It's Been an Honor House of Genius

The leadership team at House of Genius recently asked me to step aside to make room for a new City Director in Boulder. I'm very happy to share that my successor will be Tim O'Shea, a friend and a deserving community leader. Last night I had a great time in my last session as a House of Genius volunteer and took an extra moment to appreciate the great people that I've had a chance to meet and work with.

Over the course of the past three years or so I've had the opportunity to participate as a contributor, presenter, moderator, organizer, and director. Starting in Boulder, House of Genius popped up in a few cities around the country, then around the globe. I've had the privilege of participating in all three annual gatherings of volunteers from cities near and far. It's been a ton of fun watching the leadership team grow the organization from it's first event in Boulder to events in Asia and Europe.

I'm excited to see Tim shape Boulder to be the model by which all other House of Genius cities are compared. He's been a great community leader already and his positive influence will be felt immediately.

Thank you to co-founders Toma, Tim W., and Collin as well as Jacqui for giving me the opportunity to hold the fort in Boulder as House of Genius expanded its reach city by city. Thank you to the hundreds of contributors, presenters, sponsors, and other volunteers that I've had a chance to work shoulder to shoulder with to help entrepreneurs move their businesses forward.

It's been an honor. Truly.

Candor Shouldn't Require Blunt Force Trauma

Lately I've noticed that people thank me for speaking candidly. Sometimes, including now, I worry that my candor is noteworthy for the wrong reasons. My intention is to be concise but the unintended consequence can sometimes be blunt force trauma for my recipient. It shouldn't be that way.

More often than not feedback is watered down with the best of intentions. In an effort to soften the blow, many people sugar coat it or are passive-aggressive about it. I've found that watered down feedback is incredibly hard to understand and build on, which can create frustrating, drawn out problems. At House of Genius, we go to extremes to ensure that feedback isn't muddied by a person's credentials or qualifying comments either. Candor is a good thing.

It's not all rainbows and unicorns, however. There are times when I have an emotional response to being on the receiving end of candid feedback. It can be tough hearing things I don't want to hear. That said, I'd rather have my ego bruised temporarily than to be blissfully ignorant about how to get better. 

With that in mind, my first lesson learned about being candid without blunt force trauma is that it requires tasting your own medicine from time to time.  I try to remember that the knee-jerk reaction I can have to candid feedback is something that recipients of my feedback can also feel. Plus, who really wants to get feedback from somebody who isn't open to it himself?

Secondly, I try to be candid in delivering both the good and the bad. While the compliment-criticism-compliment approach has its place (also known as the shit sandwich or the compliment sandwich), that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about being equally straightforward, and more importantly, equally opportunistic about delivering good and bad news.

It's important to say things like "Hey, I noticed that you're falling behind on the timeline you committed to. We need to talk..." I submit that it's even more important to say things like "Great job on that last hackfest! I really appreciate the work ethic and execution that you bring to this team. Thanks..."

You may notice that people have unexpected reactions to candid compliments. Some have a harder time accepting a candid compliment than a candid criticism. Regardless, you're showing the recipient that candor is a delivery style, not a way to assert power or to hurt feelings. Even if that's not the case, at least you've given somebody you care about a nice little boost of encouragement.

With each interaction I have and each relationship I build I get more comfortable with speaking candidly, but I'm still a work in progress. If you've got a tip you'd like to share, I'm open to feedback in the comments below (sadly, pun intended).

The Startup Colorado Community Fund As a Sponsor

Startup Colorado Community Fund logo.png

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of accepting a $6,000 grant from the Startup Colorado Community Fund on behalf of House of Genius Boulder.  I thought I'd share what the process was like to help out those of you interested in similarly funding your startup community event or organization.

 The Community Fund is "on a mission to assist entrepreneurs in Colorado leading their startup communities - with resources to amplify community growth and engagement." They're looking to back an organization that:

  • Focuses on driving entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Puts entrepreneurs first
  • Is inclusive
  • Engages the entire entrepreneurial stack
  • Is Colorado-centric
  • Has the intent of becoming sustainable.

The application itself was a simple text form which took 15 minutes or so to complete. After doing so I had the option to invite others to provide a recommendation and/or to show support on Facebook to help build our case.

A few weeks after submitting our application we were informed by email and phone that House of Genius would be awarded one of the two inaugural grants along with 1 Million Cups Denver. I was asked to accept the grant during a Startup Colorado event as part of Denver Startup Week, which was a great opportunity for me to speak about House of Genius in front of 100+ people from the community.

The final details I had to provide as a follow-up were also simple: a short written summary about House of Genius and how it meets the criteria bulleted above, along with the organization's EIN and address. The grant is being routed through the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado and will arrive shortly. It was that easy.

For House of Genius Boulder, the Community Fund grant will go an incredibly long way. The funds will fuel roughly a year's worth of our monthly activity, which brings together twenty or so volunteers from the business community to help three entrepreneurs move forward with what they're working on.

More importantly, it does two less obvious things for us:

  • it frees our team from having to chase sponsor dollars, giving us more time to focus on making Boulder the standard by which other House of Genius cities around the world are measured
  • it has put House of Genius on the radar of the grant committee members, an active and influential group of entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders here in Colorado and beyond

For any of you leading an event or organization that supports the startup community in Colorado, I highly recommend looking into the Community Fund as a resource. With $200,000 committed to the fund and a rolling application process, you should apply now.

Thank you to the grant committee and David Bennett, my main point of contact with Startup Colorado - the Community Fund is an incredible resource.

If you've got questions about the fund or the application process, I'll do my best to answer them in the comments!

You're a Genius

Each month my co-organizer Katie O'Block and I invite 20 or so businesspeople from the community to House of Genius. Collectively we help three entrepreneurs move forward with their businesses in some way. If you're hesitant to join us because you're not sure if you can live up to the Genius standard, this post is for you. You belong. You're a Genius.

House of Genius Boulder July 2013. Photo taken by Mike Howard.

The House of Genius secret sauce isn't about scouring the planet for Mensa members, MBAs, and PhDs. It's about curating a local group of people with fairly diverse points of view to share any insight that they've got for the entrepreneurs presenting that night. You're a Genius even if you don't know it.

Many of our participants fit into traditional business functions and industries that you might see listed on LinkedIn: marketing manager for a web development company, attorney at a specialized legal firm, and bookkeeper at a restaurant, for instance. We've also drawn from occupations including opera singer, sommelier, jewelry designer, humor researcher, author, undergraduate, artist, and investor. And yes, we've managed to include Mensa members, MBAs, and PhDs too.

Don't get hung up on whether your credentials are strong enough. We go out of our way to enforce a level of anonymity by asking that people limit introductions to their first names with no mention of their job or past experience. By having people leave their credentials at the door we're able to let every contribution stand on its own merit.


Katie and I would love to see you join us for House of Genius Boulder. If you've got any questions please reach out to us directly: and Otherwise, provide us with a bit of information and we'll be sure to find a session where your experience will best complement the rest of the group's. Together, we create Genius.


I'm Looking for a Co-Organizer for House of Genius

I've been the organizer for House of Genius Boulder for a little over a year now and have had a blast. In that time I've invited over 150 businesspeople help more than 40 entrepreneurs move forward with their business. If you're interested in volunteering a couple of hours each week to split my workload as Co-Organizer, read on.

Two hours each week

In order to organize the event each month, I spend a couple hours each week doing a variety of tasks:

  • spreading the word about House of Genius at other events in the community
  • reviewing requests for invitations to curate each session's group
  • screening entrepreneurs who would like to present
  • handling logistics for the venue and food
  • following up after sessions with session notes

I'd also like to spend some time being proactive about:

  • staying in closer touch with former contributors and presenters
  • obtaining sponsors
  • making Boulder the example city for the rest of the House of Genius network
  • improving the overall experience for contributors and presenters

Overall it's a manageable commitment, even for one person. Why invite somebody else into the mix? It's analogous to wanting a workout buddy - I'm looking for somebody to keep me in a routine and to have some fun with.

What you get in return

Here's what I've gotten out of volunteering my time so far:

  • warm fuzzies - House of Genius helps entrepreneurs move forward with their businesses in a way that other Boulder events aren't able to
  • a network of organizers in key entrepreneurial communities across the country and globe; this network is likely to expand to over a hundred cities in the next two years
  • access to the founding team and executive director, an incredible group of people making shit happen
  • introductions to scores of entrepreneurs and other businesspeople from ouy community


I'd love to hear from you if you're wanting to work with me on House of Genius Boulder: If you've got somebody else in mind, send 'em my way!

Leave Your Credentials at the Door

redentials are a powerful thing. So much so that they can get in the way. The next time you participate in a group discussion, try asking everybody to leave their credentials at the door before getting started. It'll make for a more open and meaningful conversation.

Each month I ask a group of 20 or so businesspeople to get together for House of Genius. The purpose of the event is to give three entrepreneurs an opportunity to ask for help on a particular problem that each is facing.

The idea is to tap into the group's collective genius after a short presentation by the entrepreneur. A critical ingredient in the House of Genius secret sauce is to limit introductions to first names with no discussions about job titles or experience until the very end of the evening.


"The process and approach worked brilliantly – I thought the amount and type of feedback the three presenters got was at the high end of the spectrum for any other group feedback session I’ve ever been involved in."

Brad Feld on a recent House of Genius event, Great Events - House of Genius

By maintaining an element of anonymity we're able to minimize preconceived notions about who knows what. It's a completely different dynamic than traditional meetings beginning with "name, rank, serial number" type of introductions that create a set of expectations before the conversation has even begun.

We also ask that participants avoid qualifying their comments with things like "In my experience with this..." or "I don't know much about this, but...". These types of comments are a different but equally powerful form of credentials.

The next time you're planning to gather a group for a feedback session ask everybody to leave their credentials at the door. You'll find that the discussion gets moving quickly and includes more creativity and honesty than traditional meetings.

Note: House of Genius was born in Boulder but is now in Austin, Singapore, New York City, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Albuquerque, Seattle, Denver, and Reno. More locations are in the works. Let me know if you want an invitation to a House of Genius session here in Boulder or elsewhere.