
The last point I’d like to make about startup ecosystems is that it requires the community to embrace radical inclusion. This means anyone who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur is welcome to take part. There can be no exclusion based on gender, race or socioeconomic status. All are welcome to take a seat at the table.”
If you are interested in engaging, reach out to me anytime and I’ll connect you up with the right folks.
I give a regular talk at Techstars called Work Life Harmony. It try to do it a few weeks into the 12 week program just to give the founders a breather and a chance to reflect on everything that is going on around them.
Ty Danco, one of the director at Techstars Boston, did a great job of blogging a detailed summary it.
Brad Feld, a Managing Director at Foundry Group and Co-founder of Techstars, speaks prolifically about Boulder, the Boulder community, and how Boulder has come to be an international renown startup community.
What many do not know is that Boulder has sister startup communities in Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs – the four innovation hubs of Colorado.
In this interview with ID8, Brad talks about the entrepreneurial growth that Denver has been experiencing in the last few years. Among the topics covered are Boulder’s relationship with Denver as well as what Denver needs to do to take their startup community to the next level.
About 5 years ago, I was recruited to join the Boulder Valley Lacrosse board, probably because I grew up playing lacrosse at a high level, was coaching my son’s team, and knew a couple of the board members. When I joined, it felt a little like a secret society – I don’t think anyone knew that a board even existed. When
I was elected to run the organization as president, we all agreed to make swift changes to open up the communication, create transparency, and build a customer-centric culture. We’re not close to perfect, but we are on the right path.
Over a coffee, a friend and I were discussing the Boulder Thesis and the subtleties of the concept of a long-term view perspective. I was looking for a way to articulate the importance of looking out and thinking about how to build communities for 10 or 20 years down the road. Each year, the parents and coaches of a lacrosse team get so focused on the current season, game, or practice
right in front of them, we as a group forget to look up and make sure we are headed in the right direction for our 20-year vision. These are the key components of the Boulder Thesis and how I see them applied to the Boulder Valley Lacrosse organization.
Startup communities put great importance on this concept of the long-term viewpoint – check. But who are the entrepreneurial leaders in our lacrosse community? The thought came to me this summer when meeting with Andrew Davies, our Executive Director. We were planning for our fall season and he lamented that finding good coaches was still our biggest challenge. That our growth as a community, the sustainability, will be based on our ability to continue to attract great coaches every year. I went back to the Boulder Thesis and realized that instead of trying to create, or worse control, the development of coaches every year, perhaps the coaches are the entrepreneurial leaders of the lacrosse community.
Leaders – But does that make sense? Can a coach really have a long-term view and lead, or will it always just be about their team, son, or daughter? If you use me as an example, I started as a ‘dad-coach’, but now help lead our community of over 1200 families. I play men’s lacrosse with Boulder guys, I coach 11 year-old boys, and my daughter plays with a team of 12 and 13 year old girls. I have become a leader in this Boulder Lacrosse Community, in part because I am a super-user and participant in the community.
Feeders – Next, we need to make sure we have all of the service providers. There are training organizations, most very good, that offer lacrosse training, camps, and club teams (Denver Elite and 3d Lacrosse are the two largest). We have local retail stores (Breakaway Sports and Player’s Bench). We have colleges (CU and DU) and high schools (Fairview, Boulder, Dawson). We engage with each of these organizations and need them to be key participants (service providers) to our community.
Inclusive – We have always had a pretty inclusive policy, but we need to be more public about it and market the opportunities of how to get involved. And with our new Boulder Thesis concept, we can communicate better to new feeders as to how to become the fabric of the community, and not try to be the sole leader.
Engage the Community – Engagement is an area we need to continue to work on. A few weeks ago, I held a coaches meeting with about 30 of our top local coaches and shared with them the concept and philosophy behind the Boulder Thesis. I asked them to be a part of this new concept and lead the community. One of the coaches I had not yet met, spoke up to elaborate on the concept. It happened to be Jim Booth (COO of Orbotix), someone that understands the Boulder Thesis well from the traditional concept. Jim and I later had lunch and debated the motivation of a coach – will there be enough intrinsic motivation to invest in the long term community, if it is not specifically associated with a career?
This story has just begun. There are more debates to be had and more ideas to test. In the meantime, we are recruiting more coaches to be leaders and build the 20-year vision for Boulder Valley Lacrosse. If you live near Boulder, call me about getting involved or if you have additional ideas!
JP O’Brien is the managing director at Integrated People Solutions, a retained executive search and strategic talent revolution company. JP is known for his business and strategy acumen and his keen ability to build meaningful and influential relationships with some of the industry’s most sought after executives. JP is also a mentor at Techstars Boulder, leads the Boulder Valley Lacrosse Association, and teaches entrepreneurship at the Colorado School of Mines.
JP has held a mixture of CEO, CIO, and CTO roles, building strong teams and executing in rapidly growing and ever-changing markets. JP’s prior roles include: Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of SageFire, Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based, enterprise management software for multi-unit businesses including eBay, H&R Block, and Home Depot; Founding Member and acting CIO of Headwaters MB, a middle-market private equity and M&A investment banking firm; and Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Learning Productions, LLC, an education outsourcing and technologies business that was acquired by SkillSoft. JP began he career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) where he was the lead architect on global, multi-million dollar system implementations including Sprint, JP Morgan and GE Capital.
JP can be reached at email@example.com.
Gameplan: Use the Boulder Thesis from Brad Feld’s Startup Communities book as a framework for studying the Startup Communities in Buenos Aires and Santiago.
A diverse group of MBA students explore international startup communities. After studying the governments, macroeconomic conditions and startup ecosystems in both Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile, the group was pumped and ready to go on the international business trip that would conclude our two year Executive MBA program at the University of Colorado.
Our group already felt a part of Boulder’s collaborative, open community attending great talks at various Silicon Flatiron’s events, hanging out at New Tech Meetups, and drinking beers at Startup Crawls. We really got to experience the generosity of the Boulder community as people from accounting firms, university professors, TechStars, the Global Accelerator Network, community event organizers, and investors spent valuable time with us in preparation for our trip.
Although interested in all things Startups, our group was comprised of executives at big companies, consultants, marketers, accountants, a physicians assistant turned entrepreneur and a tech company founder.
Based on our initial research, we expected the operating environment to be hostile in Buenos Aires and favorable in Santiago. Buenos Aires has struggled with currency fluctuation and anti-business government policies. On the contrary, Santiago has benefited from a relatively stable government, minimal inflation, and thriving foreign investment.
And off we went…
The first stop was Buenos Aires. A bohemian, chaotic feel with pockets of awesomeness everywhere. We had signed up for the first Startup Buenos Aires event and hopped into a Radio Taxi to find the place. The address was an apartment on a dimly lit street in Palermo, a cool part of town “where all the startups are” I was told. I met a dude named Mateo at the door, an ex-pat from Philly living in Buenos Aires, who walked us in making a few intros along the way. Then I met Lisa, another ex-pat and organizer of Startup Buenos Aires. “You guys are from Boulder, do you know Andrew Hyde? He did our logo!” Immediately I felt very comfortable, this was gonna be fun. For the next few hours we met some guys from Google working remotely because they could, a few startup founders and a few others involved in the community (tech writers, accountants, designers, developers).
The average Argentine has lived through some incredible economic and social developments since the fall of its military dictatorship in the mid 1980’s; it would serve as an excellent policy case study on “What not to do” for any Macro-Economics course. Some of the things Argentines have lived through in the past 3 decades include: hyperinflation of 5,000% in 1989, excessive debt growth in the 1990’s leading to defaulting on foreign debt obligations followed by extreme austerity measures, having 3 presidents in 2 weeks in the end of 2001, the freezing of bank accounts in December of 2001, and the devaluation of the Argentine currency in January of 2002 that left most of the country with 40% less in savings than they had the day before. These types of events have left an unmistakable mark on the average Argentine that boils down to a huge distrust of the government. As one of the Argentine’s we met put it:
“If you are a small fish, act like you don’t exist.” Basically: deal in cash, don’t incorporate your business, don’t pay taxes, and deal entirely out of the sight of the government.
“If you are a medium sized fish, act like you are a small fish.” Basically, if you are big enough that you can’t hide, report whatever will keep the authorities from digging deeper. The tax rate on small businesses is over 100% of profit, so it seems even the government expects this.
“If you are a big fish, then act like a medium sized fish. And, if are a huge fish, then you are part of the government.”
This leaves the entrepreneurial community in Buenos Aires in a bit of a bind. Startups in the US are more like small fish trying to act like big fish; get as much press as possible, celebrate your small successes, and get big fast. Startups in Argentina are trying to maintain the lowest possible profile for as long as they can. There is a lot of pent up entrepreneurial energy in Buenos Aires, they just have to find a way to get it out.
As the group was drinking coffee at the airport waiting on our flight to Santiago, that was delayed, we discussed the vibe of Buenos Aires. The consensus was this place exceeded our expectations.
The next stop was Santiago. The energy in Santiago was quite different, almost vanilla, compared to the chaotic pulse of Buenos Aires. Santiago is a great, clean, modern city with a stable economy and a supportive government. The conservative banking system and central bank policies have helped steer the country to economic and political stability in a region of the world where stability is quite uncommon.
For startups, Chile has started to offer a fantastic funding opportunity. Startup Chile essentially grants startups $40k, with very few strings attached, and also provides work spaces, support, and resources to entrepreneurs. Startup Chile is considered a social program and in exchange for the $40k, startups must give back 40 to 80 hours of their time to help develop the startup community. The conservative banking and social systems in Chile can be a bit stifling for the entrepreneurial community. The ultimate goal of Startup Chile is to create an ecosystem where startups can thrive.
Breaking down the conservative social barriers, as well as the conservative financial practices, in Santiago will be a key step toward creating a vibrant Startup community. We believe that if a couple of bootstrapping entrepreneurs can bring their companies to an international level in Santiago, many of the barriers of the past will also fall.
Take-away: Every city is different, every startup community goes through a lifecycle, every country’s macro economic conditions vary. In Buenos Aires, there are two things that are in the mainstream conversation, the government and currency fluctuation. People love living here, the city is vibrant, sexy, and full of energy. In Santiago, the government and education system are fueling the ecosystem. A strong talent pipeline is created from the Universities, an emphasis on an educated population is driven by the government and things are happening.
The University of Colorado Executive MBA program’s final term focuses on International business. Charles Bartlett, Neil Smith, Joe Lynch, Greg Witten, Michael Demchak @MPDemy,Kelly Taylor and Scott Hace with faculty advisor Al Davis spent a few days in Buenos Aires Argentina and Santiago Chile in early May 2013 studying entrepreneurship using the Boulder Thesis as a lens.
It’s 4 o’clock in the morning on June 8th, 2012. I’m in my kitchen in a Dallas suburb trying to stay awake while feeding my one-month old. This is only the second time I’ve taken the night-feeding shift, and not that it ever gets easy, but a stoned walrus could kick my ass at tic-tac-toe right now.
I figure I’ll skim Twitter for a bit – if only I can remember how to turn on my iPad. “Ok, let me think. I take the chicken across the river and leave the fox with the corn. Then I tell Sean Connery how to spell the name of God. Wait. I just push this button. Yes. Steve Jobs, you sir, are a genius.”
The screen illuminates. I give my eyes a moment to adjust, and then I think I need to give them a little more time because my email notification pill reads, “174”. This is not typical. Clearly, something, somewhere has gone terribly wrong. But no, nothing is wrong. In fact, things are about to be very, very good because at the beginning of those 174 emails is a note that reads:
From: Brad Feld
Date: Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 11:38 PM
“Tweeted – I’ll also send out to the CEO list I manage.”
What he means is that he tweeted a URL I’d sent to him. My brain is suddenly wide awake. Some of those emails are new Twitter followers and general words of encouragement, but a very large number of them are interview requests and it’s only been a little over four hours. I realize that there will be hundreds (thousands?) more and it very quickly sets in that This. Is. Happening. One way or another, my family moving is Colorado.
I let Shepard finish his bottle, lay him back down, and take a few hours to start responding to emails as more and more continue to come in. Finally, at about 7 a.m., I go upstairs and wake my wife, Laura.
“Sweetheart. Something has happened.”
This is how it happened, and what has happened since.
Like most people who’ve spent more than, say, six hours in Colorado, Laura and I had the “We should totally move out here” conversation a couple different times with varying degrees of determination. But, when Shep was a few weeks old, we looked at each other and said, “So. Colorado?”
I had been following/web-stalking a number of entrepreneurs, agencies, and developers in Boulder for a couple of years. My admiration for their work had grown to a level approaching “Legendary” so I knew exactly who I wanted to reach out to. Brad at Foundry, David at TechStars, Foraker, Viget, Slice of Lime. The list of talented people doing amazing work here goes on and I was dying to be a part of it.
I decided to build a site that pitched my skills specifically to companies in Colorado and so I got to work building hirebrianrhea.com. Jason Zimdars set the gold standard for the personal resume site when he landed a gig at 37signals ; I figured if I could be half as effective as Jason was at communicating his skills and his personality, then I’d have a shot at turning our dream in to reality.
After a couple weeks of build-test-tweak-rinse-repeat, I was finally ready to ship. I sent Brad an email at around noon expecting to perhaps maybe on the off-chance hear exactly nothing three months later. Instead, that night I was staring at my iPad, bleary-eyed with a newborn in my arms, completely overwhelmed.
The two weeks following Brad’s tweet were a whirlwind. There were offers from Boston, New York, Toronto, and San Francisco, but our sights were set squarely on the Flatirons. I flew out a couple of times and was fortunate to meet with CEOs whom I aspire to be like, brilliant designers and developers, and deeply committed marketers and project managers.
But in the end, there was something special about TechStars alum and Foundry-backed startup Mocavo. They had a grand vision (to bring all the world’s historical content online for free), were attacking interesting problems (to bring disruptive technology to a well-established industry), and had the talent to pull it all off (a year later and these guys still amaze me).
The entire experience and the year following it has been nothing short of a dream come true. There were a few moments before we moved out here that Laura and I had to ask ourselves, “Are we ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend?’ Are we completely obsessed with this place and putting these people up on some illusory pedestal? Is our fantasy about to be shattered? Does this end with us bawling our eyes out listening to Toni Braxton records? And what are doing with all these Toni Braxton records?”
But no – it’s been amazing. We’ve made some wonderful friends, enjoyed beautiful hikes 20 minutes from our front door, and professionally – to be in the midst of so much creativity and palpable energy – it’s been incredibly rewarding.
I could go on and on about what makes this place so special (if you’re reading this from outside the 303 area code and considering relocating, e-mail me and I’ll be happy to convince you that it’s the right thing to do) but instead I’ll just end this by saying “Thanks.” Thanks to Brad Feld for 85 characters that altered the course of my family’s life forever. Thanks to Cliff and everyone at Mocavo for bringing me onboard and giving me an opportunity to be part of what you’re building. Thanks to Stirling at Foraker, Kevin and Chris at Slice, Will and everyone at All Souls. Thanks to all of you for making us feel welcome from day one and for making Colorado feel like home sooner than we could have ever expected.
It’s been an unbelievable year. I’ll do my best to give back for many years to come.
Brian Rhea is a husband, dad and Front-End Engineer at Mocavo.
He’s been building websites since 1994 when his dad told him, “I think this internet thing might get big.
You should learn it.” Thanks, Dad. You were right.
We’re beginning to see an interesting phenomenon occur with the success of Startup Communities. Readers are extrapolating the lessons within the book and are raising some interesting questions about the drivers, best practices and key components of startup communities. Recently, Dan Moore, a local Boulder IT consultant, wrote a blog post questioning the lasting impact the personnel of a former employer had on the local startup community. His blog post raises an interesting question.
How many startups have been birthed as a result of personnel from a former startup?
In his own case, Mr. Moore was an employee of XOR, (Internet technology, Systems, IT) and according to his experience some 23 companies were formed as an off fall of its sale, one of which includes the company he currently works for. This information has spurred the team here at Startup Revolution to wonder if we could put together a data set that would depict the general impact startups have on their communities.
So we decided to begin the process of sourcing information regarding such matters and are now putting together a data set on the long term residual effects of startups; no matter their outcome. Whether they failed or succeeded we want to know the impact startups have.
So we’ve got a favor to ask…we need you to fill out the form below providing us with important information on the number of companies that were spun off as a result of either the sale or closing up of a former employer.
Simply fill out and submit the form below and we’ll start building the data set.
Thanks for all the help!
-The Startup Revolution Team