Brad Feld kinda breaks the stereotype of a venture capitalist. He’s been a tech entrepreneur, angel investor, and an accomplished author. His blog is required reading for any entrepreneur living through the roller coaster of building a business. As a partner at Foundry Group, he’s helped cofound the startup accelerator, TechStars, and has a deep passion for giving back to individuals and building startup communities.
To that end, he also has some interesting life goals. Like running a marathon in all 50 states. When Missoula’s marathon came up on his list here in early July, Rob jumped at the chance to get him to speak at a Montana Programmers event. Ever gracious, Brad obliged and we had a stellar turnout despite it being a gorgeous Friday night in Montana with plenty of people driving from Helena and Bozeman to hear his thoughts.
What follows are a few key points he believes are necessary for startup communities to take root and grow. And he should know – he’s participated firsthand and watched Boulder’s entrepreneur network spring up to international fame over the last fifteen years.
Here’s what Brad has observed on Building Successful Startup Communities (paraphrased from his talk):
- A Startup Community has to be led by entrepreneurs: The world is divided by feeders (university, government, investors, service providers) and leaders. You only have to have a small nexus to start. 6 – 12 people is enough to drive the activity bit really you just need a couple and then you need to do some *%^&. Entrepreneurs function as a network which reflects the fact that society as a whole is shifting from a hierarchy to a network.
- You also have to take a long-term view – 20 years to be exact, as that is about the length of a generation. When you inevitably get discouraged with progress, don’t worry about it – it will work itself out.
- You have to be inclusive of anyone that wants to engage. Anyone has to be welcome. The best thing you can do is give them a simple assignment for something they can do in a few minutes or an hour. The beautiful thing is 50% of the time that person will not do it – and they then automatically filter themselves out – Every now and then there will be a bad actor. But 25% will come back and do exactly what you asked. The remaining 25% will come back and do it above and beyond. So, figure out mechanisms to get them involved.
- A community has to have activities and events that get the full stack of entrepreneurs involved, not just those that are active. Example of this would be a Startup Weekend where you get the experience of a startup in a compressed amount of time. Or something as simple as an Open Coffee Club where every other week entrepreneurs can meet up for a casual cup of coffee. The key is there has to be a cadence and a rhythm to build momentum.
NOTE: Stay tuned for a date this fall for Montana’s first Startup Weekend, Bobby Clay of StartupMontana was the first to throw his hat in the ring so we’re going to join forces and run it over there. For all that are interested, we’d love to have help, we’re going to attend the StartUp Weekend in Spokane to get our feet wet and learn…
Curious to learn more?
Brad has a book slated for release this fall called Startup Communities and a website to support it. Missoula Community Access Television will be showing the event on August 13th at 7:00 pm and August 17th at 7:30 pm. We’ll be sure to post the link when it’s live.
In the meantime, here’s Brad’s talk from Stanford Technology Ventures Program eCorner: