This week marks the 2 year anniversary of the Roberts family moving back home to Salt Lake City, from the Bay Area.
It has been a great move for us. We pinch ourselves nearly every day that we get to live in a place we love so much. It is home to us in every sense of the word. And inspite of the frequent travel it incites, there’s nowhere else anywhere we’d rather plant our roots.
In the time that I’ve been home, I’ve had the chance to meet with a bunch of local founders of all types. Some in tech, some not. Some younger, some, um, not. At some point in these meetings, the person I’m speaking to tends to frustratingly say something along the lines of “we need a startup community here in Utah” or “why don’t we have more of a startup community here in Utah”?
Given I’ve been hearing it a lot over the last few weeks it’s been marinating a bit more in my mind.
Is there really a lack of community here? If so, why? If so, what can we do about it? If not, does it really matter?
Mark Suster had a post recently which detailed what goes into making a successful startup community. His checklist included:
- Co-working spaces
- Angels/Recycled Capital
- Venture Capital
- Mavens & Marketers
I think that’s a good list and if you’ve read Brad’s book or the many blog posts written on this subject you’ll see a similar list of startup community attributes. Mix and match to suit your taste and geography.
Funny thing about Utah today is that it has very few of these ingredients. We host very few startup events. Those that are organized are lightly attended. Coworking spaces are just now coming online. Local angel networks have a troubled history that just now seems to be getting sorted out. There are few active local VC firms than at anytime I’ve lived here. And the marketing message of the state seems to be a tire “Silicon Slopes” approach to attaching our image to that of Silicon Valley, Alley or Beach.
Yet never, in the 15 years that I’ve been participating in the Utah startup community I have never seen so much momentum. Companies are raising massive rounds of growth equity. Talent is flocking to the state of a caliber, and at a rate, I’ve never seen before. And several private companies have crossed over into Unicorn territory.
Inspite of this, the refrain remains the same- “Where’s the Community”.
As I sat listening to the founders of Weave recently tell their story about struggling, for 3 years, to raise money from local Utah angels and VCs, then getting accepted into YC, soon followed by a successful (and wildly competitive) $5M Series A raise they said something that struck me.
When asked why they decided to move back to Utah after YC instead of staying in Bay Area, their answer came with no hesitation- they didn’t just want to build a great company, they wanted to build a great company in Utah.
This is not the first time I’ve heard that sentiment from other local founders- many of whom could compete anywhere but chose to grow their companies here. They want build something enduring and impactful with the people here, for the people here. To forge their own paths on their own terms. And do so in a place so many of us love at the base of these mountains.
If you look at the broader meaning of community, it’s defined not as a lengthy list of attributes but simply as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
Taken in this light, I’d say we’ve been looking beyond the mark of what a startup community means here, in these hills, with these people who are making things happen. We may not have loads of local capital, we may not have an event happening every night. But you better believe we have a shared goal of building world class companies here in Utah.
And if that’s the only bond that ties all the efforts and energy of our community together, I’ll take that over a meetup or a co-working space every single time.
This week the White House hosted their first ever Maker Faire.
You didn’t read about it on Techcrunch. Or Mashable.
But make no mistake, this was an historic event.
I recall running into Dale Daugherty, founder and CEO of Maker Media and spiritual leader of the maker movement shortly after President Obama’s 2009 inaugural speech. Dale giddily asked “did you hear it? I knew exactly what he was referring to. In that speech the president stated:
"Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things"
There it was.
We are Makers. A nation of them.
At that time, the Maker movement was still very much in its infancy, still deep within the realm of hobbyists and hackers.
This week the President welcomed these makers of things to the most prominent address in the world. To set up shop. To display their work. To remind a nation of their history and call them to action. He said:“Our parents and our grandparents created the world’s largest economy and strongest middle class not by buying stuff, but by building stuff — by making stuff, by tinkering and inventing and building.”
I ran into Dale again last night. With eyes still a bit starry he tried to convey what this week meant to him and to the Maker movement. The words didn’t come easily, but there was a clear sense that this was a meaningful moment.
What began as a group of misunderstood hackers, artists and outcasts has transformed into the promise of a nation. And stands as a beacon signaling that real, tangible innovation is taking root on our soil once again. Tho the halls of the White House have been cleared of any signs of this weeks Maker Faire, those halls have clearly left a lasting mark on this community which left Dale, understandably, a bit speechless.
I’m not a hockey fan. I can count the number of hockey games I’ve ever watched on one hand.
But last night, I turned on my TV and the channel was set to the Kings/Rangers game. It was the 3rd period and the Rangers we leading 2-1.
Soon a stat popped up on the screen and I knew, despite the score, who was going to win the game.
Shots on goal.
At the point I tuned into the game the Kings had nearly 2x the number of shots on the Rangers’ goal as the Rangers had on the Kings’. By the time the game was over, the Kings outshot the Rangers 42 to 24.
I don’t know how decisive shots on goal tends to be in hockey, but in life it makes all the difference.
How do you increase your probability of closing sales, increasing your network or finding investors for you business- shots on goal.
As was true in the game last night, all shots are not created equal. Some bounce off the post, some get batted down and some fly wildly off target. In fact, of the 66 shots on goal taken last night, only 5 actually hit the back of the net.
And that was an important reminder for me last night.
Despite how discouraging it can be to hear so many “Nos” and face so much rejection and frustration while starting and building a company, the key to ultimately winning is to keep taking as many shots on goal as possible.
Eventually, one will hit the back of the net.
A baby boomer covets a car.
A teen only needs transportation.
A baby boomer needs to own.
A teen only needs access.
Some of the best career advice I’ve seen lately for people getting started.
About this time last year I found myself, a bit unexpectedly, in a large ball room in Santa Monica. On stage, was Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, recounting his story of building Zappos, his new book and his much publicized Downtown Project. Like most in the audience, I’d heard plenty about each; however, as he neared the end of his presentation on what he’s trying to build in Vegas, he struck on a principle that I’ve not been able to shake since.
The idea was a simple one. So simple, in fact, that many of us who live in or have spent time tech hubs like San Francisco, Palo Alto or New York City often take this idea for granted.
The idea is called “collision hours” and Tony posits that the success of the downtown project hangs on creating spaces to maximize “collisionable” hours.
What is a collision you may be asking? It’s simply colliding with new people and ideas. Sharing your own and being open to others. It’s unfiltered serendipity. Stepping onto the street, or into the cafe, or into the conference and making an effort to collide with as many people and ideas in a designated timeframe. And being open to the possibilities and changes of course that collisions often enact.
These collisions have become so central to the project that Tony and his team have a formula around which decisions for downtown Vegas are based. From Gizmodo:
So the Downtown Project is instead looking at residents, employees, and regular visitors (they call them “subscribers”) to contribute 1000 annual “collisionable hours:” three to four hours per day of a person walking around/eating at a cafe/drinking at a bar, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year (3 x 7 x 52 = 1092 hours). This can help the area achieve its goal of 100,000 collisionable hours per acre per year, or, as Schaefer broke it down further, 2.3 collisionable hours per square foot per year.
They measure possible collision hours by the foot!
Given the centrality of collision hours to the thesis of the downtown project, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I open myself up to possible collisions and recognizing them more when they occur.
I’ve noticed that when I’m traveling in the bay area, London or NYC, they’re happening in both coordinated and unintended ways. Walking through Soho or SOMA, it’s very natural to bump into 3 or 4 people I haven’t see in a while. Last week in SF, I arrived early to my dinner at Alta and bumped into 3 people I hadn’t seen in ages at the bar. On the walk back to my hotel that night, I ran into an old friend on the street and we caught up for 15-20 min on our latest projects. These were collision hours and they happen more naturally in certain cities than others.
The cities that these collisions happen more naturally in are also the cities that are thriving in the midst of global downturn.
Starting to see why Tony views them as so central to the success of his project?
In my office in SLC, collisions don’t happen as freely. So, I have a reminder on a whiteboard hanging in front of my desk with a space for me to write the names of 5 people. Each day that I’m working out of my SLC office I realize that I can’t collide on the street, but I can make collisions with new people or contacts that aren’t part of my daily work flow. Often these collisions can happen with a simple email. But, occasionally they come via a phone call, text message or skype chat.
Whether in person, or online, the idea of collisions and creating collisionable hours throughout the day, month or year is a powerful concept and one that I’m trying to embody more and more.
When I look back on my career there are a series of key collisions that have opened door to entrepreneurial opportunities and future investments. I’e always seen them as such, but didn’t have a term that captured what they meant to me and how to quantify them until I was sitting in that ballroom listening to Tony that day.
Now, I can’t shake the concept and I’m creating more space for collisions to occur. Great careers and communities can be boiled down to collisions. It’s worth creating the hours to see where some of them might take you.
Saw this shortly after seeing a tweet from Pincus:
My rule of thumb for entrepreneurs. Your Instincts are right 95% of the time, your ideas 25%. Fall in love with instincts. Kill ideas often.
From a NYT profile of the team at Planet Labs.
This. This is why we’re seeing surging breatkthroughs in new devices and hardware enabled applications.