This is a guest post by Jeff Keen, the CEO of Accelerate Okanagan. The post originally appeared on Accelerate Okanagan’s website.
I just returned from the Startup Phenomenon conference in Boulder where I had the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and meet some new amazing people from around the globe.
We talked about everything startup community from culture, entrepreneurs, events, finance, corporations, and governments to networking models and measuring success. Brad Feld and Jim Collins provided some incredible insight on how to take our startup communities from “Good to Great”. The conversation was inspirational and ended far too soon. I would like to keep the conversation going through this blog and encourage you to chime in with your thoughts, learnings & suggestions from your startup community.
To kick off the conversation, let’s start with a review of Brad Feld’s four pillars for building a successful startup community and how our own experiences relate to these concepts.
The first of Feld’s four pillars is that for a startup community to be sustainable over time it must led by entrepreneurs. Many other organizations can play key roles in the startup community but they cannot be the leaders.
The challenge for many startup communities at the early stage of development is identifying and engaging with successful entrepreneurs. This was the case for our community. Here are a few lessons we learned along the way that can help engage entrepreneurs in your community:
- Hold events and activities that are appealing to entrepreneurs. Events should be fun, casual and provide an environment for entrepreneurs to connect with community members without having to worry about being constantly pitched or inundated with requests for their time. I would suggest that morning coffee meetups are a great way to begin the engagement process with entrepreneurs in your community. One event that has proven to be very successful in our community is Startup Drinks, a monthly event that is hosted at various tech companies around town that regularly attract a full house of attendees representing a great cross-section of community members . The venue is free, beer is donated by a local micro brewery and the networking is off the charts!
- Be consistent and patient. If possible, community events should happen at the same time on the same day of the week, and preferably at the same location. When entrepreneurs become comfortable attending community events and activities, they will attend on a more regular basis and invite the friends to join them – familiarity breeds comfort and this will eventually lead to more engagement. One event that follows this pattern in our community is “Entrepreneurs Unplugged” which happens on the first Monday of every month at the Streaming Cafe at 6pm. Entrepreneurs Unplugged provides a venue for local entrepreneurs to talk about their journey, share their successes and failures and inspire the next generation of creative, innovative, entrepreneurial thought leaders in our community.
- Identify and engage “rock star” entrepreneurs. These are people who are recognized in the community for having significant success as an entrepreneur. Our startup community gained significant momentum when the three most successful technology entrepreneurs became more outwardly facing and accessible in the community. Although active behind the scenes for several years, this heightened level of engagement added a new level of credibility and “cool factor” to community events and activities. These three leaders are now hosting coffee meetups, community building activities and are deeply involved in supporting social entrepreneurship and social enterprise initiatives.
- Identify and support volunteer, community driven organizations with a shared vision of supporting startups and entrepreneurship. As a partially government funded organization our first foray into delivering community events and activities were done behind the Accelerate Okanagan brand. What we found over time is that it was much more effective to identify likeminded community organizations and support their event and activity efforts. We did this by providing venues, speakers, registration services and refreshments but took a back seat and remained behind the scenes. Also, it should not have been a surprise to find out that entrepreneurs were active in many of these grassroots community organizations.
In his book “Startup Communties” Feld talks about the difference between leaders (entrepreneurs) and feeders (everyone else) including government, academia, service providers, venture capital, mentors etc. and that feeders play a key role but cannot be leaders. One very interesting anecdote raised at the conference, and supported by Feld, was that individuals from feeder organizations can take on a leadership role in the community if they act as individuals and not representatives of the feeder organizations. The key is they must share the “give before you get” philosophy. I would support this notion and state that our community is very fortunate to have several individuals from feeder organizations who willingly volunteer their time and expertise to support entrepreneurs and are regular participants in startup community events and activities.
I would also recommend not underestimating the power of the grass roots volunteer organizations in your community and the leadership role they can play in fostering a vibrant startup ecosystem. We are extremely fortunate to have organizations in our community like OKDG (Okanagan Developer Group), DO (Digital Okanagan) and OYP (Okanagan Young Professionals) that are behind several startup community events and activities like Startup Weekend, Okanagan Startup Week, TEDx Kelowna, Startup Drinks and several weekly meetups. Amazing volunteers delivering incredible events!
I would love to hear from you and learn more about how you are engaging with leaders in your community and some of the lessons you have learned along the way.
Let’s keep the conversation going!
Jeff Keen, CEO Accelerate Okanagan.
Jeff has 25 years of experience in the technology industry, having held executive level management and leadership roles in technology organizations in both the public and private sector. Prior to joining Accelerate Okanagan, Jeff’s roles included technology entrepreneur, founder, and executive in both early-stage and high-growth technology companies. Jeff is an Honors graduate from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and is currently leading the amazing team at Accelerate Okanagan (www.accelerateokanagan.com).
I recently finished Startup Life and want to thank Brad and Amy for writing such a bold and emotional book. I’ve been married for roughly twenty years and was separated for close to a year as my wife and I difficultly learned many of the lessons in this book. If I could go back in time and hand this book to my younger self, it might have saved us much angst. I really appreciated the openness of all the contributors and will be recommending it within the Lemnos Labs founder community.
What struck me about the book was that its lessons might not be absorb-able in one phase of your life. If I went back in time and handed this book to my younger self, would I have been able to hear all the knowledge and lessons it prescribes? I’m pretty sure my friends and psychiatrist told me how to be a better partner while pursuing my dreams of entrepreneurship, I just wasn’t completely ready then to absorb those ideas when I was in my twenties.
It feels like there are three life phases you read this book in; each phase bringing more understanding of the book’s lessons:
Phase 1 – The young entrepreneur
Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentioned the “10,000 hour rule” in Outliers, rightfully highlighting the time it takes to master something new. Young entrepreneurs, and we’ve all been there, are simultaneously trying to master building businesses and relationships. It’s incredibly hard to do one, let alone both, but I think it is even harder to accept guidance and wisdom on these topics at the beginning of the learning curve. Looking back, I can see myself denying so many basic problems at the intersection of my business life and my relationship with my wife, unable to see what is now obvious in terms of balance and commitment. I just wasn’t ready to see solutions to problems I barely understood.
I think younger entrepreneurs with less relationship experience reading this book will absorb some of the material, but have fewer reference points to relate to the lessons contained in the book. Hopefully what they have received is a pointer, so to speak, to a great reference on entrepreneurship and relationships that they can return to on a regular basis.
Phase 2 – The entrepreneur in crisis
Sooner or later every relationship enters more troubled waters. The stresses of entrepreneurship only exacerbate the natural tensions of a relationship. So many of the things that were pointed out in Startup Life seem obvious now, but in the apex of my marital challenges, this book would have been a godsend. Or a smack in the head! It is so hard to find consul and wisdom when you reach this point. It’s a difficult topic to discuss with anyone, let alone finding a fellow entrepreneur with great relationship skills who wants to talk with you about these personal, sensitive topics. I think Startup Life has maximum value for an entrepreneur in this phase of their lives, because the lessons it contains finally become timely, relevant, and critical.
Phase 3 – The maturing entrepreneur
While entrepreneurs often think of time as their greatest enemy, in terms of experience, it is our friend. As we mature, we finally start to start to notice the warning signs of issues in our businesses and our relationships, why they are happening, and have proven techniques to address our issues. Experience makes us more comfortable and capable in our relationships. I’m finally at the point where I sorta understand what to do to be a good partner! In this phase Startup Life provides great relationships tips and reminders that help you stay on course and reminders of potential problem spots. I’m working hard, as an example, to embrace shorter Qx vacations for my wife and I. In my limited experience with Qx breaks, they really spur creativity and force me to check in with the real world instead of the ten million little issues with my company that I tend to become fixated on over time.
I think this is also the phase where you recommend Startup Life to every entrepreneur you know that is in Phase 1 and 2 in the hopes they avoid your mistakes
Startup Life is a book you put on the shelf and re-read semi-regularly as you make life’s journey. It can’t be absorbed in one session and its lessons ripen as time goes by. An entrepreneur learns that you have good days and bad days both in business and in your relationship. Pull this book from the shelf for wisdom as you navigate those highs and lows.
The Denver-Boulder corridor: At one end is a thriving community of startups, tech companies, and investors, and at the other end is…a thriving community of startups, tech companies, and investors. So why the divide? Each city is doing fine on its own, but together we can turn this region into one of the most dynamic and economically important innovation hubs in the world. Join us for drinks and networking to help us bridge the longest 25 miles in business and look for ways that Denver and Boulder’s finance communities can join forces to expand both their collective strength and their individual investment opportunities. We’ll have a few brief comments from Jim Dieters, Brad Feld and the Startup Phenomenon team.
A million thanks to the World Startup Report team, sponsors, and volunteers around the world for making this trip a reality. It’s been an amazing 6 months. Here’s a recap of what I’ve learned on the road.
Time flies when you’re off exploring startups in far flung lands. Six months ago I set off with just a carry-on and my trusty laptop, bright eyed and armed with boundless enthusiasm – I was ready with a capital R, to explore the world of startups. Now six months have passed and amazingly, I’ve realized that the more I learn, the more there is I need to learn. 6 months, 16 countries and 1000s of startup conversations later, I have only scratched the tip of the iceberg. The people I’ve met and the passion they have for what they do, often times in the face of great adversity is equal parts motivating and humbling. Its been a whirlwind journey so far and I am beyond excited to be able to share these findings. So on that note, here’s a little mini recap of my trip to date. Stay tuned for the full startup reports!
What in the world did I find?
India: hello, Google? Running a search engine via telephone may sound funny to the Valley, but really is it that different from asking Siri where the nearest parking lot is? Now picture Siri as a live person and put yourself in a country with 895M mobile phones vs just 35M smartphones. JustDial is a $720M empire in India…and it’s just one of many catering to this unique market.
Nepal: Don’t discount this hidden gem – even in a country where there are rations of only 12 – 16 hours of electricity per day, you can build tech firms with $100M USD exits.
Australia: Being a small yet modern and accessible country can be a double edged sword. On one hand, you get access to the latest and greatest from the West, but on the other hand, this very same lack of entrance barriers eliminates many startup opportunities for locals hoping to break onto the scene. Expect stiff competition here.
Greece/Spain: This could be a classic case of turning lemons into lemonade. 50% unemployment rate among youth might turn out to be the fire-starter that Greece/Spain startup ecosystems need.
Argentina: The story of Argentina can be told through their currency, which devalued 25% in the last 3 months. These folks are under constant pressure to produce in the midst of impossible constraints – trial by fire style. It could be argued that these conditions have produced the best entrepreneurs in Latin America.
Brasil: Size does matter. Virtually all successful Latin companies make the move to Brasil after their initial growing period, despite the unfavorable laws and social instability.
Peru: Though one of the least developed countries in South America, it’s also the place with the highest growth. Serious potential here.
Colombia: When a country invests 40% of the national budget on education, it changes things and empowers people.
Chile: StartupChile might go down in the history books as one of the best things to ever happen to Chile in this decade.
Kenya: The future of mobile payment can be seen in Kenya today. M-pesa is a micro-financing and money transfer service all easily accessible from your mobile device. It accounts for 25% of the country’s GDP.
Ethiopia: There are two 1s you have to know about Ethiopia: 1% internet penetration rate. 1M new cellphone subscribers a month.
Philippines: The Peru of Southeast Asia, but three times bigger with its 100M population plus everyone speaks perfect English. Keep an eye out for it.
Thailand: Unbelievable infrastructure and ample access to talents through its tourism. This 70M population country is poised to do well.
Myanmar: For a country that’s only a year old, its infrastructure is surprisingly developed. Those who want to jump in for low hanging fruit might already be too late.
Israel: Roughly 70% of the startup founders at our meetup believe they can build a billion dollar company. With this much ambition, drive and optimism in the room, some of them could be right.
So what’s next?
There are 13 more countries on the list, equally split between Europe (Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Ukraine, Russia) and Asia (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore). Big things are happening for the WSR team, keep following us to access the full country by country World Startup Reports as they become available. If your country is on the list, please let us know if you would like to help! http://bit.ly/helpWSR
Oh and one more thing… *drum roll*
We’re proud to announce the WSR closing ceremonies happening in the Philippines at the end of my 29-country tour, called Geeks-On-A-Beach. Some of our most influential and knowledgeable founders/investors from all over the world will join us at Geeks-On-A-Beach to discuss the global startup trends and opportunities, from Silicon Valley to India. This will also be where I share my overall findings, impressions and conclusions from my epic journey.
Don’t miss this opportunity to meet the world’s startup founders and investors. Sign up today and get the early bird discount. This will be an incredible event in partnership to help the local startup community in the Philippines.
Founder, World Startup Report
Special thanks to: 500Startups, Startup Revolution, StartupWeekend, StartupDigest, Brad Feld, Dave McClure, Flightfox, Boingo, Bizpora for making this trip a reality!
Bowei Gai is a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley who sold the company he co-founded, CardMunch, to LinkedIn in 2011. On New Year’s Eve of 2013, he boarded his first flight for a 9-months long trip across 29 countries and 36 cities to research the world’s startup ecosystems.
Bowei’s first project, “The China Startup Report”, received over 100,000 views on SlideShare. His new project, the India Startup Report gained over 150,000 views shortly after release. From January to June 2013, Bowei has traveled to the following places: India, Australia, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Israel, Greece and Spain. Below is his story.
It’s 4 o’clock in the morning on June 8th, 2012. I’m in my kitchen in a Dallas suburb trying to stay awake while feeding my one-month old. This is only the second time I’ve taken the night-feeding shift, and not that it ever gets easy, but a stoned walrus could kick my ass at tic-tac-toe right now.
I figure I’ll skim Twitter for a bit – if only I can remember how to turn on my iPad. “Ok, let me think. I take the chicken across the river and leave the fox with the corn. Then I tell Sean Connery how to spell the name of God. Wait. I just push this button. Yes. Steve Jobs, you sir, are a genius.”
The screen illuminates. I give my eyes a moment to adjust, and then I think I need to give them a little more time because my email notification pill reads, “174″. This is not typical. Clearly, something, somewhere has gone terribly wrong. But no, nothing is wrong. In fact, things are about to be very, very good because at the beginning of those 174 emails is a note that reads:
From: Brad Feld
Date: Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 11:38 PM
“Tweeted – I’ll also send out to the CEO list I manage.”
What he means is that he tweeted a URL I’d sent to him. My brain is suddenly wide awake. Some of those emails are new Twitter followers and general words of encouragement, but a very large number of them are interview requests and it’s only been a little over four hours. I realize that there will be hundreds (thousands?) more and it very quickly sets in that This. Is. Happening. One way or another, my family moving is Colorado.
I let Shepard finish his bottle, lay him back down, and take a few hours to start responding to emails as more and more continue to come in. Finally, at about 7 a.m., I go upstairs and wake my wife, Laura.
“Sweetheart. Something has happened.”
This is how it happened, and what has happened since.
Like most people who’ve spent more than, say, six hours in Colorado, Laura and I had the “We should totally move out here” conversation a couple different times with varying degrees of determination. But, when Shep was a few weeks old, we looked at each other and said, “So. Colorado?”
I had been following/web-stalking a number of entrepreneurs, agencies, and developers in Boulder for a couple of years. My admiration for their work had grown to a level approaching “Legendary” so I knew exactly who I wanted to reach out to. Brad at Foundry, David at TechStars, Foraker, Viget, Slice of Lime. The list of talented people doing amazing work here goes on and I was dying to be a part of it.
I decided to build a site that pitched my skills specifically to companies in Colorado and so I got to work building hirebrianrhea.com. Jason Zimdars set the gold standard for the personal resume site when he landed a gig at 37signals ; I figured if I could be half as effective as Jason was at communicating his skills and his personality, then I’d have a shot at turning our dream in to reality.
After a couple weeks of build-test-tweak-rinse-repeat, I was finally ready to ship. I sent Brad an email at around noon expecting to perhaps maybe on the off-chance hear exactly nothing three months later. Instead, that night I was staring at my iPad, bleary-eyed with a newborn in my arms, completely overwhelmed.
The two weeks following Brad’s tweet were a whirlwind. There were offers from Boston, New York, Toronto, and San Francisco, but our sights were set squarely on the Flatirons. I flew out a couple of times and was fortunate to meet with CEOs whom I aspire to be like, brilliant designers and developers, and deeply committed marketers and project managers.
But in the end, there was something special about TechStars alum and Foundry-backed startup Mocavo. They had a grand vision (to bring all the world’s historical content online for free), were attacking interesting problems (to bring disruptive technology to a well-established industry), and had the talent to pull it all off (a year later and these guys still amaze me).
The entire experience and the year following it has been nothing short of a dream come true. There were a few moments before we moved out here that Laura and I had to ask ourselves, “Are we ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend?’ Are we completely obsessed with this place and putting these people up on some illusory pedestal? Is our fantasy about to be shattered? Does this end with us bawling our eyes out listening to Toni Braxton records? And what are doing with all these Toni Braxton records?”
But no – it’s been amazing. We’ve made some wonderful friends, enjoyed beautiful hikes 20 minutes from our front door, and professionally – to be in the midst of so much creativity and palpable energy – it’s been incredibly rewarding.
I could go on and on about what makes this place so special (if you’re reading this from outside the 303 area code and considering relocating, e-mail me and I’ll be happy to convince you that it’s the right thing to do) but instead I’ll just end this by saying “Thanks.” Thanks to Brad Feld for 85 characters that altered the course of my family’s life forever. Thanks to Cliff and everyone at Mocavo for bringing me onboard and giving me an opportunity to be part of what you’re building. Thanks to Stirling at Foraker, Kevin and Chris at Slice, Will and everyone at All Souls. Thanks to all of you for making us feel welcome from day one and for making Colorado feel like home sooner than we could have ever expected.
It’s been an unbelievable year. I’ll do my best to give back for many years to come.
Brian Rhea is a husband, dad and Front-End Engineer at Mocavo.
He’s been building websites since 1994 when his dad told him, “I think this internet thing might get big.
You should learn it.” Thanks, Dad. You were right.
Last week Brad spoke to a group of entrepreneurs from the California Lutheran University about Startup Communities. Stephanie Crowley is a graphic recorder who attended the event and proceeded to draw this…AWESOME!
How Should We Measure Success In Our Startup Community?
I’ve learned a lot in my 3 short years of organizing Triangle Startup Weekend (TSW). For one, you can get a lot done in 54 hours if you just focus on doing things rather than talking about what you plan to do. All of the Triangle Startup Weekends we’ve organized have been successes, each building on the previous and becoming a more efficient and impactful event for the startup community.
This past weekend, we hosted TSW EDU, North Carolina’s first Startup Weekend focused on spurring innovation and reform in the education space. Based on feedback from attendees, coaches, judges, sponsors, other organizers, and community members that followed along on Twitter, the event was a success. But how do we define success? Better yet, how should we define success?
How do we define success?
The first question I get after TSW usually relates to how many companies were formed or how many of the companies survived and are still operational businesses. How many got funding? How many are still around?
That’s understandable – it’s very human to think of the companies themselves as a measure for how successful TSW is at impacting our startup community. Don’t get me wrong, they’re definitely part of the equation. And there’s nothing worth hiding – both of the winners of TSW since 2011 are still around, operational, and joined by other companies that launched during TSW.
How should we define success?
I can tell you that after years of organizing TSW, the companies themselves are far from the most important measure of the event’s success. Just as website visits aren’t the best measure of success for a startup, the companies that form at TSW don’t tell the entire story worth telling.
When we tell people about what role TSW plays in the startup community, we start with the fact that it is one of the few events that engages the entire entrepreneurial stack. Brad Feld explains the importance of this engagement in Startup Communities and if he were to touch on the metrics that matter to a startup community in Startup Metrics, he would probably focus on more than just the companies that form out of Startup Weekends.
It’s common for attendees to meet future co-founders and find jobs. In fact, last year, one of our participants drove from Arkansas because his fiancée was starting graduate school in the Triangle and he needed a job. He walked away from the weekend with strong leads and found a job shortly thereafter.
One of TSW’s past mentors and judges, Richard White, CEO of UserVoice, came to TSW two years ago and points to the energy and engineering talent he saw as the sole reason he decided to open an engineering office in downtown Raleigh.
It’s those types of things that we should be talking about when we talk about startup events.
Just as we have done (or should do) in our businesses, we should rethink how we measure success in our startup community and ask ourselves whether we’re using metrics that matter or merely vanity metrics.
Broadly, TSW EDU introduced entrepreneurship to educators, and education to entrepreneurs. It’s very likely the EdTech community in the Triangle will point back to TSW EDU as a tipping point. It’s too soon to measure all of the things that will come from TSW EDU, but I can tell you the companies that form from the weekend are just the tip of the iceberg. And they’re impressive enough in their own right.
Not long ago the guys from Awesome Inc arranged for startup guru Brad Feld to speak at the Kentucky Center about the Boulder, Colo., startup phenomenon. Somehow Boulder has attained the mythical entrepreneurial status we also attribute to Austin, the San Francisco Bay Area and Research Triangle.
Now back in the post-Nam days, when I was a longer-haired undergrad at CU-Boulder, the only local entrepreneurs I can recall utilized baggies to distribute their product. Gnarly for sure, but definitely not a global hot spot.
So, I wondered, what changed since the late ’70s, besides the merciful death of disco? How had the most liberal college town in America transformed itself into one of the preeminent entrepreneurial communities in the world and a birthplace of TechStars?
Maybe Feld’s speech would provide some answers, so I bought a ticket (and later, his book).
From Boulder to Louisville
In Feld’s TED-style talk, he used a flip chart to quickly lay out what he calls the “Boulder Thesis” (which he stretches to 200 pages in his book, Startup Communities). In short, Feld’s Boulder Thesis states that a vibrant entrepreneurial community must:
- Be led by entrepreneurs who
- Have a long-term commitment, and
- Be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it, and
- Continually engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
Understand that Boulder, which is fondly referred to as “eight square miles surrounded by reality,” sports five major research labs and the most degreed population in the United States. So it’s a pseudo-Oz, and whatever they do or (now legally) smoke out there might not translate to Kentucky.
I’m here to proclaim that the soul of the Boulder Thesis is, indeed, beginning to trend right here in the Bluegrass. Granted, we don’t yet match their 2013 Rockin’ Mountain High community, but (cue Journey) we are at least in the ’80s, or maybe even (fade to Pearl Jam) the ’90s in Boulder time, edging ever closer to the so-2009 Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got A Feeling.” (Way to remix those metaphors.)
My point is that this region is slowly but surely crafting its own energetic entrepreneurial community under flag bearers such as Phoebe Wood, Doug Cobb, Bob Saunders, Kimberly Nasief-Westergren, David Jones, Charlie Moyer, Tendai Charasika, Mark Crane, Greg Fischer, Adam Fish, Alex Frommeyer, Kris Kimel, Brian Raney, Suzanne Bergmeister and many others.
This isn’t a planned and managed affair; it’s organic and authentic. It’s like cat herding. It’s highly inclusive and spans the “stack” from investors to entrepreneurs to supporters. It includes long-standing groups such as Venture Connectors, KSTC, Nucleus and Enterprise Corp.; alongside rogues like Forge and Startup Weekend.
With the Gil Holland-led re-entrepreneurization of NuLu, the community even has a homeland.
From Louisville to the Commonwealth
To paraphrase Brad Feld, we are witnessing the birth of not just the Louisville Thesis, but the Kentucky Thesis, which I might point out is miraculously overcoming basketball rivalries and connecting with like-minded clusters of entrepreneurial diasporas from Paducah to Lexington to Covington.
A good thing? I damn well think so, and cheer on all comers who are willing to pitch in, whether by starting a company, investing, working, sponsoring or just showing up. We don’t have to become Boulder.Who needs weed dispensaries and 300 days of sunshine anyway? We just need to be ourselves and stick with it.
We have strengths in logistics, healthcare, food and manufacturing combined with that bull-headed Kentucky long-rifle sense of independence – hey, not every region is so blessed. We have plenty of bright people and ideas. And nobody sees us coming.
Granted, it was probably a hair easier to grow a vibrant entrepreneurial community in progressive, highly educated, uber-cool Boulder. But when we do it here, Mr. Feld will have an even better book to write.
Or maybe we’ll just write it ourselves.
Brad and Amy sat down with Sandy Grason of ICOSA to discuss their new book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur…