It may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that North Texas’ number one startup community evangelist is leaving the region. It’s true, we’re moving… but “why” is not the most shocking part.
DFW Nouveau. 2013 to Present.
You’ve more than likely been a part of an event I’ve led (Dallas Startup Week, Dallas New Tech, BigDOCC (the 8 other spinoffs technically count as there were zero when I started the first two), Ignite DFW, Player’s Lunch, the “tunnel tour,” or you’ve at least heard my name attached to DFW and startups. It’s appeared in Dallas News, D-Magazine, Dallas Business Journal, Launch DFW (of course) and many others outside of the region. I’ve mentored and judged at The DEC, Startup Weekend, Lean Startup Machine, and dozens of other events.
None of this happens in a vacuum. When I first arrived in 2013, remarkable people welcomed me. Gabriella Draney Zielke started it all, Trey Bowles, Jennifer Conley, Joel Fontenot, George Barber, Matt Himelfarb, Matt Alexander, Pam Gerber, Daniel Oney, and many, many more helped the new guy from Boulder understand what was here, and who was doing what. That’s community. Every one of them: “How can I help?”
And that’s the “startup” side of my life. I’ve also been entrenched in the homelessness conversation: a dozen 40+ people meetings at Dallas City Hall that produced the Commission on Homelessness, and of course Dignity Field. I was the President of the Cedars Neighborhood Association (2015-2017), and routinely meet with people about my ideas in solving poverty issues. That too has landed my name in the press.
But that’s 2013 to present. To understand why I’m leaving you have to understand the full story. Some of you have heard this, hang in there, I’ll make it quick.
Early Dallas: 1994 to 2006
My good friend Bracken and I built several internet things in Dallas in the 1990’s: Apartments On-Demand (1994), Coupons On-Demand (1995), Classifieds On-Demand (1996), and finally sold one in MeetMeOnline.com (1997-1999). We did this with no support, no formal education (business, technical, etc.). In fact, we didn’t know a soul building anything like this in the 90’s. It was just us, building. I also ran Intelligent Networks, and zerologic corporation – both Apple related technology consulting companies (1993-2001). There are at least a dozen other experiments that never succeeded/got traction.
Boulder, CO. 2006 to 2013
While building HyperSites (in Dallas, 2001-2007), we decided to move the operation to Boulder, CO. We’d end up selling it in Boulder in 2007 (coincidentally, to Dallas based investors). That’s an important point, but the Boulder story doesn’t end there. Later came Callisto.fm (2010 to present), which evolved into Epic Playground (and MediaGauge). I also dabbled with GrillM (2009), Michael’s Garage (videos produced in my garage on how to build PCs from scratch), four podcasts (Boulder Open Podcast, Three Insight, Blipcasts, and OS Perspectives) and produced This Week in Techstars w/ David Cohen. I took over BOCC (2010) and started DOCC (open coffee clubs).
But Boulder was different. The power and confidence of being a part of that community was something that I hope everyone feels at some point. Sure it had its pain points (right Andrew?), but over all the experience was like getting a PHD in “startups.”
In fact, Andrew Hyde is one of the most influential people in my life. He gave of his time and energy constantly to help foster the very things I remember as great. He started Startup Weekend. By that, I don’t mean Startup Weekend Boulder. I mean Startup Weekend, period. He launched Boulder Startup Week, which I’d later implement in Dallas, and hundreds of others would all over the world. He also ran the largest Ignite event ever, in Boulder. But I digress.
Techstars would have a tremendous impact as well. Not just because two of the founders had committed a little money to the HyperSites round if we could get a lead (didn’t work out), but because that accelerator would bring in 10 new teams to Boulder every year, feeding the ecosystem with new blood. Eventually, it would have a more direct impact as my team and I went through Techstars Cloud in 2012.
Over the course of the seven years in Boulder, several of its high profile members would leave – Andrew Hyde, Matt Galligan, Micah Baldwin, Rachel Ryle… and many more. Many of the teams that came in for Techstars would leave too, going back to their home towns, or on to other adventures.
How does the community respond with changes like this? There’s the natural “OMG, everyone’s leaving! What are we going to do!?” reaction. There’s the “I guess they weren’t committed to the community, man!” response. And the “Who needs them anyway, this place rocks!” response.
Something remarkable happens in a strong community though, as we’d come to find out. Other people step in, and step up. People that have played a role increase their visibility, and become the next change agents. New events, new relationships, and new opportunities for serendipity. Growth happens.
Instead of casting any doubt on the state of the DFW startup community, I’d encourage you instead figure out how to step up and take an active role in building the next version. Don’t just go to events, participate. Don’t just talk about a startup idea, build it. Don’t complain about things, take actionable steps to fix them (see The Five Why’s). Every strength and weakness in this community starts with you, dear reader. Be a part of something. Make it better by participating. Reporters/journalists, focus on the great things, and not the obvious drama… we need more from you. Use your power for good.
Back to us, and the fact that we’re leaving Dallas. The “why” is actually quite simple. Frankly, it has nothing at all to do with the Dallas Startup Community, and has everything to do with the fact that Heather and I want to do something epic. We want to travel the country in an RV for a few months, to experiment with a truly mobile lifestyle. We want to build a mini (550 sq. ft.) home by hand, and we want to be near Disney World when we do it. Remember, Heather is a Disney travel planner. But the bottom line is that we want to get the most out of life – today.
Heather and I wish you the best, and we’d be thrilled to have you along for the adventure. If you’ve ever dreamed of selling everything and hitting the road… follow us as we do exactly that: EpicMini.life. It might just inspire you to do the same. 🙂