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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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For the past couple of months, something has been bugging me about the “Boulder Community”. I have been thinking that perhaps it comes from a single person, but thats not it. Or perhaps from certain events, but thats not it either.

Perhaps its the economy and the general pall its placed on everything. But thats doesnt seem right either.

This pea at the bottom of the princess’ bed has caused enough consternation that I have snapped at people I consider friends, stopped interacting with others that potentially were the root cause of the pain.

But I havent figured out the source.

Until tonight.

I got an email from a PR person here in town. It was clearly a form letter, and its reproduced in its entirety below (except the names of the writers):

Micah,

A recent New York Times article caught our attention – “Florida, the Next Hotbed of Venture Capital?” Orlando over Boulder? No way.

People who visit our fair city often comment on how unaware they are of the great entrepreneur community here, and XXXXXXX and I want to help get the word out. A lot of our community members blog on about it individually, but we would like to do a concentrated effort to get our community to blog about it . As someone we respect as an important part of the Boulder community, we’re asking you to write a blog post (and it can be more than one) about why you like working and living in Boulder the week of March 1 – 7. Why that particular week? We like it because it falls before SXSW and it’s the same week as TechStars for a day.

We’ll be presenting our idea tonight at Boulder Ignite, but wanted to give you the heads up and ask for your support. We want companies, VCs, entrepreneurs and your Mom to write blog posts about what makes Boulder such a great place to work and live. It can be We’d love to get 30 people to do blog posts, and would love your help. If you do write a blog post, e-mail XXXX@XXXXXX.com, and we’ll do an ongoing list on Boulder.me the week of March 1 – 7. And if you want to Tweet about why you like about Boulder that week use the hashtag #Boulderme.

We don’t want (or need) to be the next Silicon Valley, but we certainly don’t want cities like Orlando being seen as the next big entrepreneurial hub. We want to change others perceptions about Boulder.

My immediate reaction was: “Let Orlando be thought as the next whatever. While the idiots in Orlando are spending time at Epcot Center, I will be working to make Lijit the best startup it can be. While people are caring about Orlando, I will watch venture capital increase in Colorado. Let Orlando have its Disney World; I will take the community and my mentors here in Boulder any day.”

Yet, the word “community” stuck in my throat.

Has the word community become just a hollow word like entrepreneur?

I ran into the PR person at the Boulder Ignite event. She said to me “We dont even want the best teams to go to Techstars Boston.” How is that community building? Isnt Techstars itself a community?

In reply, I said “A real startup community would love to see successful startups everywhere. It validates startups as a viable business model. At Lijit, we work with startups all over the country. I would rather see successful startups period, regardless of location.”

It seems that what has developed is a set of communities with subcommunties that interact with other communities.

Which I get and is ok. But here is the rub.

When members of one community begin to promote their community as the “best” community (which by definition what one is doing via promotion — take the example the email I received), it no longer is about the community. Its about the promoters.

The community ceases to be a real community. There develops groupings, clicques and class systems. Hazing, in-fighting and self-promotion.

And here it is, a year after I joined the Boulder community, and while on the outside it appears that our community is strong and vibrant, the self promoters are getting louder, requests for others to become self-promoters are coming faster, and the very thing this community is specifically NOT about is becoming reality. The very community people are looking to promote is being weakened from within because the individual has now become more important than the community.

Look, I might be off my rocker.

Its easy to say that I am one of those self-promoters (although I would argue that my promotion is of me, and is part of my personality. I dont really think about how to promote. I just do a lot of stuff, and sometimes it sticks.) You might think that I am a completely hypocritical moron, and frankly, thats ok. Part of a groups dynamic is that not everyone in the group has to be liked by the group in order for the group to survive and thrive.

But when I wrote in my response to Sarah Lacy:

And for all the analysis, it could be as simple as knowing that putting our heads down, working our asses off and supporting each other, coupled with a real desire to see Boulder (not a company, not our reputation, not our place in history, but the entire community) succeed, will always lead to an outcome that bears more a valuable, satisfying fruit.

I meant it. We dont need to be noisy to create noise. Boulder is a fantastic community filled with people that understand that its about being excellent, not about being in the New York Times.

You want to be part of something excellent? Be excellent and check out Boulder. You want to be “that guy” that everyone “knows” and has thousands and thousands of Twitter followers, be that. Just know that you are not improving Boulder by being “that guy.”

You can only improve the Boulder Community by frankly, shutting the fuck up, and excelling.

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Eric Marcouiller of Gnip started a Yahoo Group for Boulder area execs to get together to share ideas and help one another.

Open only to CXO and VPs of funded companies, it looks to be a real resource for Boulder folks.

In addition to the list, I am going to host a monthly dinner for CEOs/VCs, where you are asked to come both needing mentoring and providing mentorship.

I plan to announce the first one soon.

If you are interested in the dinner, leave a comment (or if you would rather keep it–as the kids say–on the DL, shoot me an email at micah [at] lijit [dot] com.)