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.

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


Upping My DBI Game in 2015

I joined the board for Downtown Boulder, Inc. (DBI) last year and spent most of it learning the ropes as a new member. I've started off 2015 as a more active member with the goals of 1) showing the startup community and DBI their value to each other, and 2) making DBI's public policy recommendations a better reflection of the downtown business community as a whole.

You'll notice that DBI breaks out its value to members into business advocacy and community.

Community is something that the Boulder startup community already does well, with individuals and companies self organizing to create great events including Boulder Startup Week, New Tech MeetupBoulder Open Coffee Club (BOCC), and House of Genius, all of which now serve as models for events in cities outside of Colorado and the United States. These are just a few of many examples of the community's ability to get things done.

Meanwhile, DBI and its sister organization the Downtown Boulder Improvement District quietly work to make downtown itself one of Boulder businesses' best recruiting tools by running family events like the Munchkin Masquerade, sponsoring the Boulder International Film Festival, and attracting the variety of retailers and restauranteurs that make the area so vibrant. It's no accident that so many people want to be downtown.

Startup folks get a ton accomplished with almost no infrastructure and formal organization. When it comes to business advocacy, however, the community's lack of structure makes it difficult to get the attention of politicians, advocacy groups, and others influencing important decisions. These decisions affect the traffic, parking, affordable housing, ability to recruit top talent, and cost of living in Boulder - issues that are important to many of us. DBI has experience with advocacy around these issues (several DBI board members were part of the herculean effort that created the Pearl Street walking mall, for instance) and wants to hear more technology voices.

Many of these issues are being thrust into the city's spotlight with the impending arrival of Google's 330,000 square foot office at 30th and Pearl. It's clear that startups and technology businesses are not well understood by Boulder City Council members and the broader community, prompting Nicole Glaros (Techstars), Rajat Bhargava (JumpCloud), and Jason Mendelson (Foundry Group) to write A Necessary Education on Boulder's Startup Community. Brad Feld (Techstars, Foundry Group) followed up with a post of his own, The Endless Struggle That Boulder Has With Itself.

The education process needs to continue - I hope to play a small part in that with DBI. This morning I took part in a BOCC discussion about the affect Google will have on our housing prices. Rachel Scott (Quick Left), is joining me on the DBI board to add another point of view to our conversations. Sean Maher (DBI) and I are meeting with Brad Feld (Techstars, Foundry Group) later this week to get his perspective on ways that we can continue to make Boulder a thriving destination for entrepreneurs and their families. Efforts are underway.

I'd love to hear your point of view as well.


The Universal Remote Problem

Part of last week's Boulder Open Coffee Club conversation turned to how adoption of the Internet of Things will occur in mainstream households. BOCC regular Jamie Seiffer used the universal remote control as an example of how challenging the adoption of IoT hubs will be despite a widening selection of connectable devices.

On paper the universal remote is a no-brainer - it's an affordable solution to the First World Problem of needing to juggle remotes for a home entertainment system. In my home we've got four remotes that can be replaced by a single universal one but aren't. Why? The setup process is too complicated. I've got to find model numbers for my TV, stereo, and other devices. I've got to cross reference the model numbers with codes that I've got to enter into the universal remote. It's enough of a pain that I'd rather live with four remotes instead of one.

At Simpler we face a similar problem. In our case, however, it's not so much the number of steps that we've got to worry about, it's the number of new concepts that we've got to introduce.

We've built a product that unifies the sign-on process for a wide variety of web applications that people access in their daily workflow (a single sign-on product in tech parlance). At the beginning of each day our customers sign into Simpler to access the rest of their web apps without having to sign into each of them individually. In daily use Simpler is incredibly easy but we've discovered that the setup process still stands in the way of wider adoption.

Installing the Simpler browser extension, for instance, has proven to be an important onboarding hurdle. As a result we've bundled a browser, the browser extension, and a default configuration into a single installation file. Most of our customers have never heard of a browser extension before, let alone installed one. When our customers had to install it as a separate step, for many the related dialog boxes introduced a moment of hesitation and confusion. Not a great first impression for a product that is supposed to simplify things.

Now our customers don't have to think about the browser extension at all as it's handled by our single installation file and runs in the background. We learned an important lesson - eliminating the steps required for onboarding is good; eliminating the new concepts that have to be learned is great.

Denver Open Coffee Club returning to Fluid 6/10

In response to feedback that my co-moderator Doyle Albee and I have gotten we're moving Denver Open Coffee Club back to Fluid Coffee Bar this week. We've really enjoyed our stay at Galvanize but have always had trouble being able to hear each other in such a large space.

If you're not familiar with DOCC it's an informal gathering, mostly of those in the startup space, to talk about current events in technology. We open each session with new people introducing themselves, upcoming event announcements, and job announcements. The rest of the time is spent in a group discussion of whatever topics strike our collective fancy. It's a great way to have a sense of what's going on in the startup community.

We'll be sticking to our usual schedule, meeting every other Tuesday from 8 - 9am. The next session is this Tuesday June 10th - I hope to see you there!


Don't forget Doyle and I run Boulder Open Coffee Club on the opposite Tuesday of each month at Scrib (now the Boomtown Accelerator) and our friend Marshall Smith runs Loveland Open Coffee Club on the same schedule as DOCC at The Armory!

Loveland Open Coffee Club Launching Tomorrow 4/1

Open Coffee Club is spreading north in Colorado tomorrow! Marshall Smith, a Boulder Open Coffee Club (BOCC) regular, is kicking off Loveland Open Coffee Club (LOCC) tomorrow 4/1 8am at The Armory.

Doyle will be moderating Denver Open Coffee Club (DOCC) as usual at Galvanize. I'll be heading north to co-moderate LOCC with Marshall to help get things off the ground. Thanks to everybody involved, including Clint Bounds for making The Armory LOCC's home.

If you've never been to a xOCC event, it's an informal gathering of startup folks every other Tuesday running 8 - 9am. Here's what we usually cover:

  • Introductions: new attendees introduce themselves
  • Announcements: everybody gets a chance to share open job positions, work they're looking for, and events that are coming up
  • Discussion: the group discusses whatever comes to mind; when things get slow, moderators suggest topics, usually centered around tech news that has come up since the last meeting

LOCC will run every other Tuesday starting tomorrow 4/1 8 - 9am, so be sure to mark your calendars. I hope to see you there, and please help us spread the word!


BOCC's New Home: Scrib

Boulder Open Coffee Club is moving to Scrib next week! My co-moderator Doyle Albee and I had looked into several possibilities and are very excited about having Scrib be our new venue.

 Immediately after the news broke that Atlas Purveyors was closing its doors for good, we received tons of offers from other coffee shops, restaurants, coworking spaces, and startups to provide a new home for BOCC. The support that has been shown over the past few days has proven that it's truly a community event. It's humbling to be a steward of something that has grown into such a beloved part of this community.

Atlas' Chris Rosen let Doyle and I know about his decision to close a few days ahead of making it public to give us a head start in finding a new home. Chris, thank you for all that you've done for us, particularly in the classy way that you've handled Atlas' closing, and thank you for being a community leader. You've left big shoes for Scrib to fill but they're up to the task!

For those of you not familiar with Scrib, it's a thriving coworking space on Broadway just north of the Pearl Street walking mall. Thanks to Jeff, Toby, and the rest of the Scrib team for making BOCC feel so welcomed. Coming from the mall on Broadway, hang a right when you see Unseen Bean, head through the doors, and find Scrib one floor below.

We're really looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday at 8am!  


Having a Hard Time Finding a Technical Co-Founder?

Finding a technical co-founder is hard. Non-technical entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs ask me how to find one on a pretty regular basis. I usually name a few events in Boulder where developers show up and wish them luck. Recently, however, I decided to add a parting thought: having a hard time finding a technical co-founder may be a sign that you and your idea aren't compelling enough.

It's well known that technical talent is hard to come by. At Quick Left we're constantly on the hunt for the best developers and there just aren't enough to go around. In fact, our Careers page always has an opening. Always. Non-technical co-founders need to understand that the most talented developers have a lot of options: web development firms, existing startups, stable companies, independent contracting, and launching a startup without you.

In Boulder, there are a few places I recommend that people look for technical co-founders:

Make the rounds, get to know some folks, and pitch, pitch pitch. Keep in mind that you're looking for a long term partner, not a one night stand, so slow down and get to know the person well. That said, if you're having a hard time finding anybody to show interest, it may be time to take a hard look at the team you already have in place and at the idea itself.

It may not be that there aren't enough candidates, but rather that the few available technical co-founders who are out there just aren't that impressed with what you're working on. Technical co-founders are picky. So are investors and customers. If you can't find a co-founder, take that as a sign that you've got some important work to do above and beyond tracking them down. Maybe it's your business model. Maybe it's you.

Look in the right places. Then look in the mirror.