I didnt grow up in Boulder. I didnt even grow up in Colorado.
Me? I was born in Fort Collins and moved to California when I was less than 2 years old. I grew up in California in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose. (My family also spent a lot of time in Mountain View and Palo Alto – my dad worked at Stanford University for 25 years).
Needless to say, I am a firm believer in the fact that California rocks. And, in terms of technology and technological advancement, the Silicon Valley rocks harder.
Not Colorado. Especially not Boulder.
But over the past year of working at Lijit, mentoring TechStars companies and countless time spent with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, developers, and the like, my thinking changed. Boulder became “ok” in my California-centric view. (I still think everything is better in California, dont get me wrong).
Then, last week, Sarah Lacy came to visit. On camera, during an interview with my friend (yes, my friend) Matt Galligan, in writing on her blog, and to my face at dinner, she said two things that for some reason have really struck a chord with me:
- Boulder initially gave her a cool reception; and
- She held the belief that for an entrepreneur to be successful, they had to be an “off the charts” self-promoter (I am paraphrasing both points).
Her point was: How could any company in Boulder ever hope to compete nationally or internationally if they dont constantly sing their own praises?
The general feeling I got was that she, who had interviewed hundreds of startups and receives hundreds of pitches daily and traveled to many cities both domestically and internationally, had seen what it took for a startup to become successful.
As a reporter, you certainly have the ability to see and record what has generally been successful. Yet, lack the actual experience of being inside the cauldron where true success stories are grown.
Success is independent of location and comes with hard work, which engenders recognition, and while recognition can precede success; success is only a by-product of respect and trust (especially in a web 2.0 world, where usage always equates to success).
Whats the outcome? How has the “humbleness?” / “silence?” of Boulder affected the success of the companies here?
There is one Boulder startup that I have true insight in, Lijit Networks. When we use Compete.com (yes, everyone can say its a bad measure, but even a bad measure used equally is apples to apples) to compare the unique visitors and page views of Lijit versus two “hot” Valley startups, Twitter and FriendFeed (both with much more buzz), we end up with:
If you cant see the numbers, year to date:
- Lijit‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 3,927,455
- FriendFeed‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 566,641
- Twitter‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 3,478,239
Again, I just used compete. If we use QuantCast, the numbers break out this way:
- Lijit‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 673,000
- FriendFeed‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 140,000
- Twitter‘s monthly Unique Visitors are 1,900,000
I, of course, like Compete much better… :)
But, if you look at the growth curve on the Compete.com graph, Lijit and Twitter follow a very similar trajectory.
What about pageviews? Not surprisingly, Twitter is the king:
Yet Lijit’s pageviews are more than double FriendFeed.
Doesnt make a ton of sense given the use cases (Lijit is a search service and FriendFeed is a lifestream aggregator). I assume that Compete is counting actual daily searches as pageviews (since the search engine results pages are on lijit.com), especially since I doubt people enjoy (no matter how well designed) our homepage that much.
It, of course, could be that we over estimate how many of our publishers use our stats pages or check their earnings, but I digress.
The point is, that with minimal fanfare, Lijit competes nicely with two of the hot Web 2.0 Valley companies. Shoot, with minimal fanfare, we are the second most used search widget behind Google’s Custom Search.
Is Lijit different than other Boulder companies? Not really (except that their Business Development guy looks fabulous in a pink hat). We know some of the successes, Left Hand Networks going to Hewlett Packard for $300mm plus, SocialThing going to AOL, and Intense Debate going to Automattic. People forget often that Blue Mountain Arts ($780mm to Excite), ProFlowers, Celestial Seasonings, WhiteWave, Gaiam and Crocs are also Boulder companies or have Boulder roots. Even my favorite t-shirt company (other than PleaseDress.me) Threadless has set up shop here in town.
TechStars has seen 20 companies come through its program, with 3/4 of them getting funded and all of them learning more than they ever would on their own.
StartupWeekend, started in Boulder, as the brain child of one mop-haired designer, and now has gone to take a microcosm of the Boulder entrepreneurial experience to dozens of cities domestically and internationally and hundreds and hundreds of people.
Gnip, when deciding where to locate, chose Boulder over San Francisco, even though their founder and CEO, Eric Marcouiller has developed deep roots and relationships in The City. (Eric helped found MyBlogLog which was sold to Yahoo!) because of the resources provided within the community, as well as the community itself. Jud Valeski, Eric’s co-founder and Gnip’s CTO, is also a transplant to Boulder.
Boulder entrepreneurs dont have to be wild self promoters, because unlike Silicon Valley, there isnt a deafening amount of noise to battle through.
As the end of the day, Boulder companies just dont spend a lot of time (and money!) on banging their own drum.
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.
Whew. Now its time for me to contradict myself–I wouldnt be a good bipolar if I didnt.
So why does the concept that Boulder entrepreneurs are doing themselves a disservice by not being self-promoting bother me so much? I really dont know.
I do know that I consider myself the “Chief Evangelist” of Lijit, and as 2009 nears, I know that my function at Lijit has to morph slightly.
I look to others that have blazed that trail, people like Anil Dash and Matt Mullenweg (for bloggers); Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble (for technology), and I wonder what are the things I can do to emulate and learn from them.
I wonder what additional difficulties I will face being at a “non-Valley” company (to the point where I have comtemplated moving to San Francisco).
(On a personal note, I also wonder where the line between self- and company-promotion lies, and how hard I can push myself to do things that make me feel uncomfortable but are right.)
My job will, in some ways, become what I have outlined Boulder companies dont need much of and I am interested in seeing what that means for Lijit and me, and plan to blog about it (of course!).
Which means that you can plan to see my pink hat everywhere in 2009…
How hard will my job be in 2009?
Here is what I do know about Lijit:
- Lijit is a startup with a positive trajectory towards success;
- Lijit has a team that has the ability to make that happen;
- We are building some cool stuff (centered around providing publishers more control);
- Everyone has not heard of Lijit (yet); therefore
- We have a lot of work ahead for us in 2009.
And what will Boulder’s startup scene be like in 2009?
Heres what I know about Boulder:
- Boulder entreprenuers are doing just fine in the success department,
- And for those folks that dont believe me, I have a guest room you are welcome to come stay in to check it out.