Moving To NYC

Case I wake up in the morning and it’s all gone
Best believe I’ma get it right back
Thats the hustler in me I know you like that

– Young Jeezy (Leave You Alone)

With 4th of July upon us, I felt it was time to be a little more public about my next moves. As many of you know, I’m in the process of moving to NYC to launch a new company. There is a deep love in my heart for Colorado, and Boulder in particular. In many ways, my closest friends and family have found it hard to believe that I’d leave a place that I love so dearly. At the end of the day there are 3 reasons that I’m going: 3D printing, a new startup opportunity, and family/friends.

For many years, I’ve had a fascination with the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. How do things we create digitally get manifested in the real world. Card Gnome was my first experiment. Over the last couple years, and more intensely over the last few months, 3D printing has become an obsession. NYC is the epicenter of this new technology. Not just for the US, but for the world. Makerbot, Shapeways and 3D Systems are 3 of the largest players in the space and all have headquarters in the NYC metro area. Stratasys, the other behemoth from Israel, recently acquired Makerbot to be it’s consumer brand and they aren’t moving from NYC. Makerbot and Shapeways even have their manufacturing facilities within the city limits. 3D printing changes the manufacturing cost calculus, allowing producers to optimize for geography rather than labor costs. What better location than metro NYC to show the world that labor cost optimization is dead.

About 1 month ago I was doing due diligence on a company that I was interested in and met Kegan Schouwenberg. She is an amazing entrepreneur and the former head of US operations for Shapeways, a true thought leader in 3D printing. She had this crazy idea that she could use 3D scanning and printing to create custom orthotics that aren’t just functionally better, but are better looking and easier to buy. She’s an industrial designer by trade and was looking for a business partner to handle distribution and business operations. I was really intrigued and after about a month of thought have decided to join full time as a founder and COO for the new business we’re calling Sols.

Lastly, my family and many of my friends still live in the tri-state area (Philly, NJ, NYC) and I’ve been neglecting those relationships for many years. I can’t remember a time when I was close enough to home for casual visits since I left for college and I’m looking forward to being closer. My heart is stil in the outdoors and NYC and its environs just cannot fulfill that need (although I’m still going to try). My hope is that in the future I’ll be able to move back to Colorado (or California) where I’ll have easier access to the backcountry adventures that I love.

At the end of the day, I’m not “leaving Colorado”, I’m just living in New York for a little bit. If you are around Boulder next week on the 11th I’ll be doing happy hour drinks at the West End Tavern starting at 4pm. Come say hi.

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Moving To NYC

Taking Back Problem Solving

Let’s take a trip down memory lane
With the game talker, native new yorker
Gators on my feet, formerly british walker
Yes love, that’s how it was before
When you was funky fresh or down by law
Parlay with your crew at the corner store
Carrying a boom box ’til your arms were sore
We be wildin’ on the corner free stylin’
Or politickin’ ’bout doe we see piling

– Big Daddy Kane (2 Da Good Tymz)

I’m super excited about the 10-10-10 initiative that Tom Higley is planning for this Fall in Denver. The premise is that 10 entrepreneurs will spend 10 days in Denver working on 10 “market opportunities”. In other words they’ll be trying to solve big problems.  Opening up a diverse set of market opportunities to leading entrepreneur’s  from across the country under such a time constraint will unleash some amazing innovations.

It formalizes something I love most about living in a “startup city”, which is open dialog and problem solving with other creative people. It’s a really natural process, and for entrepreneurs it happens very casually. Any problem we have is an opportunity to think of a solution. We’ve done a poor job integrating this type of open daydreaming into the creative problem solving process recently. We’re in the business of getting more done, faster, and we’ve all been rushing solutions.

By flipping the traditional incubator model of selecting teams and solutions on its head, Tom and a group of entrepreneurs are recreating this natural process into something fundable (with $500,000 in seed funding on the line). Which entrepreneur reading this wouldn’t want to be part of those brainstorming sessions? Knowing that there is cash and press behind selected teams raises the stakes and focuses everyone’s attention for 10 limited days on finding the right solution.

One thing I know for sure, we’ve got a lot of solutions in need of problems, it’s about time that we have an event focused on the problems first. If nothing else, we won’t be creating another “twitter toilet paper” app.

Taking Back Problem Solving

Why @ZackShapiro wants to be an entrepreneur

This is a guest post by Zack Shapiro, a student at the University of Colorado. He also runs an iPhone
development company called 59thirty and is currently working on a stealth
startup.

Want the short version? I want to be an entrepreneur because I can’t sit still. I work on projects and help others out all while day dreaming about my own goals, my ideas that I can’t seem to shake from the front of my mind.

I’ve had business ideas since I was 12 or 13. That’s as far back as I can remember throwing away small amounts of money on short-lived ideas. I created and developed blogs and then dumped them for a new one. I outsourced web design and small coding projects only to realize I didn’t know what to do next.

I didn’t know this was entrepreneurship. I just thought I was antsy.

In high school I ran my most successful website, a comedy blog. This lead to a podcast that culminated with former Tech TV personality Martin Sargent appearing on our second-to-last episode and his sidekick, Joey the Intern appearing on our final one. That was my first “exit.” I couldn’t top myself there, so I went out on a high note.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college: the iPhone is taking over the planet. I take a computer science class and develop what would become my first app. With the encouragement of my newly found mentor Dave Taylor I finish it and release it as an experiment. 8 months later 1200 copies have been sold.

I’m in.

A friend once told me that he knew most of what he learned in college prior to going, he just didn’t know the associated terms. I guess I’ve always known this was what I wanted to do. I just didn’t have a name for it.

So now I’m two years through undergrad, sure of what I want to do, and tapping my foot impatiently to do it full-time. Classes like astronomy are a waste of my time, so I’m auditing an MBA class on venture capital. I’m hungry for knowledge and dying to apply it.

Once I walk across that stage I’ll put in an order for business cards that screams with a full ethos, “I’m an entrepreneur.”

Why @ZackShapiro wants to be an entrepreneur

Does the CO tech explosion resemble the GoldRush?

This weekend I saw a sign from the Goldrush era in Colorado. The language extolling the virtues of buying land for “profitable exploration” instantly resembled the sales copy I’ve come to recognize on websites.  I wondered if we [tech startups] were living the modern day version. I set out to research and determine what, if any, were the similarities and differences between 1859 and 2009.

Gold Rush Mining
Prospecting for Gold

Let’s start with some facts. The Colorado Gold Rush was set-off in 1859 by the discovery of gold in what is today Denver’s Confluence Park. The news, coming out roughly 10 years after the California Gold Rush, set off a stampede of prospective miners from across the plains. The towns of Boulder, Golden and Denver sprung up to serve the booming mining operations across the front range. In total, 21 million ounces of gold were mined from Colorado between 1859 and 1861, more than the combined total of both the California and Alaska rushes earlier in the century. In addition to making individual prospectors rich, it provided lucrative jobs for those who didn’t want to risk it on their own and lead to the development of significant infrastructure investments. This included rail links, highways, farming operations and a booming tourism business.

In the common conscience, including mine, a Goldrush is an irrational search for a quick fortune. Not a laudable endeavor. The result, however, is that a single 2 year period in Colorado transformed a largely uninhabited part of the country into a well connected economic hub and set it up for a century of rapid population growth.  Us Boulderites love our town, and it wouldn’t exist as it is if it weren’t for the Gold Rush.

The reasons people have moved to Colorado to start technology companies are very different. The most frequent reason people give for moving here is lifestyle. Starting a business is hard work, but is also fun and engages people’s passions.  The startup community consists of passionate people living their life to the fullest.  The type of startups moving to Boulder during what I want to call the Startup Explosion are not the Gold Rush people blindly seeking wealth.  They are smart, confident, adventurous and looking for a community where they belong and that can help them accumulate wealth and a reputation.  These are people who can have, and largely already have had, top-notch jobs elsewhere.

Clearly the human factors aren’t the same as the Gold Rush.  The outcomes, however, are exactly the same.  The influx of new companies has led to a large service and infrastructure expansion.  200 years ago it was the creation of railroads, highways and cities. Today its VC firms, incubators, law resources and potentially Google Fiber *cross my fingers*.

So does the tech explosion resemble the GoldRush?  Kinda.  It has the same influx of resources and expansion of infrastructure, but it lacks the irrational underpinnings of the Gold Diggers.  While people left their homes for fortune during the Gold Rush, more than 150 years later people are moving for the startup infrastructure, mentors and lifestyle.

Does the CO tech explosion resemble the GoldRush?

The Perfect Storm: Why start a weather business?

Guest blog post by Joel Gratz, founder of the ColoradoPowderForecast and DontGetZapped

There is absolutely no substitute for being passionate about something and acting on that passion. This isn’t a cliché. It’s just the only way to really be happy.

When it’s going to snow, I have the energy of someone who just took a few too many shots of “5 Hour Energy”. This was true as a 6 year old wanting to play in the snow, as a 12 year old wanting a day off of school, and as a 25 year old looking for a midweek powder day at Vail.

Weather, particularly snow, is my passion. I went to school for meteorology. I’ll talk your ear off about the clouds. This is what gets me jazzed up.

How do you turn a life-long passion into a sustainable business?  With lots of energy, luck, and a bit of technology.

In 2006, I finished my joint Masters in Meteorology and MBA.  I started working for ICAT Managers, a hurricane and earthquake insurance company in Boulder. The location, pay and hours were great.  The people were kind too, in short, it was a good job. There was just one problem: I spent 95% of my time on data and analysis and only 5% of meteorology.  I thought that my passion could wait, as my life otherwise was perfectly fine and comfortable. Snow, skiing, and weather could still be my hobby even if it wasn’t my job.

But in late 2007, the perfect storm began to take shape. A few of my skiing friends asked me for forecasts so they could plan their snowy adventures for the week. At first I responded to these requests individually, but realized this was time consuming and inefficient. So I started an email list and began a weekly email to ~50 of my friends to let them know where and when to find the best snow. I wrote my emails with a touch of quirky humor and included a few graphics. The word spread.

During the 2008-2009 ski season, the email list grew to 500 people, which pathetically enough, was still just a group of contacts in Gmail.

At the beginning of the 2009-2010 ski season, I broke into the 21st century and set up a blog to replace the email list and ColoradoPowderForecast was born. By late December, tens of thousands of people were visiting the site, and I finally opened my eyes to the perfect storm swirling around me:

  • Energy: I love working hard to forecast snow and help people enjoy it.
  • Luck: A few well-connected people found my site and passed it on to many more.
  • Technology: $0 spent on marketing and $3/month in web hosting was all it took to get 30,000 people to follow my forecasts.

With some good press in the books by new years, I knew that I had stumbled upon a way to make a living by following my passion. On January 21st, 2010, I left my full-time job to spend time meeting people in the ski industry and to begin transitioning my hobby into a real business.

Things are still in transition, but there’s not a day that goes by that I question my decision to follow the one thing that really gets me fired up: Snow. Luckily for me, there are about 12 million people in the U.S. that are also passionate about snow as skiers and snowboarders.  No, this isn’t a massive market. But by following my passion and helping these 12 million people to follow theirs, I should be able to make this business work out. And all it took to get started was $3/month, a bunch of snow flakes, some luck, and a bit of technology.

Now let’s go La Nina – bring on the powder!

The Perfect Storm: Why start a weather business?

How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of Twitter yet, using a hashtag (#) before a word is a way of creating a topic in Twitter. By putting a topic like #boulderfire into a tweet, you are actively joining the conversation. Twitter users can filter on that word and see every tweet about that topic.

I initially joined Twitter because that’s what all the cool entrepreneurs in town were doing. Most people I met were die-hard “tweeters.” While I saw its usefulness, Twitter was never a necessity for me. However, that changed on Labor Day when a forest fire started in the hills above Boulder. By checking Twitter, I was able to identify the source of the smoke above my house. As the fire spread, my close-knit community literally came alive on Twitter, with everyone joining in the conversation using the tag #boulderfire. People tweeted important information about evacuation orders and offered assistance with food, housing, and legal advice for those already displaced. One person even tweeted the contents of the police scanner so people were up to date. There is no other communication medium that can enable this sort of community support network.

Even the emergency management system relied on Twitter. When the reverse 911 system—which is intended to alert residents to evacuate their homes—failed, the police department requested that people use Twitter to alert those in the affected areas! Seriously, Twitter just saved some lives. I hope an app I’m involved with will one day do that.

These last few days, I’ve thought a lot about the firefighters risking their lives and the adversity our community is facing. And perhaps it seems strange, but the last few days have also opened my eyes to the true value of Twitter. Twitter isn’t just for self-proclaimed internet marketing experts and Justin Bieber fans, Twitter can literally help a community organize, communicate, and respond effectively and rapidly to a natural disaster. Normal citizens can provide invaluable information, resources, and support to those in need (or to those who are just plain curious). We, as a community, wouldn’t be able to do that as quickly or as easily without Twitter.

How #boulderfire changed my perspective on twitter

How Boulder increases our company’s chance of success

We moved to Boulder four months ago and it was a fantastic decision. The town’s values, and abundance of willing mentors make it a perfect place for new entrepreneurs trying to learn the ropes. It’s a place that values risk takers and those that take big swings to try and make a difference in the world. There are just under 100k residents here and yet it contains an outsized number of accomplished people and budding superstars who are willing to help the newcomers.

Risk taking and lifestyle design aren’t desirable career traits everywhere but in Boulder they are admired. This attitude has drawn hundreds of startups to town and the passion and energy from those endeavors is infectious. When we’re working at coffeeshops we’re surrounded by our fellow bootstrappers and it gives us energy to try even harder. Of course there are failed endeavors, but people view those founders as wiser and experienced from the ordeal rather than as personal failures. Its a positive environment where we are not afraid to take big swings.

The mentorship driven growth strategy made famous by TechStars is at the heart of what makes Boulder a great place for startups. The town has an absolute plethora of accomplished entrepreneurs, financiers and academics that are passionate about business and willing to give honest feedback. Some of the most popular VCs attend networking events like the Boulder Open Coffee Club and even hold office hours so people can chat with them. Breaking into the startup ecosystem was one of our top priorities and thanks to the collaborative environment here, we’ve had access to the level of mentors we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Boulder has given us confidence, mentors and fundamentally shaped our thinking about startups in a positive way. Its budding reputation as an important startup hub is evidence that outsiders are starting to see what the locals already know. If you are thinking about moving your business here, do it! Call us when you do, we’d love to give newcomers the welcome that we received.

How Boulder increases our company’s chance of success