Moving to Colorado; An Incredible Success Story
There are a few thousand people in Boulder this week for Boulder Startup Week. It’s a big week here and it’s one of our favorite weeks in town, where we get to show off one of Colorado’s coolest communities, with the highest per capita density of startups in the US.
People are attracted to Colorado, and Boulder in particular for a variety of reasons; Anything from the laid back attitude, to the access to world class skiing, the plentiful sunshine, great craft beer and even the legal weed. A significant cross-section of these folks come to be part of a unique startup community. One that’s highly collaborative, rather than cutthroat. One that always has a glass-half-full attitude.
This is a short story about one person’s massive success in becoming a major part of the community and the lessons that can be taken from it. It should also be noted that just because most of this happened in Boulder doesn’t mean you can’t take the lessons learned here and bring it to your hometown.
Matt Sisson was ready for a change in 2011 after being in Vermont for one too many years. He was eager for a community that embraced him and that he could truly be a part of. His uncle attended the University of Colorado, and he had heard good things about Boulder previously, but he’d never been.
He heard about Boulder Startup Week and as fortune would have it- he learned that there was a “Fly in” list for folks who wanted to come check out the town. He applied and a few days later he got a call from Ryan Wanger who was managing the Fly-In’s and he offered him a flight to Boulder to come check out his town.
Matt hopped the flight and arrived in Boulder and within 48 hours he knew he had arrived at his future home. People were incredibly welcoming, always asking how they could help his job search, offering suggestions on great places for a coffee or a local beer. Of course the access to the mountains and the views from Boulder are unparalleled.
Boulder Startup Week was in full swing, there was an opening party with tricycle and office chair races (silly but true), beer tasting (is there perhaps a theme here?) at the startup crawl, where you visit different startup offices and get a feel for their culture, and well- you get the point…it was awesome. The people were at the center of it- everyone was welcoming, and everything they did engendered trust- and that was exactly what he sought.
Matt met another BSW organizer, Casey Hopkins, and she took the time to show Matt around Boulder and made sure he got his bearings. He asked about the best coffee shop in town and she directed him to Atlas Purveyors Atlas’ manager welcomed him with open arms and his small shop turned out to be a true hub of the technical community. The collaboration and idea sharing happening there was amazing.
Determined to be part of the community
Even though things went exceedingly well in Boulder, Matt didn’t receive a job offer after a week Boulder. That didn’t sway him one bit.
Matt went back to Vermont and told his employer of his passion for Colorado. He was lucky enough to arrange to work his current job as a remote role from a co-working space in Colorado. He went home and packed up his stuff and soon enough, he was back in Boulder. For a few months, he worked his job in Vermont remotely, and he started freelancing for a few TechStars companies as well as volunteering with community events like IgniteBoulder (similar to Ted Talks). This is where things really accelerated for Matt. TechStars is nationally recognized as one of the top tech accelerators, and working with their teams was an amazing open door.
A company called PivotDesk went through the intensive three month TechStars program and Matt helped them with their design needs and soon enough they offered him a full time role as their lead UI designer.
Matt spent 14 months with PivotDesk when he began to pursue a side project…
As with most entrepreneurs, our minds are always racing with new ideas. Matt is no exception.
Matt realized in no uncertain terms that without the right guidance, he would not have met all the right people in Boulder, and who knows what would have happened if Casey wasn’t there to show him around. He was determined to do something about that- to create both a welcoming home for people interviewing in Boulder with other startups, and to give them access to a choose-your-own-adventure tour of Boulder.
Matt and his friend Tommy West renovated a dated condo unit off the central Pearl Street district in Boulder and made it an uber-geeked-out-basecamp for engineers visiting for the first time. At the core of the Pixel Space is their map of Boulder with cards that direct you to free coffee, beer, and workspaces.
It was critical to West and Sisson that people had an authentic and fun experience checking out Boulder and that their first trip- even if it was a day- would leave them in awe of the community that he had grown to love. Unsurprisingly, there are plans for several more Pixel Spaces in Boulder, Denver and of course- in a town near you.
The connections that Matt made in the community continued to grow – and in conjunction with another TechStars alum, Ryan Angilly and a serial entrepreneur, Niel Robertson– Sisson applied to, attended, pitched and WON the worlds largest Hackathon, called LAUNCH, with RAMEN, a self described “Kickstarter for software startups”. The startup is now funded by nationally known Venture Capitalists (part of their prize for winning) and Matt is working on it full time.
Matt insists that his decision to move to Boulder was the best decision he ever made, hands down- It’s easy to understand why. As noted while some of this is specific to Boulder- you can take these lessons and make all of this happen in your town.
A few takeaways he has follow below;
- Always be open to new experiences – Have a glass half full attitude-you will be surprised what you can attract by just paying attention to your surroundings and actively seeking honest, open interpersonal engagement.
- Set meetings with people you’ve never met- Matt still meets 2-3x a week over coffee (or a hike) with new friends to see how he can help them. Ask “How can I best be of assistance to you at this point” That willingness to help and not ask for anything in return, comes back in spades.
- Make it a priority to make connections for others, consider keeping a notebook or use Evernote.
- Volunteer! Get involved in the community you are passionate about and give them your time. People often say they will do this but few pursue this networking tact with zeal. Its incredibly effective (and helpful!)
- Hang out in the same watering holes and get to know management as they are usually incredibly well connected.
- Cross into unfamiliar territory. Talk to people in music. Talk to people in non-profits. Bring together disparate parties and just see what happens. Mash-ups are great.
- Find meetups on meetup.com based on your interests and attend regularly and offer to help organize events and become a hub of information yourself.
- Smile, dammit : ) It’s contagious.
If you’d like to see what Matt is up to now, or if you’d like to reach out to him- follow him on Twitter @mathewsisson !
Boulder image courtesy of BoulderDowntown.com. All other images courtesy of Mathew Sisson