Brad Feld

How to Build a Successful Startup Community

The content for this interview was taken from our Kansas City show in October, where our Founder RJ Pahura led a fireside chat with Brad Feld. Get the skinny on how to build a successful startup community, celebrate your successes and failures, and maintaining your mental health in entrepreneurship.

The Skinny

1. Startup Communities

How do you build a successful startup community? Brad Feld shares how he helped build one of the leading startup communities in the world. In 2006, Brad helped David Cohen, David Brown, and Jared Polis start and facilitate the largest accelerator in the world, Techstars. The idea started with Cohen and Brown as they started making angel investments during a time that the entrepreneurial ecosystem was diffused and entrepreneurship was in the dumps- a year or two before the financial crisis. They realized they could solve a problem, providing a resource outlet for founders and angel investors to interact, this led to the idea of the Techstars Accelerator Program.

“Tech stars was purely an experiment. The dynamic around it were really powerful and engaged the Boulder startup community. The activities and acceleration within the companies were incredible. It gave the startup ecosystem a thing to focus on for 90 days . It provided the opportunity for everyone the opportunity to engage within one another, get educated on raising capital and early stage investing, and really just building a community around it.”

– Brad Feld

Expanding your startup community

Once you have a built a successful model in your community, it is easier to enter new markets. In 2018, Troy Henikoff came to Brad and suggested to bring the Techstars community into Chicago. Brad and the other founding fathers weren’t quite ready to try it in another market yet but offered to be mentors for Troy to host the program on behalf of Techstars. The success of the Chicago market led to John Fein and Lesa Mitchell creating and leading the Kansas City program.

To date, Techstars is located in 30 cities and 15 countries. There are 51 active programs in a year, each program has 10 companies, which totals about 510 companies a year. Techstars also has Startup Week which is 100 events a year worldwide and Startup Weekend which is 1000 events worldwide. This is just the beginning of their global startup community, there are more markets coming in 2020!

2. Successes and Failures 

Many people boast about failure and many boast about successes. Let’s face it, failure sucks. Whether it’s encountered failure or self-inflicted failure, you have to choose how to overcome them. 

“I started to learn how to cope with new surprises everyday regardless of how painful they are. Understanding how to deal with the content of knowing what’s working and not working is critical. Failure is an essential part of entrepreneurship.”

– Brad Feld

Brad’s Notable Success and Failure

One of Brad’s notable ventures was with the company, Fitbit, which brought a huge success and a failure along the way. He invested early in the company when there were only about 10 employees and the product was not developed to its full potential. The market was skeptical about the idea of fitness tracking but the founders were ahead of the product curve. In October 2013, the company launched a new product, Fitbit Force, and sold three quarters of million dollars within just a few days. In late January, consumers were releasing issues with the product saying they were receiving rashes which led to a product recall. Later they found the problem was the consumers would wear it for extended amounts of time and dirt would build up under the band causing itchiness and irritation of the skin. This recall resulted in a loss of 100M in cash. Their recall and rise in the news ended up elevating their brand. They had fantastic customer service and still had other product like the Flex that were still successful. Failures and successes go hand in hand, even when you are at the peak in your product cycle you still have to be prepared to tackle complications along the way.

3. Mental Health in Entrepreneurship

Mental health in entrepreneurship is a subject that is often overlooked within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, however, with the help of community leaders, such as Brad Feld, this topic is able to be voiced. Early into Brad’s career he dealt with extreme anxiety and later diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. During this time Brad experienced extreme depressive states, where he was completely absent of joy. These epidsodes led to Brad feeling ashamed of being depressed, but then realized how fortunate he was for the people who he surrounded himself with.

It came to a point where I noticed other entrepreneurs who were experiencing the exact same thing and I ended up saying forget the stigma, I’m not ashamed of it anymore and became helping others. I started five years ago, putting these stigmas behind and showing others that you can still function and be successful.

Brad Feld

Release of The Startup Community Way 

The sequel to his book, Startup Communities will be released Q1 of 2020, which will explore the factors that make startup communities thrive and how to improve collaboration in rapidly- changing environments. It’s a must- have resource for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, C-suite executives, business and community leaders, and anyone wishing to understand how startup communes work anywhere in the world.

Keeping up with Brad

Be sure to follow Brad’s latest blog posts on Feld Thoughts, read his award winning books, follow him on twitter and even shoot him a message.

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