BOULDER, Colo. — One of the most resonant talks I heard at last week’s Big Boulder conference was also one of the shortest. In about twenty minutes, Brad Feld, who is without exaggeration the godfather to the Boulder startup community, explained exactly why it is that Boulder feels like a town on the verge, and why it’s teeming with startups. A lot of it has to do with Feld himself.
It’s not just that Feld is a co-founder of Techstars, the nationwide startup incubator that got its start in Boulder, or that the college kids — and lately, mid to late twenties startup veterans — flock to Boulder in hopes of getting a few minutes of his time to discuss their ideas. It’s not just that Feld’s Foundry Group scored big with an exit on Zynga, though that credibility certainly helps. And it’s not just that he picked Boulder as some magical perfect place to be a startup Mecca. In fact when I asked him why he moved there from Boston, he said, laughingly, it was because, “my wife told me she was moving to Boulder.” He figured he had better go along.
“Happy warrior” is usually a phrase reserved for politicians on futile crusades, but the four principles that Feld talked about that make Boulder a burgeoning startup locale are ones that he seems to embody, not just talk about. And as to my earlier post, wondering where and whether Boulder needed a billion dollar startup (or founder) to justify itself, Feld more or less shrugged it off. If that outcome is a natural result of the principles Feld sees as key to keeping Boulder a great place to found a company, then great. If it’s not, I get the sense no one, he least of all, would mind very much.
Brad Feld’s four ingredients for thriving startup cities:
1. The startup community has to be led by entrepreneurs.
Everyone who’s not an entrepreneur, says Feld, “is a feeder.” Feeders can be useful, indeed even essential. Lawyers, bankers, shared workspace providers, venture capitalists, business services, city hall, even incubators, are all essential components. But if one of those groups get into the position of calling the shots on what the community should be, Feld thinks it won’t work.
2. Take a very long term view of success; a twenty year view at least.
If you took a look at a decade-long slice of Silicon Valley, and you took the the period from, say, 1992-2002, you’d have to assume that the promise of technology was a huge bust. But if you encapsulate the next decade, you’d get a better picture of how out of the ashes of the dot-com bubble bust, a new and perhaps more resilient approach to tech startups came about. It’s foolish, then, to assume that any startup city is going to have its ecosystem all figured out in a relatively short period of time.