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June 30, 2017

The Boulder Thesis in Adelaide

It used to be believed that if you wanted to start a tech company, you had to move to Silicon Valley, especially if you were going to need to raise money to fund your startup.  Now you can start a tech company anywhere with a decent internet connection and startup communities are growing almost everywhere in the world.
I’ve heard Brad Feld say many times that he believes a startup community can be built in any city and that the future of cities depends on these startup communities.   He’s even written a book on the idea called Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
I was living in Boulder when Brad moved to town from Boston, and I’ve seen his commitment to this idea first hand.  As the startup community grew in Boulder and became known beyond Colorado, he began getting questions from other communities about how they could duplicate Boulder’s success.  Here’s the thing though - no one can duplicate Boulder, any more than Boulder could duplicate Silicon Valley.  A community has to create their own version of success -  but there are lessons to be learned from Boulder.  
Brad developed what he calls the Boulder Thesis and you’ll find it explained in Chapter Three of the book, but here is the latest version that I could find online as Brad has evolved it over the years.
The Boulder Thesis by Brad Feld
  • Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
  • The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
  • The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
  • The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
I moved to Adelaide, South Australia just over a year ago, and one of the many surprises I discovered was how many people knew about Boulder, and not just because of Mork and Mindy.  Startup people especially knew that Boulder was supposed to be a great place to create a company but they were usually surprised to hear that Boulder’s population is only about a 100,000 people and that’s counting the students at the University of Colorado.
So if Boulder, a city 1/10 the size of Adelaide can do it, why not Adelaide?  Well, of course, Adelaide can do it!  In fact, Adelaide has been doing it for years, but another thing Brad likes to say is you have to take a twenty-year view of the future, and that’s starting today.
I’ve found Adelaide to be a wonderful place to live and I can see startup founders not only growing up here, but people moving here to start their company.  We can certainly support the founders we already have so they don’t feel the need to go to Sydney, or Boulder or Silicon Valley.  That’s not a knock on any of those places, but if you have limited startup capital and a limited network of people, why spend any of that moving somewhere else?
The first two points of the Boulder Thesis are pretty easy really.  Entrepreneurs invest a little time outside of their own bubble giving back to the community and helping others.  Of course, the lawyers, accountants and government people are going to be working alongside, but the leaders have to be the founders themselves.  And you can’t just think about the next six months like we often do in a startup; you have to take the long view.
Being inclusive is harder, because not only do you have to go against stereotypes about what a startup founder looks like, you also have to work to include people who by definition are new, inexperienced and not connected to the network.  It can’t become a club of just the most successful or oldest community members.  Growing networks always beat exclusive networks.
The last point about having continual activities seems to be happening here in Adelaide too.  According to Josh Garratt, the Chairman of the Coworking South Australia Association, Adelaide has 28 coworking spaces.  That’s  the highest number per capita in Asia.  That right there is going to guarantee that something is happening for startups every day of the week, but there can always be more.  When I was involved in Startup Longmont, a town just up the road from Boulder, I encouraged anyone who wanted to create an event to just do it.  No permission required, and no worries about competing with someone else’s event, even mine.  The most interesting and helpful events will thrive and the rest will evolve or die after they’ve served their purpose, and that’s OK.
A lesson I learned in Longmont was that we, the startup community, had to always be reminding people about how great the community really was because some people both inside and outside the community just wanted to complain about what wasn't right.  If we complained about the lack of angels and VCs or that Boulder was farther along than we were, it just hurt our community.  We changed the language from saying we were “just a little country town” to being proud of where we lived while working hard to make it even better.  That’s happening here in Adelaide, and I’m very happy to be a small part of the movement.

June 30, 2017 | Permalink

Why high-speed internet matters to the startup community


In another post, I wrote about Brad Feld’s Boulder Thesis and how it relates to Adelaide.  In that post, I said that “Now you can start a tech company anywhere with a decent internet connection . . .”

I moved to Adelaide just over a year ago, and the first week I was here I was happy to see that Adelaide had declared it would become the first “Gig City” in Australia.  I moved here from Longmont, Colorado which was completing the installation of their gigabit fibre network to businesses and homes.  (Longmont is just up the road from Boulder and Denver).  As I was locking up the house to go the airport, the installer walked up the driveway to say they were ready to install my connection.  It was going to be fibre to the house, with 1 Gigabit speeds up and down, and it was going to cost $49 (US) per month.  I gladly gave that up for the chance to live in Adelaide.

Many people I’ve talked to either don’t know what it means to have a high-speed internet connection, or they just don’t think it’s needed.  The rest are pretty frustrated with the general state of the internet here and can’t wait for Adelaide to get the gigabit network going for all who need it.

Let’s start with how fast a gigabit really is.  I love this video because it graphically shows the difference between what many people in Australia and the US have and what’s possible with a gigabit network.

Usually though, when I’m talking to people about internet speeds I don’t have access to YouTube, so I’ve come up with an analogy.

I only have access to ADSL2+ at my home and I get about 2Mbs per second.  That’s 2 Million bits per second - sounds pretty fast right?  In Longmont, I was going to get 1,000 Million bits per second, so my speed here is 2% of what you can get in Longmont for about half the price.

I recently flew to Melbourne, and that took about two hours gate to gate.  If my plane had flown at 2% of that speed, it would have taken me 500 hours or almost three weeks to get to Melbourne!   It’s ironic that one of the local internet providers here is selling what they call high-speed internet with an image of a guy wearing an astronaut helmet in a lawn chair with balloons tied to it.  He’s no more going to space than they are selling actual high-speed internet connections.  (Google "limitless data plans have landed" if you want to see the image yourself - oh, and the gigabit in Longmont is for unlimited data as well.)

Some would say you don’t need a gigabit or even a fraction of that.  I know that plenty of people said that the aeroplane was a waste of time and money in the early days of flight and that the car was good enough and before that, the horse was good enough.  I’m sure some thought the expense of running power lines all over Australia and the USA was a waste of time and money because candles were “good enough.”

I am certain that one day we’ll feel the same way about the investments being made in the internet infrastructure.  High-speed internet isn’t just about being able to watch Netflix at home or reducing the time for a Facebook page to load.  The companies of the future and many of the present require actual high-speed internet.  If they don’t get it here, they will go somewhere else.  The US and Australia need to keep investing in the future, and that means gigabit and beyond.  I’m proud that Longmont did it, and that Adelaide is doing it now.

June 30, 2017 in Australia, Entrepreneur Essays, Entrepreneurship | Permalink