Boulder startups and unicycles on trails

A Digital Nomad's perspective on what makes Boulder unique

After attending Boulder Startup Week, it occurred to me that I have a unique perspective to offer regarding startup cities and their cultures.  A couple of years ago, I Co-Founded PurposeMatch.com - a startup that helps people discover a sense of purpose, and then matches them with opportunities (colleges, jobs, etc) that fit.  Since my two Co-Founders were based in Santa Monica, I sold my house in Texas, and went on a journey as a digital nomad.  

Over the past two years, I’ve based out of Southern California, but spent a lot of time in New York (where our CTO lives), Los Angeles (where we founded PurposeMatch), Austin (where our original dev team was), Dallas (where we spent 3 months in the VentureSpur accelerator program), and of course, Boulder (where I just have a lot of friends).  I’ve bounced around, lived with friends, and slept on a lot of couches.  I’m basically a homeless person with a startup.

Along the way, I’ve picked up on various traits of these cities.  And during Boulder Startup Week, I got a front row seat and saw how unique this mountain town really is.  For instance…

 

Boulder is humble.

I’ve always admired people who are really good at what they do, but keep things in perspective.  It’s freeing to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you, and that it’s pretty lame to try to impress other people by pretending to be something that you’re not.

At the BSW keynote, Brad Feld and David Cohen kept hitting on this.  They said things like “Boulder is really good at being #2,” or “we’re not trying to be Silicon Valley… we don’t have enough cars to create that kind of traffic.”

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My favorite illustration came from Andrew Hyde.  He said that he thought he was being unique when he learned how to ride a unicycle.  Then, one day someone in town asked him “do you ever take that unicycle on trails?”  Hyde looked down and noticed that this guy was wearing a t-shirt that said something like “Unicycle Trail Champion.”  Who takes a unicycle off road?!  Again, there’s always somebody better.  And that’s OK.

In Boulder, everyone can be a mentor.

David Cohen made the point that “everybody is an expert at something.”  We tend to put mentors on a pedestal, and sometimes don’t realize that all of us have something to offer. Simple, yet profound.  Which leads to the final point...

 

Boulder is a “How can I help you?” kind of town.

Above all else, this is what I love the most about Boulder.  It’s a small town of 100,000 people with a tight-knit community that believes in paying it forward.  There’s this realization that we all had to start from somewhere.  So when the new guy comes to town looking for a job, or wanting to gain experience in startups… people go out of their way to help.  There’s a mentality that we all benefit if everyone succeeds.  A rising tide lifts all ships.  That’s awesome.

I experienced this myself.  I started my week by going to the Boulder Open Coffee Club, and found myself standing next to Brad Feld.  Over a hundred people spent an hour talking about what they were working on, and sharing ideas.  Over the course of the week I came away with a ton of new friends who offered to help me with my startup, and connect me with other folks.  I got to spend the week kicking around ideas with entrepreneurs... not just at workshops, but also during happy hours or on hikes at Chautauqua Park.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a place like that?

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There’s only one Boulder, and that’s OK too…every city has to be itself.  There's only one New York.  Only one San Diego.  Boulder has only 100,000 people, and they believe in work-life balance – people ride their bikes around town, go hiking in the front range of the Rocky Mountains and go skiing in the winter… all while building amazing companies.  People don’t seem to stress out.  It’s a small town that keeps life in perspective.  Boulder will never have the scale of Silicon Valley, or the global power and culture of New York.  But likewise, New York can’t create the lifestyle that Boulder has.  People are drawn to different cities for different reasons.  There’s no such thing as a perfect city, but every city has something unique to offer...