My Kauffman Fellows Summit Talk

I attended the 20th Reunion of the Kauffman Fellows on Monday and Tuesday. I’ve recently joined the board of directors and enjoyed spending two days in Kansas City immersed in things with the Kauffman Fellows, a bunch of friends, and a number of LPs and GPs that came to the event.

As part of it, I gave a talk and did Q&A with Lesa Mitchell (now the Managing Director of Techstars Kansas City). We covered a lot of ground around startup communities, investing, government, multi-turn games, and other things I can’t remember anymore. Buried in the middle is a story of my experience with Startup Weekend Tehran and a long rant on transcending geographic borders.

If you are looking for a Saturday morning video to run in the background, enjoy.

Also published on Medium.

  • What an interesting talk. The little blurb at the beginning was interesting as well.

    I have a counterpoint to one of your assertions. Your leaders and feeders definition is mostly accurate. However, the one element you dump into the feeders bin doesn’t feel right to me, the universities. When I look at the large entrepreneurial centers, there is a common characteristic, elite universities. These environments are like good soil and lots of water. I’ll return to that analogy

    While everything else you mention is taking from the entrepreneurs, time, money, ownership, the universities provide the environment in which their minds are trained and allowed to flourish without other constraints. This is an enabler, not a feeder function. For a purposely provocative view of this consider this comment I made on a post of Fred’s entitled “The Golden Age of Open Protocols”:

    “Here’s what you really need to do if you want “open” protocols. Take
    you money somewhere else and stay the hell away from the universities.
    When I was in my doctorate program, I wrote papers, had them peer
    reviewed, wrote implementations, distributed them as open source, etc.
    Then all you VCs appeared on the scene and started pumping money into
    it. Have you noticed how the rate of fundamental innovations has
    dropped over the last couple of decades in computers? Yes, the field
    has matured but now what happens is some freshman shows up at school X,
    says something that some VC (i.e. business trained vs engineering
    trained) likes. The VC or angel or whoever throws a few bucks at them
    and thats the end of it. Whatever potentially interesting basic tech
    work that was being grinds to a halt, or more likely gets locked up in
    some patent to “protect intellectual property.” Instead they’re
    spending their time worrying about, you know, monetization or some other
    equally non technically focused crap. Not exactly the kind of
    environment that fosters free thought resulting in open innovations is

    You see, its even worse than this. The schools are now teaching “entrepreneurship” and how to give presentations in places like CS and EE programsand such. This isn’t the kind of environment that produces the basic results that end up as the cornerstone technology that you VCs spend so much time trying to find and invest in. The soil isn’t so good anymore and there isn’t as much water being poured onto it.

    You all should get together and sign a treaty or something. Call it “intellectual envronmentalism.” You’re all going to work hard to preserve these intellectual environments. Heh.

    This is one of the things I have observed about Boulder. There is a university but its not Harvard/MIT or a Stanford/UCB. And it ties to the universities. When you compare the kinds of things that are going on in Boulder to the coasts, Boulder is further up the stack. You seen things like new OSs and new languages and new protocols, i.e. new fundamental things. The work in the Front Range area and Boulder in particular from new firms seems to be mostly on variants of web apps. Hardly fundamental results. Its these fundamental results that the intellectual environment provided in the past that result in the transformations in productivity that yield exponential returns.

    That’s why I think you have mislabeled the universities in you thesis.

    • Frank, while I respect your opinion, I disagree with almost everything you are saying. I’ve written extensively about this in Startup Communities so I’d aim you at that if you want to explore the debate more.

      • One of the things I like about your blog is that there isn’t much pointless back and forth argument for arguments sake in the comments. I wish you’d be more specific about the elements of my assertions that you disagree with but I’ll spend some more time looking at what you’ve written and we can just agree to disagree!

  • Brad, when you say that one day you simply won’t be raising a fund, that means you’ll nonetheless continue to devote your energies to the active companies of the prior funds — as you’re doing now with your Mobius portfolio — even though the firm will be defunct, correct? That gives you a scenario where it’s impossible for you to “pull the plug” overnight, if one day you decide you’ve had enough. How have you tackled that thought if you don’t mind talking about it?

    • We’ve all made at least a ten year commitment forward from the point that we raise our last fund. So – at this point we are fully committed through at least 2026.

      We are still managing Mobius funds raised in 1999 and 2000 so hopefully our commitment level dynamics will never be questioned.

      We have no plans to pull the plug overnight. Instead, one day we’ll just decide not to raise a new fund. The decade long clock will then start counting down …

      • Jason Randell

        In the meantime keep kicking ass!

  • Brad, continually feeling inspired listening to you speak. Especially on topics of how an individual must stand up and advocate change locally, Statewide and Federally.

    This video made my Sunday! #Thanks for your #GiveFirst attitude.

  • Ridzwan

    Attended first Kaufman Fellow summit in Singapore last February as an LP. Excellent event + great opportunities to chat/exchange notes with LPs, GPs and entrepreneurs.

  • Jason Randell

    Is it time for a new model? Why not train, intern, hire and mentor end-to-end at one Startup?

    • I do that across many startups in lots of different ways. My involvement in Techstars is a big example of this.

      • Jason Randell

        True. I want to see an ecosystem that implements all aspects of the life you lead. It may be the world I live in, yet it seems to me the lost art of Apprenticeship and Mentoring has in many ways fallen by the wayside. (Techstars has been a phenomenal success. Congrats)

  • Jason Randell

    What does a deep contribution mean to you? How do you and Amy see yourselves being fully engaged? Does Amy have an interest in Startups as well?

    • Amy doesn’t have a specific interest in startups, beyond supporting me and the activities we jointly do.

      • Jason Randell

        Thats beautiful!