In the early hours of yesterday morning, while everyone else was asleep. I finished reading Startup Communities, the first of the Startup Revolution book series underway from Brad Feld. I was lucky to get a personal preview of the book during a dinner & talk he’d done for Montana Programmers last month & was incredibly excited to dig in despite the fact that the release was still a couple of months away. In the aftermath of that event & the rapid spin-up of energy and action around startups in Montana I had subsequently sent him an email letting him know that I felt like Columbus without a map and he was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book.
He nails it on the first page with, “Today, we are in the midst of a massive shift from the hierarchical society that has dominated the industrial era to a networked society that has been emergent throughout the information era.” This incredible change (think disruptive innovation on a macro scale) is very cathartic as we’re seeing reflected in the job and financial markets. Having spent the last 30 years in the corporate world watching it slow down and devolve due to the waste inherent in the hierarchical model and then seeing how much more could be accomplished in so little time once freed from the shackles of inefficiency I wholly subscribe to this line of thinking.
The book is a rich and detailed map for anyone participating in the startup ecosystem & is filled with practical, executable information to get things moving and grow the community. In his usual style, Brad is direct & doesn’t pull any punches about who is driving the bus and who is taking the ride, a concept he calls “leaders and feeders”. This is an important distinction for the leaders (as I’ve seen over the last few months) as everyone who is standing on the sidelines wants to get in the game. As he points out, the community needs to be inclusive (everyone gets a voice) but also cognizant of the fact that there are those who do stuff and those whose efforts support the doing.
My three biggest takeaways were: 1) Just do some stuff 2) Give before you get and 3) Don’t get caught up (as I was) in worrying about funding for the nascent companies that make up the startup ecosystem. The first one seems obvious but it has been my experience that those who have lived in the hierarchical world are inculcated with the need to seek approval before acting, forget that! I posted about the second one yesterday, as far as the third one goes I believe that falls into the bucket of, “there is always money available for good ideas and teams.”
There is a wealth of information in the book’s 14 chapters, key points from a few chapters that resonated with me:
Chapter 3 – Principles of a Vibrant Startup Community
- Led by Entrepreneurs
- Has a Long Term Commitment
- Fosters a Philosophy of Inclusiveness
- Engages the Entire Entrepreneurial Stack
Chapter 5 – Attributes of Leadership in a Startup Communit
- Be Inclusive
- Play a Non Zero-Sum Game
- Be Mentorship Driven
- Have Porous Boundaries
- Give People Assignments
- Experiment and Fail Fast
Chapter 6 – Classical Problems
- The Patriarch Problem
- Complaining About Capital
- Being Too Reliant on Government
- Making Short Term Commitmens
- Having a Bias Against Newcomers
- Attempt by a Feeder to Control the Community
- Creating Artificial Geographic Boundaries
- Playing a Zero Sum Game
- Having a Culture of Risk Aversion
- Avoiding People Because of Past Failures
Chapter 13 – Myths about Startup Communities
- We Need to be Like Silicon Valley
- We Need More Local Venture Capital
- Angel Investors Must Be Organized
Every other chapter in the book is filled with valuable information, I just picked the above given the stage we are at in growing the Bozeman community.
If there is one thing I would add to the book, it would be an expansion on the mentoring theme that already permeates it, but does not specifically call out (what I feel is) our duty to reach further down into the educational stack and help get excitement about STEM (particularly for girls) more deeply ingrained at the K-12 level. I’ve been actively involved over the years in Junior Achievement as well as teaching robotics at the middle school level and sitting on the technology advisory board of Bozeman High School for the last 12 years. I feel strongly that we need to encourage this at an earlier age (before our standardized system designed to produce factory workers crushes the creativity out of the kids) and am always amazed at both how excited and how adaptable they are to these important subjects.
The close of the book is as good as the start – Do or Do Not, There is No Try.
“My favorite thing about startups is that they do not require anyone’s permission. Great entrepreneurs just start doing things. These are the same entrepreneurs who can be leaders of their startup community.”
Amen to that, now go get started!