To be honest, I’m not sure if it was 1982 or 1983 when we got our IBM PC but I remember how excited I was to have a computer that I could use to learn how to program. The IBM PC was a real computer, not a gaming console. It had two floppy drives but no hard drive. That meant you had to put the operating system into one of the floppy drives in order to start. It came with a lot of binders with information and it came with the BASIC programming language.
For those who don’t have any memory of computers in the early 80’s, my phone has about thousands of times more memory than the IBM. My phone also has a processor that is about 300 times faster than the IBM’s. In 1982 we never would have considered comparing our phone to our computers. Our phone hung on the wall, had a cord and a rotary dial, and nobody in my house ever considered the idea that it needed improvement.
Imagine someone coming to my parents’ house in 1982. This person asks us to consider the phone of the future. This phone is nothing like the phone on the wall – in fact, it is 300 times faster than the computer in the office and can store one million times the information. Not only that, it can go with you wherever you go. “What would you do with that phone?” they might ask. Beyond placing and receiving phone calls we wouldn’t have had any idea, but I’d like to think we would have been excited.
And that’s why Google Fiber, or more specifically that’s why 1 Gigabit access to the Internet, is important.
On my first computer, I learned to write text-based choose your own adventure programs.
Choose 1 if you go in, Choose 2 if you stay out:
You went in.
Why didn’t I do something cooler than this? Part of it was definitely a lack of talent, I admit. But the other factor was that the technology was limiting. The IBM had a monochrome screen and focused on text output. You could, with a lot of effort, use characters to make rudimentary images by arranging slashes and dashes in patterns but even if you created something like that, there wasn’t much you could do with it. So I created programs that would tell knock-knock jokes.
It wasn’t until my friend’s family got an IBM PCjr for Christmas in 1984 that we considered writing something more complicated. Why? The color screen. We decided it was time to program the game of Monopoly. Ultimately, we failed, but the color screen opened the door to new possibilities.
I will never forget the first time I saw the Internet. I was at BYU in my dad’s office and I didn’t understand it. Even though I didn’t know what I would do with a network of interconnected computers and the ability to build websites using hyperlinks, I knew that something interesting was happening. And then in 2003, I left the dot-com startup I had been a part of for four years to co-found my own company delivering web-based analytics solutions to large advertising agencies.
Computing power, the Internet, and reasonable bandwidth had made it easy to deliver software over the web instead of on floppy disks and CDs. We sold that company in 2007 but not before Greg Whisenant showed me the Google Maps API sometime in 2006.
The Google Maps API meant that anybody could publish a map. Greg had been publishing crime data for the DC Police Department for years, but it had never really taken off. I remember when he pulled me aside and asked if I thought his project would be better if the crime data was plotted on a map. I agreed that it would be much better and then together we built CrimeReports.com.
Perhaps if I were more innovative, I would be the type of person who imagines the world without limits. Visionaries see beyond the limits of our technology but most of us allow those barriers to inhibit our creativity.
We have reached a point where computing power is essentially limitless. I spoke to a young startup company today who built and deployed their application in the Amazon cloud. For all intents and purposes, they have access to an unlimited supply of computing power. They also have access to an unlimited supply of data storage. In the same way that my phone is hundreds and thousands times better than the computers I used as a kid, their computer infrastructure is hundreds and thousands times better (at a significantly lower cost) than the computers we used to build both of my technology startups in the last 10 years. The only technology barrier they will run into is bandwidth and if they are at all like me, bandwidth limitations are currently impeding their creativity.
So what will they do with a gig? I don’t have any idea, but I’m excited.
I recently read Brad Feld‘s book, Startup Communities and I loved it. Creating a healthy startup ecosystem — one that supports and encourages entrepreneurs — is something that I really care about and Brad has helped to build one of the best startup communities around in Boulder, CO. I took three key principles from the book that I believe will help us build a stronger startup community in Utah County.
1. Give before you get.
I completely understand the desire to monetize every interaction you have with startups, but I think it weakens our community. As a struggling startup, I remember feeling very vulnerable and not knowing exactly how to get to the right people. And when we found people who had connections to the people we wanted to talk to, it was surprising how frequently those people wanted to be compensated for their advice or introductions. As I said, I understand why they would put a premium on their time, but I think it’s a really short-sighted model. Sure, you can get a fee from a struggling entrepreneur or a small equity stake in the business but you are contributing to an unhealthy system and if you are going to stick around that will affect you.
I know a lot of people who rightly put a premium on their time. I do too. But I believe that I will get a better return on my investment in the long run by giving instead of charging for my time, my advice, and my introductions. It is important to me to be part of the conversation. (I should clarify that I’m picky about introducing people to my network in order to keep an introduction meaningful.)
2. Mentors before money.
I hear all the time that the problem with the ecosystem in Utah is that there isn’t enough capital. I am convinced that this isn’t true. In fact, I’d be willing to pull out some good old economics to prove that it isn’t and can’t be true. Money will flow to where the best ideas and execution are found. And if you are following lean startup principles, money probably isn’t the roadblock to getting enough traction to find investors if you need them. So if money isn’t the problem, what is? I think that this is related to the first point, but we need to see more mentoring in the ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem should share information, collaborate, provide a mechanism for experience entrepreneurs to share what they have learned, and provide guidance to startups.
3. Don’t dismiss anyone.
This was the hardest thing for me to grasp, but I have come around to it. There will be people with bad intentions in every ecosystem and my instinct is to punish them. But the fact is, it doesn’t work and who am I to say who is allowed to participate and who isn’t? Things are rarely as black and white as they might appear to be at first. In the end, a healthy ecosystem will deal with bad actors on its own. If, for example, most people are practicing the give before you get mentality then the people who aren’t start to stand out. Eventually they change or they don’t have an audience.
I mentioned in my last post that my company, Franchise Foundry, moved into the Startup Building in Provo and I briefly overviewed some of the plans we have for the building. The second floor of the building is currently under construction and we hope to have entrepreneurs in the space by May of this year. We and everyone we work with will be committed to following the principles listed above.
I’m excited to announce that on March 1, we officially moved the Franchise Foundry offices. We are now housed in the historic Startup Building in Provo. I am pretty attached to Provo since I grew up here and have lived here most of my life so I’m happy to be bringing my company to downtown Provo.
I’m also excited about what’s happening at the Startup Building. The building was named for the Startup Candy company (you can read about the company’s history here). The company has been through five generations of family ownership and is currently owned and operated by Jon Startup and they operate in the building next to ours. They have an impressive history. The plan for the building we occupy is impressive too. Franchise Foundry and The Innovation Network occupy the newly renovated lofts. The second floor will house Utah’s top technology accelerator, BoomStartup, in the summer and various young companies during the rest of the year. The second floor will also have a training room where we plan to offer content from various training programs. Some of this will be leadership focused, some of it will be technology focused, all of it will be great.
It’s exciting to be part of this project. I’m looking forward to seeing the transformation of the building and the block as we create a center for entrepreneurship and innovation in Utah County.