Micah May 12th

Competitive Cooperation

As I sit here hoping that my cough and runny nose isnt the Swine Flu (Jews cant get the Swine Flu, right?), and knowing that my friend Jake’s dad helped avert the damage that the Bird Flu (perhaps its the Flying Pig Flu? Or as I like to call it, the When Hell Weeezes Over Flu) could have caused, I realize that Theraflu is one powerful medication and I am probably not making any sense.

Given that my nonsense ramblings are often confused by me for highly deep explorations of topics that most people find asinine and trite, I figured this would be a perfect time to write a blog post.

After all, I can always blame it on the rats (pretty sure I have Bubonic Plague).

Last week I spoke at the BIGOmaha conference on the concept of failure. It really has nothing to do with this post, other than I returned from Nebraska with a killer cough and a wicked headache. So, besides the rats, I am thinking I am going to blame Thomas Edison for my cold.

When I was asked to speak at BigOmaha, one of the topics that Jeff asked me to speak on was the Boulder tech community, more specifically, why I thought it was as strong as it is.

In my presentation, I used this slide to explain that:

competitive cooperation

Is it really that simple? Is what makes a tech community great the fact that we collectively feel our pains and successes?

Obviously, there must be more to it than that. (It feels like I answered the meaning of life in a single sentence: “Man climbs a mountain to ask the Yogi sitting on the top what the meaning of life was. When he reached the top of the mountain after weeks and weeks of climbing and finally asked the Yogi what the meaning of life was, the Yogi replied: ‘Wrong mountain, loser. We explain why you are a total failure here.'”)

There is this concept called “co-opetition” where two potentially competing businesses work together with the intent of improving both of their bottom lines until such time as it no longer makes sense. Simple concept. Really hard to implement.

But what about the concept of “competitive cooperation”?

In Boulder, we have limited resources. As a town of 100,000 people, there are just less total technical folks than say New York with its 14 zillion or the SF Bay Area with its 5-10 zillion.

Which creates two possibilities: we all fight for whats available or we all share.

Luckily, Boulder chose to share.

Jason, talks about the concept of by-products. Of learning how to use by-products as, well, products. He uses the example of sawdust and the many things that the lumber industry did with sawdust.

The by-product of Boulder’s competitive cooperation is the attraction of new and vital resources. Developers and entrepreneurs (or as Jason likes to call them, starters) flock to Boulder. We spend little time on promotion and a lot of time on excelling.

I can hear the Silicon Valley asking, “Well, Micah, thats all kumbyah and sh–stuff, but does it work?”

Today, the April Compete numbers came out: Lijit was listed as the 197 biggest site on Compete. Friendfeed? 1,897. Mahalo? 559. Guess its not going too badly. We just pasted Fandango, and Ning is only at 183.

Now, of course, that last couple of sentences are rife with the pride I feel for the job our team has done from the time it was just four people in a basement to now: 30 people in decent office space in downtown Boulder. But it also highlights a point.

In Boulder, we are highly competitive. I dont just want to win; I expect to win, and I dont want to win by a little. I want to dominate.

Yet if any of the startups in Boulder: OneRiot, Eventvue, Fuser, Devver and others asked me to help them in anyway, even if it required some application of my time and/or social equity, I would. Why?

Because their success is the success of our community; and the success of our community is our success.

At the end of the day, I dont want to be part of building an amazing company; I also want to be part of building an amazing community. And from there, an amazing state; and from there an amazing region.

So if you want my help, just ask. I am easy to get in touch with, and will always help in any way I can.

But, I will also win.

And so will Boulder.

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  • I love the the AdSense ad that popped up under this in my Google Reader was for pork. You know, like, the other white meat. Clearly, Google latched on to the swine flu mention.

  • Micah,
    My husband and I frequent the Boulder area for the exact reasons you mention (we currently live in Tallahassee, FL). I often say that it's amazing how two competitors can sit and have coffee and discuss strategies – you don't see that in many places and it's one of the reasons we want to move to Boulder. It's nice to see that I'm not disillusioned about what goes on there; I often wondered whether I had “grass is greener” syndrome or something, as there is not much going on entrepreneurially here.

  • Hi Micah, this is Vicky Victorious from London. Your comments are inspiring; I've just given up competing entirely and started a blog about its effects (my competitive nature used to get me in a lot of trouble). I welcome all sorts of alternative approaches!

  • Hi Micah, this is Vicky Victorious from London. Your comments are inspiring; I've just given up competing entirely and started a blog about its effects (my competitive nature used to get me in a lot of trouble). I welcome all sorts of alternative approaches!

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