‘Startup Communities’ by Brad Feld: Do or Do Not, There Is No Try!

Startup Communities1 book, 12 hours, 50 sticky notes later, and I feel more prepared than ever to answer the ultimate question: What does it take to make a great startup community? I’ve spent the last 2 years trying to figure that out and after spending my Saturday reading Startup Communities, by Brad Feld, I feel more confident than ever. (Big thanks to Andy Sack for lending me his copy for the weekend.)

I decided to make the Seattle startup community my full time job after attending a Seattle startup awards show in May 2011. Mark Suster was the keynote and he gave a talk on how to take the Seattle startup community to the next level and how a few key people can make a huge difference. When asked why he stepped up to be the public face of LA’s tech community, he responded:

“Number one, simply and honestly, I just started because I saw Brad Feld do it, and as an entrepreneur I always wanted to work with Brad because I thought what a great guy, he puts all of this information out there.” – GeekWire, 5/5/11

That was the first I heard of Brad Feld and has since become a source of inspiration and guidance for my community efforts. Startup Communities is the first of the Startup Revolution book series underway. Brad writes, “my hometown of Boulder has become known throughout the world as a great startup community, but cities like New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Chicago and Austin were being known as nexuses of startup activity.” Here are my favorite take-aways from this densely packed, 14 chapter guide book on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in your city:

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
“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.”

CHAPTER 3: PRINCIPLES OF A VIBRANT STARTUP COMMUNITY
The Boulder Thesis

  1. Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community;
  2. The leaders must have a long term commitment;
  3. The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it;
  4. The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.

CHAPTER 4: PARTICIPANTS IN A STARTUP COMMUNITY
The Importance of Both Leaders and Feeders
“Finally, every startup community needs cheerleaders. These cheerleaders are both the leaders and the feeders as everyone in the community should be proud to what they are doing and shout it from the rooftops. This cheerleading can be via a community website [...] or it can be the regular, steady blogging, writing, and talking [...] by the individuals leaders and feeders.”

CHAPTER 5: ATTRIBUTES OF LEADERSHIP IN A STARTUP COMMUNITY
Be Inclusive
“The leaders are the gatekeepers and should make sure the gates are always open. When someone new shows up at the gates of a startup community, the leaders [...] should make sure the person knows what activities exist to quickly get them involved.”

CHAPTER 6: CLASSICAL PROBLEMS
Complaining About Capital
“There will always be an imbalance between supply of capital and demand for capital. The whole idea of ‘enough capital’ is nonsensical and complaining about it doesn’t actually impact it.”

CHAPTER 7: ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS
Startup Weekend (Marc Nager)
“As we all know, there is no better way to learn how to do something than actually doing it; furthermore, there is no better way to improve at something than by practicing.”

CHAPTER 8: THE POWER OF ACCELERATORS
Accelerators are Different than Incubators
“Incubators operate year round and continuously. They focus on providing infrastructure and exist to fill up their space with paying customers. [...] I encourage those running incubators to celebrate their difference and focus on improving what they do, rather than trying to tie them more closely to accelerators.”

CHAPTER 9: UNIVERSITY INVOLVEMENT
The Real Value – Fresh Blood into The System
“Universities provide one key input into the startup community – a steady stream of smart, young people. Some of these students will be interested in being entrepreneurs; others will be interested in working for entrepreneurial companies. Either way, if the startup community can connect effectively to those students, it’s a huge win for the university, the startup community, and the students.”

CHAPTER 10: CONTRASTS BETWEEN ENTREPRENEURS AND GOVERNMENT
Self-Aware vs. Not Self-Aware
“Since many of the government leaders and almost all of the government employees, have never been entrepreneurs, they can’t relate to the dynamics of how entrepreneurship really works. Furthermore, while they can craft wide ranging plans, do long terms studies, and create extensive white papers, they rarely can act quickly and precisely around a specific initiative.”

CHAPTER 11: THE POWER OF THE COMMUNITY
Be Honest
“A phrase my partners and I at Foundry Group have used for many years is ‘intellectual honesty.’ Our goal – simply stated – is to not bullshit one another. Regardless of the emotions you feel about a particular issue, decision, or situation, being intellectually honest trumps everything.”

CHAPTER 12: BROADENING A SUCCESSFUL STARTUP COMMUNITY
Lack of Diversity
“Diversity in a startup community comes in two forms – ethnicity and gender. [...] And, within the startup community, while it’s getting better, there still is a meaningful imbalance among entrepreneurs between men and women.”

CHAPTER 13: MYTHS ABOUT STARTUP COMMUNITIES
We Need More Local Venture Capital
“Finally, venture capital simply isn’t that important to startups. [...] Venture capital, while a wonderful accelerant of some companies is neither necessary nor sufficient to create startup communities. While most entrepreneurs eventually need risk capital, it will come as a function of the opportunities presented, not before.”

CHAPTER 14: GETTING STARTED
Do or Do Not, There Is No Try
“My favorite thing about startups is that they don’t require anyone’s permision. Great entrepreneurs just start doing things. [...] As Yoda once told Luke, ‘Do or do not, there is no try.”

After my 12 hour book reading marathon, I decided to e-mail Brad. One of the questions I asked was whether he thought of himself as a leader or a feeder. Within minutes, I got the following response: ”I personally am an edge case. I’ve been an entrepreneur and was when I moved to Boulder. I didn’t become an investor until after that and was still straddling the line between entrepreneur and investor until 2001. Occasionally VCs can be leaders (I point to Fred Wilson (USV) in NY and Mark Suster (GRP) in LA in the book).”

Whether he see’s himself as a leader or not, Brad has given the world an incredible gift and we should do our best to take action, play our roles and make use of this incredible resource. Cheers to the next 20 years!

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF ‘STARTUP COMMUNITIES’

  • http://robiganguly.com/blog Robi Ganguly

    Awesome summary Red, thanks for sharing it! Makes me want to read the book even more – can’t wait until my pre-ordered Kindle version actually ships :)

    • http://startupseattle.com/ StartupSeattle

      Is it possible to sticky note a Kindle? ;-)

      • John Hudson

        I am sure there is an app for that.

  • adamslieb

    Thanks for the review. I am excited to read (already pre-ordered). Mark and Brad are definitely stalwarts in their respective cities. Who is going to be Seattle’s great white knight VC ?