"Startup Communities" by Brad Feld

A "publisher's draft" of Brad's latest book (release date in coming weeks) called "Startup Communities" appeared on my desk the other day. I just finished reading it.

What an awesome book! Brad put to words what I've been grasping to codify in my mind for a decade or so now. Specifically, what makes Boulder (and as the name implies, other communities outside Boulder) what it is from a startup/tech standpoint!?! Part of the challenge was time; time needed to pass in order to come up with much of the framework (scenarios needed to play out, relationships needed to evolve, etc). The bigger challenge, however, in putting structure around something unwieldy is being able to see all the angles, define them, construct a vocabulary, establish thesis, and connect the dots. He did it.

I've been blogging about Boulder and software for years, but have never been able to get my headspace into a cohesive network of thought around what we've done as a community here. Starting with a clear illustration of "leaders" and "feeders" (words I'd first heard him use at my company's (Gnip - a social media company) recent Big Boulder conference) he outlines constructs necessary to have a successful, flourishing, Startup Community. Turns out you need both in order to succeed, and being a "feeder" isn't a bad thing.

The broader conversation around what makes for a great startup community has been going on for a long time now. We've all been trying to put our fingers on the key components, and "Startup Communities" does an awesome job outlining them. When you cross check the frameworks and concepts against the realities of Boulder, Boston, the Bay Area (and others), they stick. I'm a believer in that entrepreneurship is indeed what's going to get the world through the disaster it's currently in from a political/economic standpoint. If you subscribe to even a fraction of that notion, the book's a good read to understand what components a community needs in order to move us all forward.

Stuff I loved in/about the book:

  • "Give before you get."
  • Tribute (though slight) to Naropa University, which has been a significant part of Boulder's identity and fabric for a very long time. It also embodies many of the openness related qualities Brad sets up in the book. I don't think this particular thread is considered enough when we try to tease apart what makes Boulder, Boulder.
  • A startup community has got nothing sans entrepreneurs. This is the broadest arc outlined in the book; it all starts and ends here.
  • Patriarchy won't work. The picture's bigger than that.
  • Trouble ensues when "feeders" try to lead. In my experience this is what trips up communities trying to "start up" most often. Someone in a "feeder" role declares "we're going to be an awesome startup community dammit!" That just doesn't work. You need the entrepreneurs.
  • Deep exploration of the role Universities play in a startup community. This is hard to get your head around considering the blend of "government" (funding) and entrepreneurial spirit that embody Universities. They're confusing actors.
  • "Bottom up, not top-down."
  • "Network over hierarchy."
  • Authenticity. The guy practices what he preaches.
  • "It's my belief that Boulder is unique because the entrepreneurs and other participants in Boulder's startup ecosystem have a greater sense of community than anywhere else in the country." - Mark Salon
  • "Go for a walk." Walking/bike riding meetings are just better. I'll never forget a walking meeting we had a few months ago when we found ourselves way the hell out in East Boulder before realizing we needed to get back to our offices. Just fun.
  • "Do or do not. There is no try." - Yoda's proverbial perspective.
Jud Valeski

Jud Valeski

Parent, photographer, mountain biker, runner, investor, wagyu & sushi eater, and a Boulderite. Full bio here: https://valeski.org/jud-valeski-bio
Boulder, CO