Fresh off a week of vacation, I’m rolling into the annual joyful madness that is Boulder Startup Week. If you don’t know the history of Startup Week (now owned by Techstars), it was founded by Andrew Hyde in Boulder in 2010 and subsequently begat the overall Startup Week program (powered by Chase) happening all over the world.
The schedule begins Monday morning (5/16) and continues through Friday night (5/20). I’m speaking at / co-hosting the following events.
Tuesday, May 17 – 10:30am – 11:30am: It Takes Two To Tango – The Working Relationship Between Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors
Tuesday, May 17 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm: Why and How we Invest in Women
Thursday, May 19 – 11:00am – 12:15pm: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Startup Realm
Thursday, May 19 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm: CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap documentary
Friday, May 20 – 10:00am – 11:00am: The Birth of BB-8
Friday, May 20 – 7:00pm – 10:00pm: FounderFights – The Struggle Is Real, You Might As Well Hit Something!
While there are many great events, I think one of the best is going to be my partner Seth’s on Thursday, May 19 from 2:00pm – 3:00pm titled Seth Levine: Let’s Get Real About Angel Investing In Colorado. I’ve seen the slides and if you are an angel investor or a founder raising an angel round, this is a must attend event.
Enjoy the week! I hope to see you around.
We had the first Reboot VC Bootcamp several weeks ago in Boulder. Based on the feedback and the experience, we’ve already decided to have another one, probably early in 2017.
Three of the participants – Steve Schlafman, Rob Go, and Josh Guttman – wrote posts about the bootcamp. Since the content was confidential, each of them is careful about what they say and does a good job personalizing the experience.
In A bunch of VCs went on a retreat. Here’s what happened Steve lists 16 things he took back with him to New York and his daily life from the bootcamp. To get a feel for them (and hopefully inspire you to go read the whole post), here are the first three:
- When your inner and outer self aren’t in sync, it creates personal dissonance that results in being afraid, feeling unsafe, etc..
- If you ask a founder how you can help, it means you haven’t been listening close enough. Be fully present.
- Being a great board member or investor isn’t about having all the answers and fixing things. Don’t underestimate the power of listening and supporting.
“The idea is that one’s “shadow” is a deep rooted thing (not necessarily good, not necessarily bad) that exists in one’s psyche that drives your choices, behaviors, or emotions. The shadow is often linked to early, memorable childhood experiences, and is reflected in multiple arenas of life over and over again. The challenge occurs when one is unaware of these influences, and as a result, it drives him/her to make decisions or react to circumstances in a less than ideal way. Often, we can go years not really understanding how major decisions have been guided by hidden motivations, and that can get in the way of being the best leader, friend, or team member one can be.”
Josh wrapped the summaries up in his post Keeping it Real with an overview of the structure we used for the bootcamp
Practical Skills + Radical Self-Inquiry + Shared Experiences = Enhanced Leadership + Greater Resiliency
followed by a good discussion around imposter syndrome, which came up a few different times and manifests itself in many different ways in our daily life, especially around entrepreneurship and investing.
It was deeply enjoyable to host this event at my house and spent a few days at a very emotionally intimate level with some VCs I know and have worked with and others that I met for the first time. I was a player-coach for the weekend – participating instead of facilitating, but also co-hosting with Jerry. I was concerned that this would be a challenge, but in hindsight it felt very natural to me. And, during a session where I became Jerry’s focus, I realized something profound that I had never put together before about my relationship with power.
To everyone who participated – thank you for being brave and taking the risk to engage at the level that a Reboot bootcamp demands.
I spent an hour yesterday at The Corner Boxing Club. I spent an hour with Carrie Barry (the founder) learning the very, very, very basics. And I got an incredible workout that had me in bed reading – after a bath – by 9pm.
I love trying new things. Often, I only do something once if I’m not interested in it, but I’ll definitely be back to The Corner Boxing Club. I loved everything about it – the vibe, the place, Carrie, the workout, what I learned, and how it felt.
After awkwardly walking into the club with my street clothes on and a running bag full of workout clothes, Carrie found me and pointed me at the Men’s locker room (which is a bathroom in the office building they are in.) I changed into completely inappropriate, uncool, and wrong running clothes, including a new yellow LuluLemon top that I recently got and my orange Asics running shoes. Carrie pretended she didn’t notice.
Her first question to me was “how many fights have you gotten into.” My answer – two. The first was in third grade. A kid was picking on me and I turned around and punched him in the face and flattened him. The second was in eleventh grade. My friends had turned on me for a year (I don’t remember why) and one of them (Drew) was pushing me around. I turned around, punched him in the face, and flattened him. I’m a mellow happy guy but apparently there is some primal rage buried deep somewhere. Carrie’s response was to grin a big grin and say, “Cool – so you aren’t afraid to throw a punch.” I didn’t respond, as I’d never thought about it and didn’t think two childhood random lucky left hook connects counted for much.
She took me through a 10 minute warm up that had me dripping sweat and my muscles burning at the end of the backward bear crawl. My warmups at Revo are much easier – suddenly I missed them.
She then spent the next 20 minutes taking me through the basics. I learned the boxing stance, the idea that I should think of it like dancing, and how to jab with my right hand and punch with my left. Some of the motions felt familiar because of tennis and I quickly realized how much of it was in the legs.
I spent the next 20 minutes with gloves on dancing around on Carrie’s command (1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 3, 3, 1, 1) and then doing 1, 2 combinations into her mitts. When that ended, I was physically done, but I still had more to do.
We went into a caged area, she gave me a baseball bat, and told me to hit the shit out of the hanging bag. She gave me a demo and then I went after it – probably 70 or 80 swings. Exhausting – but man it felt good.
As I got in my car, I remembered to send a quick note to my friends David Mandell and Jerry Colonna who had bought me an hour of boxing as a gift. My first hour was awesome – and – I’ll be back …
This year’s local election in Boulder is a critical one. The city that we love risks shutting its doors. While the business community in Boulder has contributed immeasurably to the vibrancy, charitable contribution base, economic development, and success of our community, there is a faction in Boulder that feels that our city should stop moving forward and instead should live in the past. This faction believes in a less inclusive Boulder and aims to achieve this goal by literally shutting the doors to our city.
This is what is behind propositions 300 and 301 which are proposed amendments to the city’s charter.
This faction is well organized and well funded and the slogans make it sound reasonable. But make no mistake: the goal is to immediately freeze all development of all types around the city by enveloping the city a bundle of political red tape.
In the coming days, Boulder residents will be asked to vote on the following:
#300 – Neighborhood Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation
#301 – New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way
These initiatives must be voted down.
While innocuous sounding, the names of these initiatives completely misrepresent their intent and the dire consequences that would result if they are enacted. The truth is that neighborhoods already do have a say in projects that affect them, and developers already do pay some of the highest fees and taxes in the country.
Effectively, these proposals will create 60+ neighborhoods in Boulder. Can you imagine what would happen if we had that many homeowner associations that had the power to hold special elections and veto land use changes approved by city council? The smallest of those neighborhoods would be comprised of just 19 houses. That’s not “local control” (which already exists), that’s a deliberate attempt to create gridlock.
These initiatives will immediately freeze important infill development, including affordable housing, transit-oriented development, neighborhood serving retail, social service centers, and day care centers. The city manager has stated that the city will stop issuing permits of any kind for at least six months while they figure out what these initiatives mean and how to implement them. Once they do start reissuing permits, these initiatives will force the city to levy such high taxes and fees that development will effectively stop in Boulder. This will stop our city in its tracks and greatly exacerbate an already expensive housing market.
These measures are opposed by six former mayors, all nine City Council members, numerous former city council members, Boulder Housing Partners, The Daily Camera, and numerous civic groups like Open Boulder, the Boulder Chamber, Better Boulder, and others. Open Boulder executive director Andy Schultheiss has called them “among the worst pieces of public policy I’ve seen in almost 25 years of observing and participating in local policy-making.”
It’s critically important that we defeat these measures. To do that we need to get the word out to those in our community who want Boulder to continue to be a vibrant city. The sad irony is that those promoting these measures have the time and organization to put towards pressing their backward and closed agenda while many who oppose it are busy helping keep Boulder prosperous by creating jobs and economic growth.
This is a battle we can’t afford to lose. Please take a minute to help us get the word out. Send it to your friends via email and social media. Urge your neighbors to vote and make sure you vote yourself. With ballots mailed out this week many in our community will be voting in the next seven days (over 50% of ballots are returned within a week of their being sent out).
Seth, Jason, Brad, Ryan
Below are some suggested tweets or Facebook posts should you chose to share them:
Click to Tweet: I agree with @foundrygroup. 300 and 301 will have devastating effects on boulder. VOTE NO on both! #keepboulderopen https://bit.ly/1ReQamJ
Click to Tweet: I stand for keeping the doors to boulder open. VOTE NO on 300 and 301. #keepboulderopen https://bit.ly/1ReQamJ
Click to Tweet: In boulder’s upcoming election we’ll decide if we want to live in the past or continue to thrive. #keepboulderopen https://bit.ly/1ReQamJ
From Chattanooga to Omaha to Las Vegas, many cities in the US – and around the world – are building startup communities. An important part of doing this to attract, retain, and mentor more young people.
Behind every successful startup community is a group of young people with their entire life ahead of them. These youngsters aren’t afraid to take on projects bigger than themselves and won’t take no for an answer. They come from all different walks of life, places around the globe, and with varied experiences and knowledge. And they all come with enthusiasm and a desire to learn. Over time, as they learn who they are as young adults, they grow the communities they are a part of into something unique.
A new book that just came out, 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World, highlights the stories of young kids across the globe who are creating ripples in their own communities.One of the millennials highlighted in the book is Fletcher Richman, now the platform manager at Galvanize Ventures.
As a University of Colorado at Boulder student, Fletcher Richman co founded Spark Boulder, Colorado’s first student coworking space, which Amy and I have financially supported (check out the bathrooms the next time you are there.) In his junior year in college, he largely directed and oversaw the fundraising, construction, and day-to-day operations of Spark. Fletcher could always be found meeting student entrepreneurs and would regularly seek out and offer other promising students internships at growing Boulder startups. He also helped create a set of classes at Spark that help students learn iOS Development, growth hacking, and front end web development.
Fletcher is constantly thinking about new ways to grow our startup community and young people like him that have made an enormous contribution to Boulder’s growing startup scene. But they’ve also made contributions like Fletcher’s all over the world. The book 2 Billion Under 20 has great examples of millennials from Iowa to Israel doing things similar to what Fletcher does to make their startup communities more successful.
Young people have the opportunity to move and build their life anywhere they want. So how do growing communities retain them? When I asked Fletcher why he chose to stay in Boulder, he said “everyone is very supportive and wants to help mentor you, so you learn a lot and have the ability to grow without feeling like you’re in a rat race.” Young people want to constantly be learning, contribute in a meaningful way and have the work they do be personally relevant and important to them.
It’s easy to talk about attracting more talent to your city, growing your community and creating a new spot on the map for startup innovation. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers of how many companies your community has launched, how many have raised capital, how many jobs they’ve created, and how many have exited. But to do any of this over a long period of time you need to pay attention to those young dreamers who are already in the community and engage and mentor them to reach their full potential.
In the article The biggest tech company founders from every state I win the callout for Arkansas.
“Arkansas: Brad Feld has bounced around a lot: born in Arkansas, raised in Dallas, then lived in Boston for over a decade before moving to Boulder, Colorado. He’s most known for founding Foundry Group, a prominent venture capital firm that focuses on early stage investment, but also co-founded startup accelerator Techstars.”
I was born in Blytheville, Arkansas on an air force base in 1965. My dad was in the Air Force for several years during the Vietnam War after being drafted. Once he finished his service a year later, he moved to Boston to finish out his residency at Mass General Hospital. Then, in 1969, he and my mom, with two kids in tow (me and my younger brother Daniel, who had just been born) moved to Dallas, Texas. My parents knew one person in Dallas when they moved there and they chose Dallas (over Kansas City, which was a near second) as a place they wanted to build their life. My dad’s brother Charlie followed him to Dallas a year later in 1970.
I don’t view myself as being from Arkansas even though I was born there. It’s one of those weird artifacts of one’s life. I used to be able to roll it out in big group introductions when each person is asked to say one thing about themselves that no one else in the group knows. I now have to come up with something else, like the age I was when I read The 158 Pound Marriage by John Irving (answer: inappropriately young.)
I grew up in Dallas, Texas. When I went to college at age 17, I thought I’d move back to Dallas and live there after I graduated. Within a year of living in Boston, I knew I wouldn’t move back to Dallas, even though I never really thought I’d stay very long in Boston.
Twelve years later I moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado. While I lasted 11 years longer in Boston than my dad did, I sometimes feel like I lived in Boston for 11 years and 364 days too many. Upon serious reflection, Boston was very good for me, but it never felt like home.
When Amy and I moved to Boulder in 1995, we knew one person. He moved away several months later. Then, a year later, my brother Daniel moved to Boulder. I don’t think we realized we were following the same pattern as our parents and my Uncle Charlie, but 20 years later, we are still living near each other in Boulder and 46 years later my dad and his brother are still living in Dallas.
I’ve now lived in Boulder longer than anywhere else. So – where am I from? While I comfortably say that I grew up in Dallas, I’m from Boulder and have built my life, with Amy, around being here.
My parents, who were both born and grew up in the Bronx, are definitely from Dallas. Same with my Uncle Charlie.
Until the Business Insider article put me as being from Arkansas, I had never really pondered where I was from very much. It was easy to describe where I lived, and it often felt self-indulgent to parade around as a Texan, which at some point I got over. But I never felt like I was from Arkansas or Boston.
When I say I’m from Boulder, it feels good.
At Foundry Group, we have a deeply held belief that we benefit from our local community (Boulder, in our case) and that we have a responsibility, as we have success, to give back to our local community.
My partner Seth Levine just had an excellent OpEd in the Boulder Daily Camera explaining this. It’s titled Entrepreneurs can give back, by giving early to EFCO. In it he explains more about Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) and Pledge 1%, two organizations we have helped create.
Seth also describes our recent gift of $300,000, via EFCO, to Boulder-based non-profits, to fill a gap in funding from Foothills United Way that happened recently.
“The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County announced last week it will grant an additional $300,000 to local Boulder County nonprofits this summer in response to a 62 percent cut in funding from Foothills United Way. The grants will be funded by Foundry through our membership in the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO).”
While many people view Boulder as a wealthy town, we have our share of people struggling to make ends meet. In fact, as Seth highlights in his OpEd:
“We hope this money will impact the thousands of local families and individuals who struggle to make ends meet in what is viewed by many as a wealthy, prosperous community. In fact, Boulder County has higher poverty rates than Colorado as a whole, and more than 9,000 children in our community live below the poverty level (defined as just over $24,000 per year for a family of four.)”
Amy and I contribute personally to several of the non-profits that this funding will go to. But, with EFCO, many more people can help. This gift is from Foundry Group and involved all the people (11 of them) who work for Foundry Group, not just the four partners. And, when you go to the EFCO page and see the list of the other 70+ or so companies that are members, you start to get a sense as to the power of the startup community in giving back to the broader community.
To date, Boulder-based startups such as Rally Software, Gnip, Revolv, Mocavo, DocPopcorn, Techstars, and Filtrbox have joined Foundry Group in distributing more than $3.5 million to Colorado community nonprofits since 2007 at the point of exit — when companies are either acquired or go public.
If you are a founder of a company and subscribe to the #GiveFirst motto that is so central to the Boulder startup community, give me a shout if you want to get plugged into EFCO (if you are in Colorado) or Pledge 1% (if you are anywhere else in the world).
Part of the fun of having a blog for a long time is that it captures some of the history – in the moment – of what’s going on. For example, from a post in 2008 about Rally’s $16.85m financing, I riffed on the origins of the company.
Rally started out life as F4 Technologies. I remember my friend Ryan Martens sitting down with me and Chris Wand around 2001 and walking us through his idea for changing the how he approached managing the software development process. I can’t remember if Ryan used the word Agile at that time, but I remember scribbles on a white board that listed out all the different software that Ryan had used at BEA to manage his dev team and how maddening it was to try to integrate information in Word, Excel, Project, a dev workbench, a set of testing tools, and the support / QA system. Ryan had a vision for an integration web-based system to layer on top of all of this to help support and manage the software development process.
We weren’t the first investor in Rally. Ryan quickly raised about $400k of friends and family money. We offered Ryan space to work out of our office which he did for a year or so as he got things up and running. About a year after he got started, he was ready to raise a venture financing. At the same time, his partner at his previous company – Tim Miller – was doing an entrepreneur-in-residence at a local Boulder VC firm (Boulder Ventures). Ryan was encouraged to team up with Tim and shortly after that happened we co-led the first round VC financing with Boulder Ventures.
It has been a rocket ship from there. Tim, Ryan, and team have created a phenomenal company that is built on two trends that have picked up massive speed in the past few years: (1) Agile and (2) SaaS. In 2003 – while Agile was known – it was largely limited to ISVs and a few leading IT organizations. SaaS was beginning to be talked about as Salesforce.com’s success (and leverage from the SaaS model) became apparent.
Or if you want to go back to 2004 and 2005 when I was really learning about Agile, well before it had become a household name, you could read my posts Agile Software Development with SCRUM or Do You Develop Software For A Living? – Get Agile with Rally Release 5.
Or maybe dip into the 2006 and 2007 time frame when Rally was in an award cycle with my posts Rally’s New Financing and the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award and Boulder 2007 Esprit Entrepreneur Awards.
Over the fast dozen years, Rally has gone from a raw startup to a 500 person public company. Tim Miller (CEO) and Ryan Martens (CTO, founder) have been working together from the start of the journey. Jim Lejeal, the CFO, was an original angel investor, then board member, and then CFO joining full time when the company was around 200 people.
It makes me so happy to reflect on my relationship with each of Tim, Ryan, and Jim. I first met Tim when he had just started Avitek (his previous company) working in the same office space as Andrew Currie, who had just started Email Publishing (my first angel investment in Boulder.) I met Ryan via Young Entrepreneurs Organization – we were both in the same YEO forum. And I was the seed investor, via Mobius, in Jim’s second company (Raindance, which he co-founded with Paul Berberian – CEO of Orbotix and Todd Vernon – CEO of VictorOps.) But more importantly, I’m close friends with each of them, even though my direct involvement in Rally ended about two years ago when the company went public.
There are hundreds of paragraphs I could write about all of the amazing things Rally Software has done for the Boulder Startup Community and for the extended city of Boulder. But I’ll end with one of them – the creation of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (now Pledge 1%). The story starts in 2007 with the founding of EFCO, which Ryan and I spearheaded and had a huge punch line in 2013 when Rally Made a Gift of $1.3 Million To The Boulder Community after their IPO. Ryan continues to head up EFCO and is co-founder of Pledge 1%, which is the effort to take EFCO international.
To the extended Rally Software family past and present – congratulations. You’ve built something very special that is part of the long arc story of Boulder. And – to Tim and Ryan – thank you for letting me participate in your journey.
Amy and I just got back from a great week off the grid in Paris. We were both exhausted and badly needed a break. When we want to get away from humans, we go to our place in Homer. When we want to lose ourselves in a big city, we go to Paris. We both are incredibly refreshed feeling and happy to be home with the rapidly growing puppy Super Cooper and his friend Brooks the Wonder Dog.
Before I left I did 15 minute interview on WGBH’s Innovation Hub program. I’m happy to do an interview with WGBH anytime they call given the number of hours of my life I spent listening to them during my twelve years living in Boston.
I listened to it on the ride home from the airport yesterday and thought it was one of the better short interviews I’ve done in a while. Enjoy!
If you are a founder or employee of a startup in Boulder and want to increase the overall effectiveness of our local Boulder government, please help us fund the Code for America Fellowship in Boulder.
We are raising a total of $75,000 to match the $75,000 being contributed to this effort by the City of Boulder. So far $30,000 of the $75,000 has been funded by my partners at Foundry Group, Rally Software, and the Anchor Point Foundation (the foundation that Amy and I run). If you’d like to contribute, either email me or donate online at the Code for America site.
Through the foresight of Liz Hansen and Jane Brautigam (the Boulder City Manager), Code for America is working on a project with the City of Boulder to help the city increase its engagement with stakeholders in Boulder around civic issues, including the city’s housing plan. As Jane mentions in her guest opinion piece, she believes this is the year for Boulder to be at its best. As she clearly states:
“It is my commitment to you, the community, that we are listening and that the city team is putting in place a number of new tools and work efforts to support inclusive, respectful and meaningful conversations in 2015, and beyond. These include the hiring of a new neighborhood liaison, a position that was approved last year by council as part of the 2015 budget; a new partnership with Code for America and local volunteers to develop better tools for online engagement and information sharing; and robust community participation processes for the work related to affordable housing, design excellence, our climate commitment, and our community’s comprehensive plan.”
This project resulted in us bringing Becky Boone, last year’s fellow with the City of Denver, to Boulder to spend seven months working with the city. Part of Code for America’s approach is that the city funds half and the community funds half, hence our call for action to support our half of the funding for the program.
Boulder is internationally recognized as a very successful startup community and this entrepreneurial approach fits Colorado well. However, with success comes challenges, including growth and issues of density. Today, Boulder has a population of about 100,000 and about 100,000 jobs. 60% of these job holders commute into Boulder for work while 40% live and work in Boulder in one of the 44,000 housing units.
With population and jobs estimated to grow to about 115,000 each by 2035, Boulder has a success problem. This is exacerbated by design constraints developed for the city in the 1960s and 1970s. The result of these “success problems” is in an increased tension around the discussion of the future of our city in the editorial pages of the Daily Camera, City Council meetings, and conversations around town.
In the search for simple solutions, almost every group in town has been blamed. Lately, the success of the entrepreneur ecosystem has started to become the target for criticism around these issues. As a result, a number of the leaders in the startup community, including myself, have recognized that we need to engage in the discussion to continue to evolve Boulder and make it even better than it is today, rather than simply exist in our own parallel universe.
While the Code for America project is only one activity in the midst of a bunch of different things, it’s a powerful way for the Boulder startup community to show that it’s serious about constructively engaging in talking about and working through our success problems. Help us raise the balance of the $45,000 of our side of the commitment by contributing today.