Boulder has a thriving tech community that has been well documented in the last 12 months alone via The New York Times, MSNBC, CNBC, and lots of other sources. I consider myself to be a reasonably active member of the community through visible roles as a TechStars mentor and as the organizer of the monthly CEO Lunch. However, it is the less visible stuff that often makes me feel like a real member of the community. For example, when I leave my downtown office to grab a coffee or lunch, I almost always bump into a local founder or an entire startup team. These chance encounters usually lead to a quick “how’s it going?” chat that can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. I also find myself doing a lot of waving to various tech community folks from across the Pearl Street Mall or as I ride to/from work on my bicycle. I very rarely go anywhere in Boulder without seeing at least one person I know from the tech community.
In addition to these random encounters, I average 5 to 10 emails per week from local entrepreneurs. Sometimes these entrepreneurs have a specific request but they usually just want another opinion on their new business. I try to squeeze in at least one face-to-face meeting per week with local founders/teams and often find myself feeling guilty that I can’t respond to all requests faster. Two quick side notes:
1) Some people have decided over time that they can get bumped up in the meeting queue by offering to buy me a beer. I can’t confirm this technique works, but I can assure you it doesn’t hurt to try.
2) I realize that sometimes people want to meet with me because they believe it will help their chances of getting in to TechStars. For the record, meeting with me will do very little to improve your chances of getting in to TechStars. Your team, your application, and your attitude will get you in.
Being part of the Boulder tech community is fun and rewarding, and I take great pride in being part of something that I believe is truly special. But, here’s the thing, it wasn’t always like this for me. There was a point in time where I felt almost completely isolated living in Boulder and I was fairly miserable working from here. As the late Paul Harvey would say, here’s “the rest of the story.”…
I moved to Boulder from Boston with my wife, Sarah Ahn, and our one-year-old son, Jackson, in 2004 (we have three amazing kids now). We bought a house within walking distance of downtown and I’ve worked in various downtown office locations ever since. Even though I basically forced Sarah to move to Boulder, she was the one that immediately embraced the community. She joined a bunch of different organizations, became a board member of a local non-profit, and made a ton of new friends. Within a couple of months of moving to Boulder, it felt like she knew half the people who lived here.
It was clear from the start that raising our family in Boulder was going to be a great experience. The problem for me is that I was the only person from our company working from Boulder. Everyone else was scattered about the country with a high percentage of people working in Boston. Going to work in my one-person office each day was like going into an isolation chamber. I would often go to work, spend a full day in the office, and get home without having a single face-to-face conversation with an actual human being. I spent all my time on email, on the phone, and on videoconferences during that time. The lack of real human interaction was definitely taking a toll on me.
Then one day in 2007 Sarah showed me an article in the local newspaper about four guys who were forming a new tech incubator in Boulder called TechStars. The only person I recognized from the article was Jared Polis. Sarah suggested that I reach out to see if they needed any help. A few weeks later I had coffee with David Cohen. The plans for TechStars were coming together quickly and David appeared to have it under control. I asked how I could help and he said he wasn’t sure yet. He mentioned that they had plenty of mentors signed up already. We agreed to stay in touch and I left the meeting feeling like I most likely wouldn’t be involved with the program going forward. Things were hectic enough for me at work and there didn’t seem to be any obvious ways for me to contribute from the start.
Fortunately for me, the impact of that first TechStars class on Boulder was unavoidable. I couldn’t visit a sandwich shop or read a local blog that first summer without running in to one of the TechStars companies. Through a series of events that I don’t completely remember, I ended up having a few mentoring sessions that first year with a couple of the companies. I also attended Investor Day that year and was blown away by the quality of the pitches. I got a little more involved in 2008 and started attending various tech events around town that year too. By 2009 I was fully engaged in TechStars and the Boulder tech scene. We launched the CEO Lunch in the fall of 2009. I distinctly remember having lunch one day with Brad Feld shortly before I started the CEO Lunch and he said “you are part of the community, just enjoy it.” Brad’s message was simple but impactful: you can give to the community, but you can take from it too.
These days I feel like I take way more than I give. I’ve developed some wonderful friendships, participated in a thousand stimulating conversations, and witnessed first hand a bunch of talented people achieving their goals. Somewhere along the line I realized that Boulder wasn’t only a great place to raise my family, it was a great home for me.