Friday, April 12, 2013

Brad Feld in Pasadena on Startup Communities

Here are my notes from attending a discussion with Brad Feld at Caltech, hosted by the Caltech Entrepreneurs Forum:
The event was organized by Pasadena Innovation Council (or Innovate Pasadena?)

These are just jotted down notes, if you have questions on how they fit together, ask in the comments.  There was a Q+A after Brad's mini-lecture.

Thanks to BackCode for the picture!

Four principles are required to build a successful startup community:

1. The movement must be led by entrepreneurs as leaders.  The movement also requires supportive roles from the government, universities, lawyers, etc.

2 The movement should be planned with the long term view in mind -- 20 years.  Since startups generally  take 5-20 year, possibly an average of 7, there needs to be some continuity and multiple rounds of successes and failures before the community is solid.  Plan with this long term view.  (i.e. Do not look at quarterly or annual rhythms.)

3 The movement must be radically inclusive of all people at any level.  Anyone who wants to help is welcome.  There should be cooperation between startups  even if they are in the same space; they are all competing for a massive pie, so there is more than likely room for all to succeed, which will be easier if people are sharing success stories and lessons.  This is not a zero sum game, there is tons of extra talent outside startup world.  Bad actors filter themselves out - they'll simply not be a good fit and be less interested as time goes on.  Number 3 is the easiest to miss.  

3.5 There should be an attitude of "give before you get".  Rewards come in strange ways, but if the attitude is to give first, there will always be massive rewards as the group grows.  There is a need for people to interact without a transactional relationship (e.g. "I did X for you, so I expect you do do Y for me."  Instead, just do X, and then move on, do X again if it benefits someone in the group.  Then Y will come.)

4 There should be a super saturation of events.  There should always be something going on.  Don't worry about overlap, as the community starts, information will start to flow.  Host regular meetups.  Don't hold back on organizing - there's no license required.  Simply start events, see the turnout, and move on from there.  Smart people will make time for events, if only as a way to meet talent, new partners, etc.

The topic of "Networks vs. Hierarchies" came up a number of times.  The global financial meltdown was a tipping point for networks vs hierarchies.  Status matters less.   Get access by helping others.  Flattening of hierarchies yields networks, which are efficient. Innovation and renewable.  

Factoid: Brad believes that you can't motivate people, you can only create a context or environment that will motivate them.

Brad has written a few books.  From what I hear, they're excellent.

Brad keeps a blog:


  1. Hey, you working on something? I applied to TechStars this year. Would love to catch up with you on your entrepreneurial ventures, and your imminent launch into grad school, how econ's treating you, ...Brad has done amazing work with the Boulder start up community, and beyond. I'm actually going to see Steve Blank talk later this month.

  2. Nick, thanks for the note! Dropped you a line!


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