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!

Boulder Chamber: I Don't Want a Membership, I Want a Relationship

This morning I read and reread "The 21st century chamber of commerce - who needs it?" in the Daily Camera. Until things change, I'm thinking the answer is still "Not the startup community."

I used to work for the Boulder Small Business Development Center (Boulder SBDC) when it was hosted and partially funded by the Boulder Chamber. Having been on the Chamber payroll, I've kept an eye on its progress and wondered how it will stay relevant ever since.

If your read the comments in How Are the Boulder Chamber and Startup Community Relevant to Each Other?, a post a wrote a while back, business owners want "dialog" and "community" but don't feel that chambers provide it.

To my dismay the chamber representatives quoted in this morning's Camera article seem to miss something crucial: social media isn't for marketing, it's for communication. Marketing is one-way: "Look at the event I'm holding - it's relevant to you!" Communication is two-way: "How are the Boulder Chamber and startup community relevant to each other?"

More communication would be a good thing. Being asked to participate would be a great thing. Downtown Boulder, Inc. (DBI), similar in some ways to the Boulder Chamber, asked me to join their board. The Boulder SBDC is bringing me into their pool of quasi-volunteer consultants to help Boulder County businesses grow.

Neither of these organizations marketed to me - they showed me how valuable they are by having me work shoulder-to-shoulder with them on something. They've created a long lasting relationship with me.

Similarly, chambers need to consider that events are often more valuable to the organizer than the attendee. I don't pay to attend Chamber events because the convenience of attending is less important to me than relationships I build by organizing.

I help run Boulder Open Coffee Club and Denver Open Coffee Club. I used to run House of Genius, the Boulder Civic Hackfest, and a bunch of other stuff around town. I do these things because I enjoy surrounding myself with brainpower and give-a-shit and because the exposure is valuable to me. These things trump the convenience that a paid membership provides every time.

John Tayer, the president of the Boulder Chamber, is busting his ass to make his organization more relevant. If you get the chance to talk to him, tell him about your business needs and find a way to get involved. In the meantime, I'll send him the thoughts I've outlined in this post along with any of your comments below. Consider it a small step in building a stronger relationship.

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.

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: bing@houseofgenius.org and katie@houseofgenius.org. 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.

 

What Civic Hacking Is All About

In case you missed it I'm co-organizing the Boulder Civic Hackfest coming up 6/1 & 6/2 as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Some people have asked me whether they belong at such an event because they don't code. The short answer: yes, you belong.

Not sure what civic hacking is?

Take a peek at this short video about civic hacking:

You belong if

  • You are not sure how you belong but want to be involved.
  • You are a citizen with thoughts on how technology can solve civic problems with open data. We need ideas for problems to solve!
  • You are an open data provider or other subject matter expert.
  • You are a developer evangelist for an API or service that developers may be interested in integrating into an application.
  • You are a developer who wants to hack on an open source project to make the world a better place.
  • You are a designer who wants to hack on an open source project to make the world a better place.

Register now

I'd love to see at the event - register for the Boulder Civic Hackfest here.

Thanks to Quick Left, dojo4, Adventure, and Rally Software for making this happen!

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

Interested?

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

Giving Back: the Boulder Civic Hackfest

I'm very proud to be a member of a company and community that gives me the opportunity to collaborate with a competitor, a startup in alpha, and a soon-to-be-public-technology-company. Quick Left is teaming up with dojo4, Adventure, and Rally Software to organize the Boulder Civic Hackfest 6/1 and 6/2. Let's give back to the community together, shall we?

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The Boulder Civic Hackfest is being organized in conjunction with the National Day of Civic Hacking, an effort taking place in cities all across the country. We'll be bringing together citizens, software developers, and entrepreneurs to build open source software in a short weekend of fun and fulfillment.

We welcome all comers. If you have a problem you think we can solve or if you think you can help solve problems with open data and technology, we want you there:

  • Subject matter experts: people working for the civic good, open data providers, data scientists, etc.
  • Designers: don't leave this in the hands of developers!
  • Developers: don't worry if you don't have experience working with open data - if you can code (or are learning) we'll see you there!

We're throwing this shindig at HUB Boulder, home to people who are looking to make change happen. That's us, at least for the weekend.

Please register so that we can ensure that we've got space, wi-fi, and nourishment ready for you!

Volunteering Your Way into the Startup Community

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to find a career in the startup ecosystem in Boulder. In that time I volunteered my way from being an outsider looking in to being a thriving member of the community. If you're interested in doing the same, I recommend finding ways to donate some of your brainpower and give-a-shit around town.

I consider myself an introvert. I grew up in New England and generally have the attitude that I already have all the friends I need in life. My ancestors in China built thousands of miles of wall to keep people out. It's fair to say that becoming an active community member doesn't come naturally to me.

I fell in love with the Boulder startup ecosystem because it represents the energy, calculated risk taking, creativity, and everything else that I love about entrepreneurship. I knew that if I wanted to take part, I'd have to come out of my shell to match that level of activity. Scary. I started showing up at BDNTIgnite Boulder, and eventually BOCC pretty regularly as a passive attendee. It was a start, but because I'm a wallflower by nature, I hadn't really gotten to know too many people. That changed when I started to volunteer.

I spent a weekend at SnapCamp to work on an initiative to help organizations across the country tap into volunteers within their communities. In working shoulder to shoulder with a handful of people for a weekend, I was able to build long lasting, meaningful relationships that traditional networking rarely delivers on for me. I didn't know it at the time, but volunteering would become the only form of networking that I rely on.

In the meantime I've handed out shirts at TEDxBoulder, written posts for boulder.me, worked the registration desk at Big Boulder, and pitched in with a variety of other small efforts around town. I've also become an organizer for House of Genius, an all volunteer organization that helps entrepreneurs move forward with their companies by harnessing the collective genius of the business community.

Update: Take a look at Startup Communities Are Built By Self-Appointed Leaders by Brad Bernthal for other examples of ways to contribute to the community. Brad is the Entrepreneurship Initiative Director at Silicon Flatirons Center and linchpin to the connection between CU and the rest of the startup community here in Boulder.

Brad Feld, a local community leader, encourages people to give before you get. I've given some and gotten plenty in return. I've been able to call upon people I would otherwise never have access to, based purely on the fact that they've heard I'm a "community guy", to help me with personal, professional, and volunteer pursuits.

There's no need to draft a strategy and tactics to become a member of the community. Look for a couple of things that sound interesting, show up, and pitch in. It's as simple as that. If you're in Boulder, I'd love to cross paths with you.