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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Building Startup Communities to Last

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One of my heroes is Jim Collins. Of all books that I’ve ever read about business, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t are two of the most important ones I’ve ever read. While I read Built to Last first, I didn’t really get how important it was until I read Good to Great. I went back after, read Built to Last again – and slowly – and realized how powerful Collins’ research and thinking was.

So it was an incredible honor to interview Jim for 45 minutes last week at the Startup Phenomenon event about Startup Communities. We spent the time applying the ideas from Jim’s books and research to the idea of Startup Communities.

I learned a lot. I also had a lot of fun. And I came up with a few new ideas as Jim tossed out a few absolute gems during our 45 minutes together.

If you are interested in Startup Communities, or are a Jim Collins fan, I think you’ll like this a lot. Enjoy!

Startup Phenomenon | Brad Feld talks with Jim Collins from 23rd Studios on Vimeo.

Time to Flip Power In America Upside Down

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I’m totally sick and exhausted with our federal government. Boehner’s statement yesterday on immigration, where he said “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill” was the last straw for me. Idiotic and totally broken.

I could rant for a while, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll encourage you to watch this amazing video that Jennifer Bradley just showed at the Startup Phenomenon conference. She totally nails it – people at the top, then metros, then states, and then federal government following their leads.

I just bought Jennifer’s book The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy and plan to read it this weekend.

Built In Colorado

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A few weeks ago I did an event with Built In Denver where I interviewed Tim Miller and Ryan Martens, the founders of Rally Software, on their journey from a startup to a public company (NYSE: RALY). As part of the event – held at Mateo in Boulder – the gang from Built In Denver announced they were rebranding as Built In Colorado.

The attendance at the event was roughly 50% Boulder entrepreneurs and 50% Denver entrepreneurs.

The past two days the Colorado Innovation Network held it’s 2nd annual COIN Summit. As part of it, Governor Hickenlooper rolled out a new brand for all of Colorado, an effort led by Aaron Kennedy, the founder of Noodles & Co. The focus was on Colorado, not on Boulder, or Denver.

Powerful startup communities start at the neighborhood level. They then roll up to the city level. And then cities connect. Eventually it rolls up to the state level.

It’s a powerful bottom up phenomenon, not a top down situation. And inclusive of everyone. This is one of the key parts of my theory around Startup Communities.

When we started Startup Colorado in 2011 as part of the Startup America Partnership (now Up Global), the first of our six initiatives was:

Export the magic of the Boulder tech community to Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs by expanding New Tech Meetups, Open Coffee Clubs, and Community Office Hours to these cities.

When I look at what is happening in Denver, and the connective tissue between Boulder and Denver, I’m incredibly proud of what has been accomplished in less than two years on this front.

When I see questions on Quora like Should I start my start-up in Boulder or Denver? and then read the answers, my reaction is “poorly phrased question” and “wrong answer!” It’s not an either / or – the two cities are 30 minutes apart. They are both awesome places to start a company. It depends entirely on where you want to live – do you want a big city (Denver) or a little town (Boulder). If you choose Boulder, when you reach a certain size, you’ll end up with offices in both like Rally and SendGrid.

I’m psyched that Built in Denver is rebranding to Built in Colorado. I’m going to spend most of the week for Denver Startup Week in Denver, and CEOs and execs from most of our portfolio companies are converging on Denver in the middle of the week for a full day session together.

You’ll note that we have deliberately named things like The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) with “Colorado” in their name to be inclusive of all entrepreneurs in the state. And we we do things to celebrate the startup community, like The Entrepreneur’s Prom that EFCO and Cooley are putting on September 7th at the Boulder Theatre, we focus on the entire startup community.

Entrepreneurs Prom

Innovation and entrepreneurship is off the charts right now. Let’s make sure we work together to continue building a base for the next 20 years.

Two Root Causes of My Recent Depression

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I’ve talked openly about the five month long depressive episode I went through earlier this year.  If you missed it, I encourage you to read my article last month in Inc. Magazine titled Entrepreneurial Life Shouldn’t Be This Way–Should It? Depression is a fact of life for some entrepreneurs.

My depression lifted near the end of May and I’ve been feeling normal for the past few months. On July 1st I wrote a post titled Regroup SuccessfulI changed a lot of tactical things in my life in Q2 – some of them likely helped me get to a place where my depression lifted. And, once I was confident that the depression had lifted (about 45 days ago), I started trying to figure out some of the root causes of my depression.

I’ve told the story of how I ended up depressed a number of times. In the telling of it, I searched for triggers – and found many. My 50 mile run in April 2012 that left me emotional unbalanced for six weeks. A bike accident in early September that really beat me up, and was inches from being much more serious. Six weeks of intense work and travel on the heals of the bike accident that left me physically and emotionally depleted, when what I should have done was cancelled everything and retreated to Boulder to recover. A marathon in mid-October that I had no business running, followed by two more weeks of intense work and travel. The sudden death of our dog Kenai at age 12. A kidney stone that resulted in surgery, followed by a two week vacation mostly in a total post-surgical haze. Complete exhaustion at the end of the year – a physical level of fatigue that I hadn’t yet felt in my life. There are more, but by January I was depressed, even though I didn’t really acknowledge it fully until the end of February.

The triggers, and the tactical changes I made, all impacted me at one level. But once the depression had lifted, I felt like I could dig another level and try to understand the root cause. With the help of Amy and a few friends, I’ve made progress on this and figured out two of the root causes of a depressive episode that snuck up on me after a decade of not struggling with depression.

The first is the 80/20 rule. When running Feld Technologies in my 20s, I remember reading a book about consulting that said a great consultant spent 20% of their time on “overhead” and 80% of their time on substantive work for their clients. I always tried to keep the 80/20 rule in mind – as long as I was only spending 20% of my time on bullshit, nonsense, things I wasn’t interested in, and repetitive stuff that I didn’t really have to do, I was fine. However, this time around, I’d somehow gotten the ratios flipped – I was spending only 20% of my time on the stimulating stuff and 80% of my time on stuff I viewed as unimportant. Much of it fell into the repetitive category, rather than the bullshit category, but nonetheless I was only stimulated by about 20% of the stuff I was doing. This led to a deep boredom that I didn’t realize, because I was so incredibly busy, and tired, from the scope and amount of stuff I was doing. While the 20/80 problem was the start, the real root cause was the boredom, which I simply didn’t realize and wasn’t acknowledging.

The other was a fundamental disconnect between how I was thinking about learning and teaching. I’ve discussed my deep intrinsic motivation which comes from learning. At age 47, I continue to learn a lot, but I also spend a lot of my time teaching. The ratio between the two shifted aggressively at the end of 2012 with the release of my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. I spent a lot of time teaching my theory of startup communities to many people I didn’t previously know in lots of different places. I expected that I’d continue learning a lot about Startup Communities during this period, but I found that I had no time to reflect on anything, as all of my available time was consumed doing my regular work. So – between teaching and working, I had almost no time for learning.

I had an intense insight a few weeks ago when a friend told me that as one gets older, the line between learning and teaching blurs. This is consistent with how I think about mentoring, where the greatest mentor – mentee relationship is a peer relationship, where both the mentor and mentee learn from and teach each other. With this insight, I realized I needed to stop separating learning from teaching in my motivational construct – that they were inextricably linked.

Each of these – the flip in the 80/20 rule that led to a deep boredom combined with the separation of learning and teaching – were both root causes of my recent depression. As I reflect on where I’m at in mid-August, I’m neither bored nor struggling with the learning/teaching dichotomy. Once again, I’m incredibly stimulated by what I’m spending my time on. And I’m both learning and teaching, and not spending any energy separating the two.

While I expect I’ll discover more root causes as I keep chewing on what I just went through in the first half of the year, I’m hopeful that explanation of how I’ve unpacked all of this helps anyone out there struggling with depression, or that is close to someone who is struggling with depression. It’s incredibly hard to get to the root causes when you are depressed, but moments of clarity arise at unexpected times.

Startup Communities Are Up To The Entrepreneurs

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Startup CommunitiesAs I continue to talk about Startup Communities, I say over and over and over again that the leaders have to be entrepreneurs. Everyone else – who I call the “feeders” (government, university, non-profits, big companies, VCs, angel investors) – have an important role, but the leaders must be entrepreneurs. Now – members of feeder organizations can play a leadership role, but in the absence of a critical mass of entrepreneurs, the startup community won’t ever develop into anything meaningful.

I was interviewed recently in MIT Technology Review in an article titled It’s Up to You, EntrepreneursIt’s part of a series they are doing titled The Next Silicon ValleyIt was a long interview by Antonio Regalado who boiled my rambling down into a bunch of coherent answers to specific questions.

For example, when he asked,  “What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?” I answered:

“Just do stuff. It’s kind of that simple. It’s literally entrepreneurs just starting to do things. If you’re in a city where there’s no clear startup community, the goal is not raise a bunch of money to fund a nonprofit, the goal is not get your government involved. The goal is start finding the other entrepreneurial leaders who are committed to being in your city over the next 20 years. Then, as a group, get very focused on knowing each other, working together, being inclusive of anyone else who wants to engage, doing things that help recruit people to that geography, and doing selfish stuff for your company that also drives your startup community.”

He got underneath some great key points about startup communities with his questions, which follow.

  • People talk about technology clusters. You talk about entrepreneurial communities. What’s the difference?
  • What’s the most important step an entrepreneur can take to create a startup community?
  • Let’s say you are the mayor. Would you rather bring Boeing to your city or have a startup scene?
  • You seem to think a top-down approach is pretty toxic.
  • What’s the evidence that startup communities can happen outside of traditional technology hubs?
  • In your book, you say entrepreneurs need to make a 20-year commitment to a place. Does anyone really think in those time scales?
  • How would you measure the success of a startup community?
  • In Kansas City you bought a house and handed it over to some programmers. What’s the idea?

If you want the answers, go read It’s Up to You, Entrepreneurs.

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