There has been a lot of recent noise in Boulder about growth, challenges, and the impact of the tech community on the city. I stirred the pot a little more with my post The Endless Struggle That Boulder Has With Itself. It generated some private emails, including non-constructive troll-like ones such as “Get the fuck out of town, you and people like you are ruining everything” at one end of the extreme to “It’s so frustrating that the all growth is bad crowd is framing the public debate right now and portraying so-called overpaid tech employees as a major cause of all that is wrong in Boulder.”
Andy Alsop, an entrepreneur in Santa Fe who has spent a lot of time in Colorado, sent me a note with some thoughts about his view and experience from working as an entrepreneur in Santa Fe. I asked if he’d write a longer post from his perspective and he took me up on it. Following is a guest post from Andy that I think adds nicely to the discussion.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Santa Fe and I love New Mexico. This is where my kids were born, where three out of the six kids in my family own property and where I have lived for the past 20 years. This is my perspective on why the Boulder City Council should be grateful for the gift it has been given.
I have chosen Colorado as the place where I want to focus the next chapter of my startup life because of its similarities to New Mexico but with the benefit of a rich and diverse tech economy. Since approximately July of 2014 I have been spending half of my time getting to know people in Colorado and half of my time in New Mexico where I work and where my family is currently based. This has allowed me to spend time in Boulder with some exciting startups and some interesting and successful business leaders.
To give you some background, I moved to Santa Fe, NM from the East Coast in 1995 to start a company with my older brother. Prior to making the decision to move out West I asked myself, “Is Santa Fe the right kind of place for me as a technology entrepreneur?” I thought about it for a while before making the move and decided that I was in love with the beautiful outdoors, the endless blue skies, the culture, the great food and the interesting people so with bravado I said to myself “Hell, I’m smart and hardworking and this whole ‘Internet’ thing is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I live.” As a result, I founded two startups, one of them a spinout from Los Alamos National Laboratory and have been a part of three other startups all of them based on technology.
I find the debate around Boulder’s “dilemma” to be very interesting because Boulder and Santa Fe share a lot of the same characteristics. Both are similar in size, both have educated populations, both are a short drive from a larger city, both are absolutely stunning in terms of the landscape and the outdoors, both are set in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains restricting their ability to grow in all but one direction and both have a high cost of living and a high cost of housing.
In contrast to Boulder, Santa Fe has a stunted economy because it doesn’t share some of the key characteristics of Boulder – including several of the four elements of the “Boulder Thesis” that Brad outlined in his book “Startup Communities.” Santa Fe’s anemic economy is due in large part because Santa Fe has an older population made up primarily of retirees in addition to federal, state and local government workers and service-based workers. We have one “larger” company based in Santa Fe: Thornburg Investment Management which thankfully provides 250 high wage jobs. There are a handful of other smaller companies in Santa Fe but the majority of our businesses are tourism and services based – restaurants, art galleries, hotels, B&B’s, etc. This makes it difficult to make a living in Santa Fe (see Santa Fe’s Living Wage). You will frequently hear people joke about the fact that to make a million dollars in Santa Fe you need to come with two and to live in Santa Fe you must have two to three jobs just to survive. “Young people” come to Santa Fe based on their attraction to the beautiful outdoors and leave when they realize it is difficult to make a living. Santa Fe ends up being a turnstile for young professionals.
Having attempted to recruit experienced knowledge workers to Santa Fe I would always get the same questions from the candidates – “Where are my kids going to go to school?” (While improving, Santa Fe and NM have some of the worst public schools in the country) and “Where am I going to work if your startup doesn’t make it?” Boulder on the other hand has a great school system and a diverse tech economy so that when knowledge workers are recruited to Boulder the recruiter can say “We have great schools and if this position doesn’t work out there are plenty of other places to work.” That means recruits are willing to uproot their families and bring them to Boulder.
So, when I hear members of the Boulder City Council saying “…locals say they don’t like the tech folks…” and the startup economy is attracting “highly paid white men to the city, and they were pricing out families and others” I can’t help but think – Are you crazy? Having a robust tech economy is what many communities like Santa Fe WISH they had. Our civic leaders have to deal with the higher cost of housing from wealthy out of state housing buyers yet the local workers are trying to survive on minimum wage jobs and the government on an insufficient tax base. As a result I have seen NM increasingly tax everything not because it is greedy but because we have to take care of a far poorer population. For instance, the “gross receipts tax” (NM’s version of a sales tax but it is levied on both goods AND services) in Santa Fe has steadily risen from just under 6% 20 years ago to over 8% now and it continues to climb.
Imagine the problems Boulder would have if it were in the same shoes as Santa Fe and didn’t have a thriving tech economy to rely on? Be Bolder Boulder and embrace the gifts that have been bestowed upon you. Work with the tech community rather than making divisive statements and see the members of your thriving tech economy as your friend and not your enemy.
I’ve now lived in Boulder for 19 years. It was an amazing place when I moved here and has evolved into an even more stupendous place over the past 19 years, notwithstanding the irrational and self-limiting struggle that the Boulder City Council seems to have with change.
Over the past decade, the Boulder Startup Community has had significant success and impact on the culture and dynamics of the city. I wrote about some of the history and impact in my book Startup Communities and the Boulder Thesis that I came up with has now been used as a template for creating startup communities all over the world.
Since being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in the startup community” is the third principle of the Boulder Thesis, I get sad when I see phrases like the following in articles in the NY Times about Boulder such as:
“The locals say they don’t like the tech folks pouring into town to work at places like Google. They’re insular. They’re driving up housing prices. And they fear those newcomers are more like invaders than people trying to fit into their new community.”
Earlier this year, Macon Cowles, a member of our city council asserted that Boulder’s startup economy brought a lot of very highly paid white men to the city, and they were pricing out families and others. He then followed up with the statement “I don’t think that’s what people want.” If you know the Boulder Startup Community, you know that it’s actually bringing diversity to what is historically a very ethnically white town. A group of Boulder Startup Community leaders, including Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava, and my partner Jason Mendelson wrote an OpEd titled A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community where they challenged Macon Cowles’ perspective.
“We are women and men. We are parents. We are veterans of the military. We are ultra marathoners. We are musicians and artists. We are foodies. We are sportspeople and environmentalists. We are philanthropists. We are educators. We are graduating students with entry-level jobs gaining valuable experience. We are techie nerds. We are clean energy inventors. We are natural food creators. We are of all races and ethnicities. We are young. We are old. We are straight. We are LBGTQ. We come from every religious background. We are the cross-section of our entire community. We are risk takers who have decided to create our own jobs and jobs for others.”
Cowles eventually apologized but couldn’t help but include a link to an article about Google’s diversity record in his tweet.
— Macon Cowles (@MaconCowles) August 31, 2014
I fear Cowles doesn’t realize that the National Center for Women & Information Technology, led by long time Boulderite Lucy Sanders, is on the front edge of the tech / diversity issue. I’ve been immersed in the gender side of the diversity issue as chair of NCWIT since 2006 and Google is a strong, positive participant in this. Ethnic diversity in tech, especially in the US, is a big struggle, but it’s a big struggle in Boulder as well, since the population here is over 90% white.
I wish the NY Times article titled A Google Gentrification Fight That Doesn’t Involve San Francisco had a broader, and more than one-sided perspective. It stood out in stark contrast to several other articles I read this morning, including From startup to $7 billion, Zayo encourages ideas, entrepreneurs and Nancy Phillips followed her passion to go ViaWest. These Denver Post articles do a great job of highlighting the positive impact Dan Caruso and his team at Zayo and Nancy Phillips and her team at Viawest have had on the Boulder (and Denver) Startup Communities. And, as a bonus, Nancy has been an incredible leader and advocate for NCWIT.
At this point, the Boulder Startup Community is deeply woven into the fabric of Boulder. There is an incredible positive feedback loop between everything going on here. For those who have so quickly forgotten the global financial crisis of 2008 – 2010, one of the main reasons Boulder was so minimally impacted was the strength of the startup community – not just for employment, but for discretionary spending as well.
But ultimately this isn’t really about economics. Or innovation. Or ethnicity. Or gender.
It’s about change. And evolution. The Boulder of 2015 is not the Boulder of 1970. It’s also not the Boulder of 1995. It’s the Boulder of 2015. And we need to keep being inclusive and working together to keep it great, and make it better.
I’m gearing up for a long series of posts about the various books I read on my month off on Bora Bora. In the mean time, I read a bunch of stuff online this morning (from Friday through today) and thought I’d give you a taste of some of it in case you feel like digging in.
I started with How Reading Transforms Us. It’s a good frame setting piece about some new research on the impact of reading – both fiction and non-fiction – on humans. There is a pleasant surprise in there about how non-fiction influences us.
As with many of you, I’m deeply intrigued by what’s going on around the movie The Interview. Fred Wilson wrote a post titled The Interview Mess in which he expresses some opinions. I’m not in opinion mode yet as each day reveals more information, including some true stupidity on the part of various participants. Instead, I’m still enjoying The Meta Interview, which is how the real world is reacting to The Interview.
Let’s start with the FBI’s Update on Sony Investigation followed by Obama Vow[ing] a Response to Cyberattack on Sony. 2600 weighs in with a deliciously ironic offer to help Sony get distribution for The Interview. Sony’s lawyers unmuffle their CEO Michael Lynton who fires back at President Obama.
Now it starts getting really interesting. North Korea says huh, what, wait, it wasn’t us and seeks a joint probe with US on Sony hack (yeah – like that is going to happen.) After everyone worrying about not being able to see The Interview (which might now be the most interesting movie of 2014 before we’ve even seen it), Sony says Nope, we didn’t chicken out – you will get to see The Interview.
Apparently, Obama isn’t finished. Instead, he’s just getting started. He’s decided that the North Korea hack on Sony Pictures was not an act of war but is now trying to decide if it’s terrorism so he can put North Korea on the terrorism sponsors list to join Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. No wait, maybe it’s to replace Cuba which Obama has decided to restore full relations with.
Thankfully, Dr. Evil weighs in on this whole thing and makes sense of it (starting at 0:40).
At the same time we are struggling over North Korean’s cyber attack terrorism censorship thing, we are struggling with our own internal efforts by some very powerful companies to figure out how the Internet should work in the US. Hmmm – irony?
Let’s start with the cable industry’s darkest fears if the Internet becomes a utility. According to the Washington Post, Congress now wants to legislate net neutrality. And Verizon tells the FCC that what they do doesn’t really matter to them.
The FCC situation is so fucked up at this point that I don’t think anyone knows which way is up. Fortunately, we have the Silicon Flatirons Digital Broadband Migration Conference happening in February which I’m speaking at to clear this all up. Well, or at least watch some entertaining, very bifurcated arguments about First Principles for a Twenty First Century Innovation Policy.
If you are a little bummed by now about how humans behave, check out this article where MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters. For a taste:
The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”. One redditor helpfully called out the double standard, saying, “Don’t worry guys – when the male dog groomer did his AMA (where he specifically identified as male), there were also dozens of comments asking why his sex mattered. Oh no, wait, there weren’t.”
But the fun doesn’t end with cyberterrorism, censorship, incumbent control, or gender bias. Our good friends at Google are expanding their presence in our lovely little town of Boulder from 300 employees to over 1,500 employees. I think this is awesome, but not everyone in Boulder agrees that more Googlers are a good thing. I wonder if they still use Lycos or Ask Jeeves as their search engine. And for those in Boulder hoping we municipalize our Internet net, consider FERC’s smackdown of the City of Boulder’s Municipalization position.
Oh, and did you realize the US government actually made a $15 billion profit on TARP?
I have been talking, writing, and helping advocate for women in technology for a long time. While my most visible role is as chair of National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) since its inception in 2006, I’ve tried to be actively involved and supportive of as many initiatives as I can. My partners and I are focused on promoting diversity in our fund (here’s a run-down of our stats) and have recently back several female CEOs, with a few more about to happen. At Techstars, we’ve put a huge amount of energy into building a pipeline of female founders and getting women involved in Techstars in many roles, especially at the leadership level in companies and the program.
Six months ago, two Boulder entrepreneurs and angel investors approached me and my partners about investing in a new accelerator targeting women-led companies. We’ve known and worked with both Elizabeth Kraus and Sue Heilbronner and deeply believe that each are committed to the “give before you get” ethos of our startup community in Boulder.
Our respect for Elizabeth and Sue, combined with our passion for their objective, led us to invest personally in MergeLane, which has secured strong support from a tremendous group of mentors, investors, media, and the Boulder startup community.
In order to be considered for admission into the 12-week program, which begins on February 2nd, companies must have at least one female in a leadership role. The program is industry-agnostic, but startups need to have some level of traction. MergeLane requires only three weeks of residency in Boulder in hopes of accommodating founders that can’t relocate for a full three months.
The deadline to apply for MergeLane is December 15th. Take a look and apply at www.MergeLane.com.
Forget those business conferences with long speeches and boring panel discussions. On November 18, Boulder’s most innovative businesses will open their doors to the public to celebrate Boulder companies who drive the networked economy. NewCo Boulder is a city-wide event that takes you right into the corporate offices of over 40 of the most innovative and successful companies around Boulder, offering attendees a tour rather than a company description packet.
At NewCo, attendees will sign up for a free pass to visit any of the participating organizations, from software companies, to restaurants, to non-profits and more. During the event attendees will check out the offices of the some of the most interesting and inventive companies around the city and take part in an interactive presentation about what each organization is doing to make an impact on the global landscape.
I am proud to serve on the Board of Advisors alongside Nicole Glaros, Larry Gold, Walter Knapp, Seth Levine, Sean Maher, Jane Miller, and Kimbal Musk. Boulder’s NewCo team, Rich Maloy and Tim O’Shea, have pulled together an impressive group of organizations across a wide range of industries in the community.
It’s an opportunity to see what Boulder businesses are doing and where it actually takes place: offices, breweries, bakeries etc. Attendees can learn from their strategies and executions, gain some insights from their successes, maybe even drop off a business card or resume. The event is open to everyone and it’s free for the Boulder community.
For more information on NewCo Boulder including the companies participating, please visit: https://bdr.newco.co
Have questions about NewCo Boulder 2014? Contact Rich Maloy, Engage Colorado: email@example.com
I’ve sat in the background and expressed my opinion privately on the energy utility municipalization issue in Boulder. It’s been one where the debate and exploration so far has been much more emotional, at least in my opinion, that rational.
Beth Hartman recently reached out to me with an extremely clear point of view that parallels mine. It was stimulated by a recently announced spending increase of 18% for the 2015 budget, borrowing $4 million from the general fund for the municipal utility effort. I’ve long felt that the city of Boulder could take a much more innovative approach to this problem, but everyone I’ve suggested this to who is an advocate of municipalization had said “but we can’t spend the money on that.” Now that the city has demonstrated that they’ll take money from the general fund to spend on municipalization, I encourage everyone in Boulder to rethink the path we are taking.
Following is the OpEd and Beth and I had published in the Boulder Daily Camera today. I’m certain it will generate plenty of emotional response, which I put in the “whatever” category. I’m much more interested in the rational, thoughtful responses that discuss what we could be doing around our energy future that’s actually progressive as well as innovative.
The original article is at Boulder’s budget: Our best bet?, but the Daily Camera took all the links out, so if you want the backstory, they are in the post that follows.
Boulder’s Budget: Our Best Bet? By Brad Feld and Beth Hartman
Boulder recently announced a spending increase of 18% for the 2015 budget, borrowing $4 million from the general fund for the municipal utility effort – in addition to the money that the city has already spent. With the utility business model currently under pressure around the world from disruptive forces that many in the industry refer to as a “death spiral,” the city’s assertion that this money will soon be repaid should be carefully examined by every citizen and business leader in town.
Citizens and businesses would be wise to scrutinize this investment not just because of the millions that are being spent now, but more importantly because of the serious impact that potentially higher electricity prices could have on this community in the coming years. While Boulder is currently building a strong reputation as an entrepreneurial ecosystem to rival Silicon Valley and is consistently voted among the top cities to live in the country, there is almost nothing more fundamental to quality of life and competitive business than affordable energy.
A municipal utility may be able to provide electricity that is cheaper or about as affordable as our current utility offers – or the city may waste millions of dollars trying, just as communities in Florida, California, and New Mexico have done recently. Although the city is hoping that rates will be lower and Boulder will actually earn money, the fact that Barclays recently downgraded the entire utility sector indicates that this is not currently a business model with strong growth opportunity for new entrants. In addition to uncertainty about costs, there are several big legal questions pending that must be answered before we know if the plan will even work, over which the city has little to no control.
Why are we taking this considerable risk? Instead of buying a bunch of old poles and wires, we could be spending the money on more innovative initiatives that would have a real impact on saving energy and reducing carbon emissions, such as solar panels, an electric vehicle car sharing program, or installing Nest thermostats the way Airbnb is doing.
There are many innovative energy companies right here in Boulder, offering an opportunity to support solutions that can be rapidly replicated in other cities around the world. Instead of spending so much on a 20th century business model, the city could focus more on coordinating efforts between local energy entrepreneurs, the university, research labs, and consulting companies, providing thought leadership on new energy solutions. This would also offer amazing economic benefits to our own community, through helping to create more jobs at Boulder-based organizations. The city could start offering this support now, without waiting to see what happens with the uncertainty of forming a utility.
Another important question is what else our community could be doing with the millions of dollars we are spending on this effort, whether it’s schools, roads, affordable housing, open space maintenance, or any other initiative that our city needs. If you are a citizen who is concerned about the city’s new budget, please reach out to city council and ask them what else we could be doing with so much money. We could also ask for more details on how exactly they plan to deliver an energy service that is at least as good as what we’re getting now.
If you understand the difference between renewable energy and efficiency, distributed generation and demand response, and net metering and decoupling, please reach out to city council and have a conversation with them about their plans to start a utility during this time of disruption for an incredibly complex and challenging industry. Finally, if you are a business owner and you rely on affordable energy for your company to run every day, please reach out to city council and ask them how they are going to support your needs.
Getting into the utility business now is in many ways akin to starting a land line telephone company right when the internet and cell phones were really starting to get popular. Our community needs to question the wisdom of our city investing in this industry right now, with so many real risks.
This week is Boulder Startup Week 2014.
If you have read my book Startup Communities, then you know Andrew Hyde was the founder of Boulder Startup Week. After a hiatus of a few years, he’s back this year as one of the organizers of BSW 2014.
I’m around all week. Following are the events I’ll either be attending or speaking at.
– 8am – 9am: Boulder Open Coffee Club
– 10am – 1130am: Startup Politics: Who Needs It: I’ll be doing a panel with Congressman Jared Polis.
– 3pm – 4pm: Jane Miller Interview: I’ll be interviewing Jane about her new book, Sleep Your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success) that is the second book being published by FG Press.
Thursday (5/15): 8am – 9am: Controversy of Diversity
Come join me for some or all of these. And have an awesome BSW 2014!
Dane McDonald, the CEO of FG Press, took my 3D Robotics IRIS drone out for a spin around Boulder and the surrounding area. His three minute composite video is beautiful, and just the beginning of some fun drone exploratory imagery.
And yes, he got at least one gratuitous non-Boulder mountain snow shot in there. Enjoy!
Amy and I recently agreed to support the new Museum of Boulder with a substantial gift that entitles us to sponsor all the bathrooms in the new museum.
This highly interactive museum of history, science, and technology of Boulder will be located in the old Masonic Lodge building at the corner of Pine and Broadway. The Boulder History Museum purchased that building last year and is raising money for the renovation of the building and the construction of the new exhibits and facilities.
The “old” museum is located at 12th and Euclid in the Harbeck House and, while this is a beautiful old house, it lacks the space for the exhibits and programs that are envisioned for the new museum.
The new museum (renamed the Museum of Boulder because of its greatly expanded scope) will include a permanent exhibit space exploring the past, present, and future of Boulder and a large temporary exhibit gallery so that Boulder can host Smithsonian quality traveling exhibits. The building will also contain a children’s museum, expanded educational facilities, and a Maker Space. Permanent exhibits will include the overall history of Boulder and the evolution of the Food, Fitness, Science and Technology innovations, and businesses in Boulder.
Amy and I are pleased to support the campaign to build the new museum and urge others to contribute to this worthwhile cause. For more information or to get a tour of the new building, contact Nancy Geyer, the CEO of the Museum, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a relative youngster (I’ve only been here since 1995) it was especially humbling to be asked to part of the “Boulder Conversations with Extraordinary People” Speaker Series. This year’s series includes Ceal Barry, Josie Health, Gary Neptune, Bob Sievers, Ann Cooper, Jim Guercio, and Frank Day.
My session is Wednesday, February 12th. The event is happening at the future home of the Boulder History Museum (2205 Broadway, corner of Pine & Broadway). We’ll talk about Boulder, how I got here, and what this incredible town means to me.
Grab a ticket here – all ticket sales go to running the event and the museum, nothing goes to me.
For the record, I’m not old enough to have come to Boulder by train, although I would look fantastic for my age if I did.