I am following up on my last post about the role leadership plays in the building of a community. I was not going to do this, but I recently had the pleasure of meeting Brad Feld (www.feld.com) and the topic of community building is too timely given my time with him. Brad came to Upstate, New York as a guest of Martin Babinec and Nasir Ali of Upstate Venture Connect (www.uvc.org) and spoke to a number of groups as he toured Ithaca, Syracuse and Rochester. His success as both an entrepreneur and investor around high growth technology ventures is impressive (to say the least!) and requires no mention to those active in the space. This, though, does not seem to set him apart from many of his peers. He is a community builder. He is a leading element.
He will--no doubt--continue to influence the world as a skilled entrepreneur and investor through his related ventures and all that they will impact. I am guessing, though, that he will have a “meta-effect” on the world as a result of his community-related efforts in Boulder, Colorado. In short, he helped to turn Boulder into a hot bed of startups and is now on his way to influencing the nation through the expansion of Tech Stars (www.techstars.org
) and his most recent involvement in President Obama’s Startup America initiative (www.startupamericapartnership.org
). He has also codified a number of lessons learned in his latest book Do More Faster (If you are interested in starting a tech venture, buy it
Brad understands community building and has effectively used his influence to build a community that is high growth venture focused (as opposed to small business per se). He attracts talent to Boulder and continues to help grow an ecosystem that significantly increases the probability of success of the startups that move there--specifically those that are accepted into Tech Stars, which has an abnormally high 70% hit rate.
I believe that he does so by focusing on and connecting with people.
The beautiful landscape of Boulder, laid back lifestyle and fact that marijuana is legal (for those who are so inclined) makes one’s time there that much more sustainable and enjoyable, but the primary reason one would head there is the mentorship and the support of the entrepreneurial community. All successful anybodies from anywhere need mentorship and a supportive community to succeed. Specific to the starting of high growth ventures, the community needs to be supportive of those who want to build a life around their passions, change the world in the process and do so without a hindering concern for failure.
I do not believe that this type of pursuit is a matter of choice--that is, for those who can't help themselves and just need to scratch that itch and build it. For example, I often have conversations with athletes about whether or not they should “try” to win a medal (in rowing) on the world stage--essentially mold their life around a pursuit that results in only one gold medal each year. Brad (and Yoda) might respond, “don’t try, do or do not.” I tend to start with a question: Do you want to do this or do you need to do this? Want requires some qualification and discussion. Intrinsic need does not; if there is a need, then do it.
As Brad pointed out, building a similarly impactful community like that in Boulder can happen anywhere. He also pointed out that it is quality--not necessarily pace or quantity--that matters. Thus the leading element of such an effort is required to be patient, focused on both meaning and quality and--I would add, most importantly--pure in their intentions. Absent these qualities and you simply will not attract those with the intrinsic need necessary for success.
Brad exudes these qualities, as do many people I have met in Upstate. The potential is here and the momentum is growing. The question of whether there is enough need across the region remains open, but I remain optimistic given my experiences. Upstate is on its way.