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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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The Montana Future

Comments (9)

In 1991, a group of ten people (including me and Amy) gathered at a resort in Stowe, VT to have a Chautauqua to discuss the future.  We had a magnificent weekend which included a field trip to Burlington to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory (and all the ice cream that entails.)

One of the discussions we had was titled “The Montana Future.”  All of us – except one couple – were living in Boston at the time.  While the Internet was around (and all of had been exposed to it – including plenty of DEC-action), it was 1991 – pre-WWW, pre-Telecommunications Act of 1996 – where a 9600 baud modem was considered a pretty rocking thing.

I read Atlas Shrugged in college 23 years ago.  It set the hook hard in my brain for creating my own version of Galt’s Gulch.  I spoke at the Big Sky Venture Capital Conference on Friday and it reminded me of the idea of the Montana Future.  Amy and I spent the weekend in Keystone and talked about it some (and how we were living it.)  I pondered it some more on my drive from Keystone to DIA this morning (1:45 – a new record by over 15 minutes – 500 hp is a nice thing.)

“Montana” is a metaphor (as much as I like Montana, I love Colorado more.)  At the Chautauqua we discussed a future that enabled people to work and live anywhere they wanted.  While I’m a fan of urban living I like it in small doses (e.g. a month of living in NY or Paris – or even a day in Chicago like I’m going to spend today – is a blast.)  As a software entrepreneur living in Boston in 1991 it was hard to imagine living “off the grid” but it was easy to imagine a future where the grid would be available where I wanted it.

16 years later, several of us that were at the Chautauqua are living the Montana Future.  Half of us live in Colorado.  Geography no longer interferes with my work.  I live in three places (Boulder, Keystone, and Homer, Alaska) – each of which is equally wired.  If I didn’t broadcast my location regularly, most people wouldn’t have any idea where I am at any given time (unless I was physically with them.)  I can work when I want to work and – when I don’t – I usually just walk out my back door and go for a run or a hike.

While there will always be regional concentrations of activity, the Montana Future is here.  And it’s awesome.

  • http://blog.supernaturalagency.com Martin Edic

    Love this post- when we started our company one of our stated goals was ‘be able to run it from a laptop, anywhere we can get a connection’. This means a few things including staying away from conventional hiring because it’s difficult to manage employees from a distance. However the people we need turn out to be people who want to work the same way, virtually, and prefer a contract- independent types.
    The ability to build a real business with a completely different footprint is incredibly exciting.

  • http://globelogger.com/moonwatcher Charlie Wood

    I’m a huge fan (and proponent) of the idea of being able to live and work anywhere. I live in Austin but have worked for companies all over the country, some of which deal with purely-remote workers better than others. ;-) It seems like a natural outcome that as the communication barriers between geographically separated people are lowered, talent will naturally migrate to, as you call it, Montana.

    But John Hagel, who is much smarter than I, writes about “an inconvenient truth: the trend towards coming together in dense urban areas to create spikes of talent is accelerating, rather than disappearing, on a global scale. How to resolve the paradox of greater spike formation in a flat world?” (See http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2007/06/unanswered-ques.html)

    Any thoughts on this seemingly contradictory viewpoint?

    -c

  • http://davidduey.typepad.com David Duey

    Did Atlas Shrugged play a role in your decision to move to Colorado?

  • http://www.matr.net Russ Fletcher

    Spot on Brad. There’s a growing talent crisis which is going to give innovative talent the leverage to decide to live in rural areas. Metro businesses are going to have to realize that they’ll want to set up rural operations if they’re going to be able to recruit and retain those folks who want a rural lifestyle.

    Lots of related stories here: “Developing Tech Jobs in Rural Communities” http://matr.net/news.phtml?cat_id=68&catlabel=Developing+Tech+Jobs+in+Rural+Communities

    Good to see you at the Big Sky Conference. Let us know when Colorado gets too crowded for you. Montana is truly Big Sky Country with a population of less than 1MM.

  • http://ocvcblog.com Marc Averitt

    Excellent post! I’ve been a “mobile” worker for most of the past 10 years. Having said that, there are certain professions where you’ll need to be willing to get on a plane to be able to live/work where you want. Case in point, being a VC in The OC…

  • http://www.leveragingideas.com Sam

    I was just out in Big Sky prior to the conference and blogged about something similar – entrepreneurs “house sitting”: http://www.leveragingideas.com/?p=416

  • http://www.grocio.com/ geraldb28

    Mr. Feld, wish I had known Keystone was one of the other offices. Was just there at the Keystone Lodge and Spa. Great fireworks and SUPERB people. August in Keystone beats Tulsa almost any day of the year.

    Absolutely second the notion it is now feasible to work from most anywhere. Which leads me to a question… With the wired nature of our world being so pervasive (excepting FAA approved flights) do startups have any appreciable disadvantages based on geography? On the whole… Certainly there are some benefits to locating close to talent pools, access to knowledge, mentoring and capital. Still…

  • http://sayitbetter.typepad.com/say_it_better Kare Anderson

    Perhaps you’ve read Richard Florida’s books, Rise of the Creative Class & Flight of the Creative Class

  • http://www.viget.com Brian Wynne Williams

    Inspiring post. I agree with the sentiment, and there’s certainly a lot of appeal to being able to work anywhere — but I do think that most companies (and jobs) are still most effective with a degree of face-to-face interaction happening.

    At Viget (based near DC), we’re working on a plan to open a series of remote offices in locations that people really want to live in (Durham, NC first). When we focus on bringing together the best talent, it seems clear that (a) there are certain places where people would prefer to be (Colorado is on my list); and (b) most talented people want to work directly with other talented people.

    So, it’s not just about remote/mobile individuals for me, it’s about remote offices with small teams. It’s applying the benefits of the Montana Future to a company (not just people) without losing the great things about working on teams in person. Maybe Big Sky, MT should be next on our list?

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