Today I was at the small but intimate startup event organized by Neil Murray. He had mailed Brad Feld, famous for his thoughts and books about building a startup community, and had gotten him to do a 30 minutes talk over Skype.

The talk first went into his four main points about how to grow a startup community, and after that a very nice question and answer session where he gave more details and thought.

The 4 rules of how to get a great startup community:

  1. Grassroots – it has to be from entrepreneurs
    According to Brad there are leaders and there are feeders. For a successful community to emerge the leaders have to be entrepreneur. It has to be a grassrot movement. Not every entrepreneur has to be a leader, but it has to be some of them. He talked about a critical mass of half a dozen leaders at least.
  2. It’s a long term thing, at least 20 years
    He said that just as building a successful startup there are no instant success, only hard work that can seem like a instant success in retroperspective.
  3. It has to be inclusive
    Everyone that gives the community any love have to be included. He talked about complete inclusiveness. Building a startup community is a non-zero-sum game, and everybody gains from more talking part. Only sports are a zero-sum game, as he expressed it.
    He also emphasized a “give before you get” concept, a cousin of the pay it forward mentality. You have to believe into this, and put tons of energy into it. If all entrepreneurs that play a leadership role can do this, then it will be great. It is about giving before you get something back.
    Also, the philosophy about inclusion has to be on all levels – nobody is to good or to bad not to be included.
  4. Events & happenings
    He mentioned events as the final piece. But not all events are equal. Awards are nice, but not essential. Startup weekends are however very important – creating together, getting to know other people that create things, working together on stuff and the mixing of experienced and new entrepreneurs – all those things are important to get a community going.
    Also of great value are continuing and recurring meet ups. A place where entrepreneurs can learn from each other and get to know each other.


After he talked through his points the Q&A took over, with interesting further details:

Q: Events are great, but can there be too many events?


A very good questions, which I did not touch good enough in my book. My believe is that a supersaturation of activity and events are good. You want as much as possible to happen. if nobody cares, then let events die.
Some things will happen because they always have been held. People feel they have to go, but don’t get much out of it. If you have a supersaturation, then people can only get involved in the ones that bring them value. But it is important that it is OK for events to die, it is OK for efforts to merge – it is all evolving.

Q: How important are co-working spaces?


I like to talk about entrepreneurial density – entrepreneurs bouncing into each other all the time. Co-working spaces help you get that going. However, there are multiple things: co-working, accelerators and incubators. I am not a huge a fan of incubators. Commercial and for profit incubators are less efficient then co-working and accelerators.
(Ed note: his definition of accelerators and incubators might be different from our here in scandinavia, where incubators often are government run and located together with or as co-working spaces.)

Q: How to achieve a more joint up startup community – there are many different clusters here, how do we get them to work together?


Don’t care about clusters. You don’t want to create a hierarchy structure – it should be a network structure. There are nodes, get the nodes together. Start collaboration. Go to their stuff. Invite them to your stuff. It is good that different stuff are happening, because it can evolve into different directions.

Q: Experienced entrepreneurs want to participate, but mostly only larger corporations that have a direct cost-benefit do it. How do we get others to participate?


I do not have a clear answer to this. When big companies do something that supports their agenda then it is most powerful. Another way to do this is to get experience entrepreneurs and their companies to become the costumers of new startups. But it is hard to get them involved without clear value to them. They have to have some sort of potential benefit.

Q: How can the community help each other in hard times, when things go bad for startups or entrepreneurs?


I will give you one example – a tactic that can be used in the context of failure. In Boulder we have a “wake”, like a religious ceremony, when companies fails. The entrepreneurs are taken for dinner, and the death of the company is celebrated. A notion of getting a closure of the failing, accepting it and getting over it is very important.
You have to recognize that failure is a natural part of entrepreneur activity. The founders next venture will be successful because they learn from their failures.

Q: What do you do if you have not a dozen serial entrepreneurs that are leaders?


They don’t have to be serial entrepreneurs. You don’t have to apply to a license. You just start. in 1995 in Boulder the vast majority of those that where the leaders in retroperspect where not successful serial entrepreneurs. Most where in their first entrepreneurial journey.
Don’t wait till you get the “right” leaders, just start doing. The more you do, the more energy you put into it, the more effect it will have. I challenge the assumptions that you don’t have the critical mass, you just have to decide to lead.

How are we doing?

This was a very interesting meet-up, and the audience was very involved in the subject, with participants from Silicon Vikings, Silicon Drinkabout, Founders House, StartupGrind Copenhagen, Accelerace and our selves participating. If I look at his list, and his points, I would say we have a lot in place already. We are getting to point where there is almost a supersaturation of events (just this week there are 16 events happening in the region, one of them being a startup weekend session). The events and the initiatives are to a large extent grassroots driven – Founders House, Silicon Vikings, Silicon Drinkabout, StartupGrind Copenhagen and this site are all done by entrepreneurs who want to make the scene better.

We are still at the beginning of the long term journey, but we are getting closer. More things are happening, more startups born, and more crucial, more and more startups achieve funding and make it internationally.
The one point where I see we are currently lacking is the inclusion part. It has definitely gotten a lot better, and this is one of the main reasons why I started this website – there are roughly speaking 9 different entrepreneurial clusters in the region, and the communication between them is limited. Just Copenhagen itself has 5 different entrepreneur clusters, and more collaboration between them will achieve a lot I think.
But one a positive not, it is also very interesting to see how inclusive the startup scene is for people from other nationalities. In the audience tonight, there where more non scandinavians than there where scandinavians – which I think is a key factor.

Thanks for Neil for organizing this event, and a big thanks to Brad Feld for participating – he really is a person that lives the “give before you get” philosophy himself! The quotes are above are as good as we got them, without recording the event. We hope Brad does not feel misquoted!
This a simple but great initiative and inspired me personally to keep up our work.