Starting an Open Coffee (Club) in Your Community

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been moderating Boulder Open Coffee for over 6 years already but it continues to be an honor and I’ve learned a tremendous amount along the way. I thought I’d share some of my experience in the event that you or somebody you know is interested in bringing Open Coffee to your community.

12 Years in Boulder

The OpenCoffee Club concept was launched in London in 2007 and brought to Boulder by Foundry Group’s Jason Mendelson in that same year. The group has been meeting regularly ever since, evolving to meet the needs of the community along the way. We’ve changed the name to Boulder Open Coffee, had four venues, four moderators, and broadened the focus of the group from meeting with investors to being a general resource to the startup community. That said, Jason’s thoughts on the group from 2010 still ring true today:

Bottom line, is that I’ve never seen such an engaged, smart, passionate and honest group of people get together every two weeks and talk about interesting things. I always leave the event much more energized than I started.

Starting an Open Coffee in Your Community

Like most things related to the startup community, you don’t need permission from anybody to get a group going. With that said, my hope is that some of my experience moderating Open Coffee in Boulder and Denver and my experience helping a few people start open coffees in other cities will be helpful to you.

Find a Venue

There’s no need to overthink your venue for your first few Open Coffees. Just make sure people know where to find it and make sure that there’s coffee available - that’s it!

If you start to get some traction and your group grows, here are some other factors to keep in mind:

  • Check to see if your group is welcome. While we’ve had great luck with being met with open arms, we’ve discovered that not every manager sees value in having a large group show up in their place of business.

  • Providing sponsored coffee in carafes is a nice gesture but I’ve found that people would rather pay for their own coffee so that they can have their latte or other favorite drink prepared just so.

  • Acoustics matter - if people can’t hear each other the whole concept falls apart. Venues that have a semi-private meeting area are ideal.

  • Natural light has been a surprisingly important factor in keeping people coming back regularly, particularly in the winter months.

Get the Word Out

We’ve relied on word of mouth as the foundation for getting the word out about Boulder Open Coffee. Here are some of the variations we’ve used, along with a few others:

  • Social media, particularly if you’re able to enlist influential friends in the startup community to help you out. I’ve experimented with creating accounts specific to the event but ultimately think that your best bet is to share using your personal accounts instead.

  • Event sites: we’ve used Facebook, a custom built site, and throughout the years. We’re currently on and have seen great results with it.

  • Startup event listings: for those of you here in Colorado I highly recommend Startup Digest and Built in Colorado.

  • I’ve dropped the word Club from the name to make it seem less, well clubby. There’s no secret handshake so let’s not make people think there may be one!

Don’t Forget to Moderate

After you’ve put effort into getting everybody together, make sure you create the conditions for great conversations.

  • Welcome people as they arrive, especially newcomers.

  • Jot down a few notes about topics to inject if there’s a lull in the conversation. I generally sit down for 10 minutes or less to review what’s been in technology news since the last meeting.

  • Don’t be afraid to politely cut somebody off if they go too far off topic or hold the group hostage with a long, rambling rant.

  • Get lots of people involved. Lately I’ve been letting the group know that there’s no need to raise hands before speaking, but for those who have trouble getting a word in edgewise, to either raise their hand or make eye contact with me so that I can be sure to give them the opportunity to chime in. Some days I’m able to just let the conversation be free flow and others require a heavier hand - it just depends on the team dynamic.

A Few More Thoughts

  • Be patient! Building a critical mass of people takes time. Once you get there the group will take on a life of its own. If I were to no-show at the next Boulder Open Coffee one of the regulars would slide right into my place without skipping a beat.

  • Attendance will drop after a long weekend and when a stretch of lousy weather is followed by sunshine. Don’t worry about fluctuations in attendance from one week to the next.

  • The conversations are great no matter how big or small the group is. I’ve moderated groups of four all the way up to 150. While I’ve got manage the conversations a little differently, the quality has always been high.

Need More?

Get in touch with me and/or drop by a Boulder Open Coffee any time! I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.

Animal Welfare Isn't Just about Adoptions Anymore

Over the course of the past 15 years my family has managed to adopt four dogs at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV). It was only natural for me to assume that HSBV’s mission is to place stray animals into good homes, particularly because that’s been the case for most of the organization’s history dating back to 1902. More recently, however, changes in animal welfare have started to make adoptions a facet of HSBV as opposed to its core mission.

You’ll notice that our mission statement reflects this by broadening our original focus to emphasize the relationships between pets and people:

It is the mission of the Humane Society of Boulder Valley to protect and enhance the lives of companion animals by promoting healthy relationships between pets and people.

We’ve done such a thorough job of placing animals from the region that we’re able to provide support to communities across the country by transferring animals into our shelter. Our veterinary services no longer exist strictly to care for shelter animals - we’re able to offer them to the public for ongoing care. Our training and behavior resources are similarly available to the public these days.

You might even say that we haven’t been satisfied with providing animals with a second chance at life. We’re delivering on ways to make that life a healthy, happy one, and we’re expecting to continue that trend in the coming years. Expect to see additional service offerings from the organization in the coming months as we continue to evolve the organization to suit the needs of our community.

I’m incredibly proud to be taking part in an effort by the HSBV leadership team and board of directors to take some calculated risks as we move forward. If you’ve got thoughts on how the Humane Society of Boulder Valley can strengthen the bonds between pets and their owners, please let me know!

My First Time as a Board Member

When I joined the board of directors for the Downtown Boulder Partnership (DBP) I had planned on writing a blog post about six or twelve months in. While I’m just now getting around to this five years later, I think the extra time has provided me a more valuable perspective on my first time as a board member.

How it Came to Be

About a year before I joined the DBP board, Sean Maher, the CEO at the time, connected with me to pick my brain about the startup community and how DBP membership may be of value to technology companies.

We continued the conversation over the course of a few months and we eventually spoke about an opening on the board. I saw the strategic value of downtown Boulder as a hub for the startup community and Sean saw strategic value in adding a startup community perspective that was otherwise missing from his organization.

A Passive Year

My first year was the hardest. I didn’t know any of the other board members, wasn’t familiar enough with the issues that the organization cared about, and hadn’t learned how boards function yet. I jumped into conversations during meetings from time to time but overall was pretty passive for most of the first year.

Building Momentum

By the end of my first year I had started to feel more comfortable and ended up becoming Vice Chair in my second, which really jumpstarted my participation in the organization. My inclusion in the Executive Committee as well as other committees I had joined gave me a much broader perspective on what strategic direction the organization needed to head in.


After a term as Vice Chair, I took on the chairman’s role, with that term coming to a close a few months ago at the end of 2018. During those two years we tightened up governance of the organization, spun out the Downtown Boulder Foundation, a 501(c)(3) intended to unlock more fundraising and grant opportunities for the arts and enrichment of the community, and recruited new board members to bring in fresh perspectives.

Looking Forward

As it sits today I’ve served for over five years. I’ve got some time left but eventually my term limits will kick in and I’ll have to depart the DBP board of directors. With that said, I’m as passionate about the connection between the startup community and downtown Boulder as I was the day I joined. I look forward to building more bridges between startups and the general business community for years to come!

Three Years of Journaling

Several years ago I decided to start a daily journaling habit. Over 800 entries later I've finally found my groove. Yesterday I tallied my entries for each month to see how things have progressed over time.

Daily Journal Entry Completion by Month.png

The entries I looked at were entered into Day One, a journaling app that I chose after experimenting with paper journals and other apps.

The first thing that I notice is that I lacked consistency from month to month, especially when I first got started with three years ago.

While there are quite a few peaks and valleys the overall trend has been up and to the right, which I'm very proud of. I have a hard time building habits and thought about quitting on more than one occasion. I'm glad that I shifted my mindset to thinking of habits as footpaths instead of sidewalks to work through those low points.

Other patterns that have come to light while reviewing my entries from the past three years:

  • I struggled with remembering to write on weekends and while traveling. I've got to establish as solid a morning routine for those days as I have for my regular work days.
  • The arbitrary goal of 250 words per entry that I put in place a few months ago has resulted in entries that include a broader range of topics. It's helped me dig a little deeper.
  • Reviewing recent entries once a week has been a great way to reflect on how things have been going lately.
  • Reviewing entries on this day from previous years has offered a long term perspective that helps me appreciate how things have been trending over time.

Writing has helped me crystalize my thoughts, reduce my stress, and appreciate the life that I'm experiencing. It's taken me a long time to do it consistently but I'm glad I put in the effort. It feels like it's gotten more valuable with time, so I'm pretty excited to see what the next 800 entries will bring!

Karmic Cow Shit

I never would have thought that 21 cubic yards of cow manure compost would be the basis for a blog post, but this particular pile of shit compelled me to share part of its story. It's got me feeling pretty good about my fellow human at a time when I could really use the reminder.

Last fall I moved into a new home in need of landscaping. So new that there was nothing living in our yard. No soil or worms, let alone grass, trees, vegetables, or flowers. While a tree and sod for the front yard was part of the purchase of our home, the landscapers had to wait for warmer weather to get it done. When the tree arrived earlier this week, I knew that the sod was soon to arrive and I'd have to get moving to till compost into the clay ahead of time as I had planned.

I called Brian at Soil Rejuvenation in Longmont based on a referral from a gardening class I took with Berthoud Local. He was incredibly patient, helping me think through how much compost to order, answering questions about where to rent equipment, and handling delivery logistics with several phone exchanges. He graciously cut my order in half after the first truckload arrived and it was obvious I had miscalculated the size of my yard. He took care of me even though it made his sale much smaller and threw a wrench in his delivery logistics.

I started spreading the compost last night to get a jump start on the work that I had planned on taking all weekend. 21 cubic yards of compost is a lot of cow shit. One of my neighbors walked up with two beers and a shovel in his hands, almost as if we were playing out a TV commercial. We spread some compost together, and when I called it quits to get something to eat, he walked across the street to help out other neighbors who were doing some landscaping of their own. His enthusiasm for lending a hand really struck me.

This morning I went through my usual routine for the start of a day, then headed out to spread some more compost at around 6:30am. About an hour into my work I knew that I'd have to plan on spending the entire day with the shovel and wheelbarrow. I started getting into the same mindset I have for long distance backpacking, focusing on one shovelful at a time and finding ways to appreciate the physical discomfort. I put together a plan to ask a construction worker to move it with a Bobcat in exchange for some cash if I had the chance. And then a pickup pulled up next to.

The driver rolled down his window, explained that he owned the landscaping company that would be laying our sod, and asked if I wanted help. I asked him what it'd cost, and when he told me he'd do it just to help me out, I didn't entirely believe him. He went up the street, grabbed his Bobcat, and spread most of my compost out, saving me countless hours of hard work.

When he refused my offer to pay I shook his hand and thanked him, particularly for setting a great example for his 10 year old son who had been waiting patiently as his father helped out a stranger. We shared a moment among fathers as he explained that setting an example for his son was what motivated him to help, and that I'd be sure to let my daughter what had happened this morning.

Every few days it occurs to me how lucky I am. Today was definitely one of those days.

I Meditate - You Heard Me Right

When I first tried meditation a little over two years ago it was among my dirty little secrets. I didn't like to talk about it because it seemed a bit trendy and I hadn't quite figured out whether it would remain an important part of my routine. It's fair to say that meditation has become an important part of my life and thought I'd share a bit about my experience so far.

The motivation to try meditation was rooted in my struggle with stress. At the time my stress level was affecting all aspects of my life, cropping up in all kinds of ways that I don't like. My breaking point was when I realized that I was getting tunnel vision any time I tried to solve a problem, blocking out any and all other things in my life, no matter how important. For bigger problems, especially ones without complete solutions, tunnel vision has a serious issue.

Sam Elmore, who I had worked with in a variety of company and individual settings, recommended that I try meditation and coached me through a few sessions to get me started. The first few felt almost useless - I had a hard time sitting quietly for 30 seconds, let alone the 20 minutes or so that I've build up to today. If you're giving meditation a try, start with whatever you can manage and build on it.

I also struggled with meditating regularly, and eventually learned to build up to a daily(ish) routine in the same way that I built up from 30 seconds to 20 minutes for a given session. I've started thinking of habits as footpaths, which can be established even if they're not walked every single day. Don't give up if you have a hard time squeezing it into your schedule. If you find it to be a valuable practice it will make it's way into your routine eventually. With some practice I've found that I can meditate on the bus ride into work when I can't manage it earlier in the day.

Two years later I've found that I appreciate meditation for a few reasons:

  • It's become "me time" that I carve out for myself, which helps balance the time I spend taking care of family, friends, clients, and other community members the rest of my day.
  • I'm able to notice when I'm getting stressed out, which gives me the opportunity to do something about it before it gets worse. Tension in my face, neck, or shoulders and shallow breathing have become warning signs that I'm stressed. When that happens I know I should get up and walk, have something to eat, or meditate to take a step back before I start to get tunnel vision.
  • I feel physically healthier. Lowering my overall stress level has helped with discomfort I've had in my lower back for years, has me out sick less often, and has made it easier to maintain my weight.
  • I'm much more productive. I'm able to focus on the task at hand without spending too much energy thinking about other things that need to get done. They're still there, but I'm able to keep them in my peripheral vision instead of getting in the way of what I'm trying to accomplish in the moment.

Thanks Laura Harrison and Galvanize for organizing a visit to the Boulder Shambhala Center this morning. She arranged for guided meditation for me and several other Galvanize mentors, which was a great perk and way to start off my day. It was also the inspiration for this post!

Puttin' On The Leash 2017

I've got a lot of reasons to be excited about 2017, with joining the board of directors for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) at the top of the list.

When my wife and I adopted our beloved mutt Zoe from HSBV 13 years ago I saw HSBV as an amazing resource for animals in need of a home. Years later, when I started to get to know the organization better by adopting our pit bull mix Zeke and volunteering with their events committee, I came to the realization that they serve people as much as they do the animals in their care.

HSBV provides homes for animals, to be sure, but in doing so, enriches the lives of the people that share them. In times of crisis, the organization supports families in need by providing emergency shelter for their animals. Training classes, particularly important for first time adopters, are held regularly on a variety of topics. The list goes on. 

Zeke's ready for Puttin' On The Leash 2017

Zeke's ready for Puttin' On The Leash 2017

I'll be headed to Putting On The Leash 2017 for the event's 25th anniversary on April 22nd and would love to see you there. If you're a little hesitant to attend like I was last year, know that it's a fun event with lots of ways to give to the organization.  I expected monocles and top hats. Instead it was puffy jackets and GORE-TEX (hey, it was snowing that night). Come join us if you're looking to pitch in a little!

When Feedback Loops Get Too Tight

There's a commonly held belief in building software that feedback loops should be tight. It's a sentiment that I agree with but I've come to realize that there's such thing as too much of a good thing in some cases. When feedback loops get too tight, software teams tend to get bogged down in the details, sometimes losing sight of overall business goals or just plain wasting time.

I've noticed this in personal projects that I've worked on. I work hard to set up processes and tooling to make communication lightning quick.  I iterate quickly. I pat myself on the back for being able to change direction on a dime. I mean, that's how smart people write software, right?

The trouble is, as the time and effort required to request a change gets smaller, there's a tendency to think less about the request itself before making it. I've found myself endlessly pushing pixels around on the screen to make a feature work just so, later realizing that I hadn't slowed down to think about whether the feature should really be built in the first place.


It became much clearer to me when I started to drastically reduce the amount of time that I was investing in GSD, a productivity tool that I've written for myself. Early on I was working on GSD almost every day. I'd make a change each morning, use the product during the day, and determine the next change based on what I had learned.

When I stopped coding on weekdays the daily feedback loop stretched into a weekly feedback loop. I had assumed that my product would evolve more slowly but what I'm finding is that it's evolving more quickly instead. Daily feedback often focused on what made the product easy to use, while weekly feedback has a healthier perspective of what makes the produce useful.

I've come to realize that at some point, feedback loops become so tight that they focus on what feels urgent rather than what's truly important. There's a lot of value in taking a deep breath and spending a few minutes in reflection, sometimes spread over the course of several days, before shooting off that email or Slack message with your most recent feedback. You may find that you speed up by slowing down.


Thinking Out Loud

I've been half heartedly telling myself that I'd like to write more often but just haven't made the time to do it. It's time to get it in gear. As a way to think out loud I wrote that habits are more like footpaths than sidewalks, with each pass contributing to its formation over time. This post will be my first in quite some time, but a contribution to its whole nonetheless.

I've managed to build a routine writing short journal entries each morning and plan to use it as a model for writing blog entries like this one. Things that seem to have worked for me:

  • I write early in the morning when my head is clear and the interruptions of my normal day haven't started yet. 
  • I take an approach that's more like thinking out loud than it is long form writing. I plan to have my blog posts by slightly less half baked than the journal entries I write for myself but I'll plan on putting much less pressure on myself to have crystalized thoughts than I used to. 

While I'm not exactly sure why, I'm pretty confident that writing is an important way for me to better understand myself. It seems like that should be all the motivation I need to walk this way again. 

BOCC Is Moving to Galvanize

The next Boulder Open Coffee Club, scheduled for Tuesday January 10, 2017, will be held at Galvanize!

In the meantime be sure to thank Boomtown for being such a gracious host for the past several years. As guests in their space we've seen a transformation from co-working space to startup accelerator, several cohorts of companies advance through the program, the addition of a connected devices lab, and a beautiful renovation. Special thanks to Shaw, Leah, Jennifer, Erin, Jeff, and Toby for all the support along the way.

I've gotten consistent requests to find a venue with natural light and more of a coffee shop feel. It's taken a while to find a venue with both of those qualities along with the capacity and desire to have our group descend upon them but I think you'll agree that it's been worth the wait!

1023 Walnut Street
Boulder, CO 80302


Habits Are Footpaths, Not Sidewalks

I've invested a lot of time into learning about how to form habits to make the most efficient use of my time. About a year ago I stopped looking at habits as sidewalks and started thinking about them as footpaths, making them much easier for me to adopt. I'll explain.

I had been meeting regularly with Sam Elmore, a consultant I've gotten to know over the past few years, to talk through a variety of things including my desire to reduce stress in my life. I was frustrated with the trouble I was having building good habits around work routines, household chores, exercise, self reflection, and the like.

I had failed at implementing the Getting Things Done system, for instance. Having read the book more than once, all I had managed to do regularly was to use the Two Minute Rule, which hardly changed my life. The author had provided a blueprint for success that was easy to understand yet I failed to build a habit from it.

Sam's observed that I had been evaluating things as success or failure in strictly binary terms and submitted that a different perspective may be useful. He helped me think of forming habits the way that I might wear a footpath through a field. While it'd be ideal to walk the path every day, missing a day here or there wouldn't be the end of the world. Even the occasional walk is valuable, as it takes more than a few days for a footpath to get overgrown again.

Looking back at my original perspective, I realize now that I had been thinking of building habits as I might build a sidewalk. Use a blueprint, buy the right tools, let the concrete dry, and walk it from point A to B more efficiently than ever. Using this framework to evaluate success and failure, however, made me give up trying more often than not.

A daily habit completed 4 out of 7 days, for instance, was a failure; a partially built sidewalk isn't quite a sidewalk. Thinking about how walking through a field 4 out of 7 days would eventually wear a footpath, however, kept me motivated to come back for more, even if a day or two was missed here and there.

This perspective is especially helpful in the context of implementing processes for a growing team. It's rare to get every member to agree on whether or not a process should be implemented, or how or how often something should be done, let alone actually implementing it. There's some pretty interesting reading on how sidewalks are being planned in city parks and on college campuses (preview: they're not planned at all).

I've managed to use this analogy to help me build most of the habits that I've set my mind to. In writing this post I'm taking steps (pun intended) towards building a weekly writing habit. It'll be that much better if it helps you build a habit of your own!