What We Learned By Moving To Boulder
In a follow up to our Who We Are post, Ryan and I thought we would compare VC life in Boulder, CO to that of the Silicon Valley. In some ways it’s remarkably similar and in some ways wonderfully different.
For those of you who don’t know, Ryan and I met in 2000 while at the California offices of Mobius Venture Capital, became quick friends and even started a band or two. (Shameless Plug Alert: Our band Soul Patch has recently released a new album. Check out the web site and buy on CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon. Become a fan on Facebook!). When the concept of the Foundry Group was born, one thing that the five of us agreed on was the need for one (and only one) office.
It didn’t take us long to decide that both the Boulder and Foundry Group opportunities were what we wanted to pursue with our careers, so, after a combined 27 years in Northern California, we sold our homes in the Bay Area and moved to Boulder in mid 2006. We’ve now been here almost 2 years. What have we learned?
Boulder is an entrepreneurially vibrant community. We were both surprised and encouraged by the sheer amount of startup activity there is in Boulder. It’s not just a by-product of having several good universities nearby; rather it’s really part of the culture and fabric of the community. I’d compare this to Ann Arbor, MI, where I went to school. Many people compare Ann Arbor to Boulder (without the mountains). While I see plenty of similarities, Ann Arbor is missing the ingrained culture of entrepreneurship (and associated risk profile) although it may have similar engineering and management talent.
Boulder is a supportive community. There really is a sense of community here. While there is a ton of activity, I don’t know if we’ve ever been to place that is as supportive in each other’s efforts. Instead of competition, there is collaboration. Whether it’s the Boulder NewTech Meetup, the Boulder OpenCoffee Club, Boulder Software Club, or TechStars, there is a general sense of community and responsibility to help the entrepreneurial community grow. I can’t say that I ever felt that sense of responsibility and “giving back” in the Silicon Valley that I feel here.
Boulder makes nationwide travel much easier. As national investors, it’s much easier for us to travel anywhere in the US from a central location like Denver. We’ve even been able to take day trips to New York, an impossible feat from the Bay Area, at least without a private jet. While an East Coast day trip is not the most fun one can have, our families appreciate us being home at night. And getting back and forth to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where we travel most frequently, is a relatively painless and efficient experience.
Speaking of travel, both Ryan and I (coincidentally) live on the same block in a neighborhood a few blocks away from our office. Our “commute” to the office is infinitely easier than our prior commutes in the Bay Area. The time saved can be spent on work or play, but either way, it’s not spent in the car. (For those voyeurs among you, you can check out our neighborhood by going to Google Maps and clicking “Street View”.
Being in Boulder helps focus our West Coast activities. There is no doubt that the volume of startup activity in the Bay Area dwarfs that of Boulder, and we have often been asked if we are concerned that we are missing out on opportunities by not having an office in the Valley. On the contrary, we consider being outside of the (sometimes provincial) echo-chamber of Silicon Valley to be genuinely useful. After experiencing life as VCs in the Valley for several years, we experienced a very real “time tax”, which resulted from taking meetings with entrepreneurs and executives we knew we were unlikely to invest in, but we felt were ultimately necessary to participate in in order to maintain our relationships with friends and colleagues in the area. Not being in California every day means we can opt out of that process. With our new location in Boulder, we still have our great networks and deal flow in California, but we have removed the Sand Hill Road friction from our day-to-day lives. When we do go to California to look at deals, meet with entrepreneurs or attend board meetings, we are better focused at the matters at hand and tend to have higher quality meetings, since those meetings have passed the “is it worth hopping on an airplane to meet face to face?” test.
Boulder’s culture encourages a healthy work-life balance. Boulder has an incredible amount to offer with easy access to mountains, hiking trails and natural beauty. People actually have time and focus to concentrate on things outside of work. It’s definitely a slightly saner pace. It’s not that people don’t work hard – they do – but there is a certain amount of balance that isn’t completely explainable unless you live here. For us, it’s meant that the hours we do work are more efficient and our brains are sharper.
So is Boulder utopia? No, nothing is. Ryan and I will “forever” tease our partners who told us that winters were mild in Boulder. Upon our arrival, we had the “opportunity” to experience the worst winter “ever” in 2006-2007. We’re also being told this winter is “below average,” which means that we’ve clearly brought bad luck with us. Either that or we were sold a bill of goods. More on that next year, I suppose. Also, we both miss some of the culinary options of the Bay Area, but we’d be in the same situation if we lived anywhere else but New York or Los Angeles (with apologies to Chicago). Finally, we must mention that the Denver Airport has the worst parking facilities in the world. They are regularly full, making for some tense moments pre-departure.
But in general, Boulder is a great place to live, work, play and (in Ryan’s case) raise kids. We’ve embraced our new hometown, and we look forward to continuing our integration into the community, both from professional and personal standpoints.