Opinion

Paul Smalera

Brad Feld’s four ingredients for thriving startup cities

Jun 26, 2012 17:18 UTC

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.

Startups are big in Boulder, but where are the tech billionaires?

Jun 20, 2012 17:37 UTC

“I’m not interested in working on this unless it’s going to be a multi-billion dollar idea. If I thought this would be a hundred million dollar company — what’s the point?” – Anonymous entreprerneur discussing his startup. Overheard in front of Ozo Coffee, Boulder, CO.

I’m in Boulder, Colorado for a few days this week to attend Big Boulder, a conference devoted to the social side of “big data.” Gnip, the company hosting the conference, is one I’ve written about before. They’re doing the plumber’s work of connecting all the firehoses of raw, public user data from social media companies like Twitter and Tumblr up to clients that want to derive insights from the wisdom of these online crowds.

A quick note on the definition of “big data.” Generally speaking, it’s the sort of data set that’s so huge, even running a simple report on it won’t tell you anything interesting. For example, if you could ask the IRS for a list of all the 25-30 year olds in the U.S. that paid taxes last year, you’d get back a list, alright. But what would be useful about it? On the other hand, if you could filter that list by several other factors: did they pay capital gains, did they owe over six figures in taxes, what is their self-reported job title, and so on, you might end up with a list highly correlated to young, dot-com millionaires and billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg. And you might cross reference that list against all the other data sets you can find on them: where they live, where they shop, where they travel, what they watch, eat and listen to. It’s all out there.

from MediaFile:

Instagram’s Facebook filter

May 11, 2012 20:28 UTC

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant's forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

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